Just after the end of the war, in 1946, American author John Hersey published a short book, about 30,000 words, titled “Hiroshima” about the day the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb dropped over the city by a U.S. bomber. The book, still in print after all these years, turned out to be Hersey’s journalistic masterpiece, told through the memories of survivors of that fateful day: August 6, 1945. A timeless, powerful and compassionate document, the short book became a classic the New York Times said “stirs the conscience of humanity.”
Fast forward to 2018, and Nat Rich, a veteran reporter for the New York Times, has recently published a 30,000-word long-form essay titled “Losing Earth” about a key period of time in American history (1979-1989) when climate scientists and politicians on both sides of the aisle where trying to come to grips with the great existential threat humankind had every faced.
The article ran in the glossy New York Times Sunday Magazine, taking up the entire issue and getting a huge response online and worldwide from readers who were both applauding Rich’s work and criticizing it as well.
According to sources in the publishing industry, “Losing Earth” is now set to become a 30,000-word paperback, capitalizing on the forward momentum the Times article created, and much like John Hersey’s 1946 paperback, Rich’s book is likely to become an American classic, too. Give it time. It’s only 2018 and the article is still fresh in readers’ minds. By 2050, how will “Losing Earth” be seen by readers then and by our descendants 100 years from now?
Hersey’s gripping account of what he discovered about survivors in Hiroshima has withstood the test of time. Will Nat Rich’s upcoming book about his New York Times reporting stand the test of time? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, according to sources close the Times, Nat is at this very moment prepping a non-fiction book based on his controversial climate change reporting, a process that took 18 months of research and writing and entailed doing over 100 interviews with people involved in that momentous decade. The publisher has not been announced yet, and the publication date remains an industry secret, but sources in New York tell me the book could be out this fall or in early 2019.
Okay, it’s going to a short book, just 30,000 words, but it’s going to be a big book, given the publicity it has also generated all over the world. Most books come in at 80,000 words or more, some as much as 150,000 words. So a short 30,000-word book about climate change is going to be a unique kind of publishing venture.
When it comes down to it, it’s all about word count. British ”Atonement” author Ian McEwan has said a ”novella” — a short novel, longer than a short story but shorter than full-length novel — usually comes in at around 20,000 and 40,000 words. Other book pundits put the word-count at around 50,000 words.
So Nat Rich’s hugely popular and stunning (and controversial) news article won’t be that unusual for a New York publisher to handle, even with a shorter than usual word count, according to book industry sources.
Once that book is released, Nat will be expected to go on another round of marketing and promotional chores, doing interviews on TV, NPR radio and in print publications nationwide. There will be college lecture tours, book signings, panel discussions and bookstore visits.
Will the book come with an introduction by someone famous, such as James Hansen or Rafe Pomerance or Al Gore, or will Nat write a new introduction for readersm taking into account the controversy (and the applause) that ensued after the initial newspaper story went viral?
This will be a book worth waiting for, and as it looks now, you won’t have to wait too long for it to appear in print.