Book Dedications

Book dedications have a long history, stretching back to classical Greece and Rome when writers needed to suck up to their patrons, their hoped-for patrons, and others powers-that-be. Thanks to the advent of copyright and a functioning book market, modern book dedications usually manage to avoid the sycophantic. Today, dedications seem to fall into three broad categories: a) personal, b) professional, and c) random.

The personal and professional can be found almost anywhere you look. (Provided “anywhere you look” is a book.) William Shawcross dedicates Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11/, and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Anthony Smith “constant friend” — a classic personal dedication, probably topped in frequency only by dedications to long-suffering spouses. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III dedicates Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalienable Right to Self-Governance “to my law clerks, past and present, who have enriched my life beyond measure” — a classic professional dedication, lightly dipped in syrupy personal sentiment. Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu mix the personal and professional in Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World by dedicating the book “to our friend Larry Lessig”.

The random is not that difficult to find. Without looking, you will run into a dedication now and again that makes you scratch your head. Since dedications are a place for writers to try for pithy enigmas, no wonder that some leave you puzzled. These go into the “random” category. Here’s an example from that bin: “For Woody” in the book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex whose first chapter is “Foreplay”.

Rarest of all (or so it seems to me) is the complete absence of any dedication. Richard Posner penned no dedication to How Judges Think, although he regularly dedicates his books. Was nobody particularly inspirational during the time he spent on How Judges Think? Aren’t dedications the norm? If so, have they become norm to the point where one appears stingy by not dedicating?

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