In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Bernard Wasserstein

Secret War in Shanghai


Bernard Wasserstein is a history professor at the University of Chicago and the author of The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict (1978), Secret War in Shanghai (1999) and Israelis and Palestinians: Why Do They Fight? Can They Stop?.


Why I write
Dr. Johnson said: ‘Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.’ I agree. Then why am I writing this? A good question!


Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
No set pattern. Sometimes I write just a few minutes. But I have been known to write for 12 hours or more at a stretch. Sometimes I write every day for months on end; at other times I do not write at all for months on end. That is because I also have a time-consuming side-job as a professor.


Worst source of distraction?
My infant son – but he is also the best source of distraction.


Best source of inspiration?
The facts (especially as discoverable in hitherto unexplored archival sources).


How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
The former, never; the latter, about 49 percent of the time.


Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Adrian Mole (aka Sue Townsend) – though I despise him (and her).


Favorite Chinese writer?
Robert Skidelsky (born in Harbin). He is also one of only three Chinese members of the House of Lords – all of them, incidentally, Jewish.


Best book about China?
Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch (1943): actually it’s not about China, it’s just set mainly there. And it’s not the best, it’s just one of the undeservedly least known. It includes vivid cameos of expatriate social life in Shanghai in the early 1930s. I happen to have just finished reading it.


Favorite book?
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.


Favorite writer?
Bertrand Russell.


The book you should have read but haven’t?
The Bible.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
I try not to (look back – and if I do look back try not to think about it). I always warn others and myself of the dangers of the Lot’s Wife Syndrome.


Does writing change anything?
No, only reading does that.


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Posted on: March 7th, 2013 by JFK Miller No Comments