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Leith on life

Non-fiction writers should stop using the present tense

By Sam Leith   September 2011

Back in the 1990s, the success of Dava Sobel’s clever little book Longitude did something strange to the publishing industry. A collective frenzy possessed the makers of non-fiction, and soon we were knee-deep in biographies of inanimate objects—salt, nutmeg, zero, you name it—with titles like Tycho Brahe’s Nose: The Remarkable True Story of the Golden Conk that Gave Birth to Modern Astronomy. As long as it wasn’t a human being, it was hot, hot, hot.

Forgive me for bringing it up—most of us have long since made our peace with those days and moved on. But unless urgent preventative measures…

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