It increasingly looks as if we have entered not only a post-literacy age but, for the most part, a post-nonfiction age, a post-publishing age, indeed a post-professional-author age. I do not deny that publishers will continue to exist, including excellent publishers like ISI. What I do deny is that the situation from which hardback, paperback, and periodical literature benefited in the 1950s and 1960s — a “perfect storm” combination of educated writers, educated readers, educated publishers, non-masochistic WASP-dominated elites, and no trash TV — will ever occur again.
Half a century ago, Russell Kirk and Hannah Arendt could live off the proceeds of their dense, demanding, and allusive books. When Petrie’s friend, fellow historian, and contemporary Sir Arthur Bryant died in 1985, he left a massive fortune that would be unthinkable now. Neither a reincarnated Bryant nor any other historian could attain anything like such an income today, unless he were a market genius or had an Ivy League senior professorship or moonlighted as a supermodel.