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Booth, Mark 1955- (Jonathan Black)

Booth, Mark 1955- (Jonathan Black)

PERSONAL:

Born 1955, in Cambridge, England. Education: Attended Oxford University, 1974-77.

CAREER:

Waterstone's, bookseller and cofounder of Waterstone's publishing, 1983; Sidgwick and Jackson publishers, cofounder of Lennard Publishing, 1986; Century Publishing, began as editorial director, 1988, became publishing director, 2000.

WRITINGS:

(Also published under the pseudonym Jonathan Black) The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 2008.

SIDELIGHTS:

Mark Booth has worked as an editor and publishing director at Century Publishing. Indeed, he began his career as a bookseller at Waterstone's before being asked to create an imprint for the bookstore. From there, Booth became a well-established publishing executive. Because Booth has had a twenty-year career in the British publishing industry, he secretly wrote his first book, The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies, and sent it to prospective publishers under the pseudonym Jonathan Black. However, after the book was released, it received a great deal of media attention, and Booth's identity was soon revealed. Indeed, the American edition of the book was published under Booth's real name. Yet, despite his success as an author, Booth has stated that publishing is his first love. He told Bookseller contributor Katherine Rushton that Century Publishing "has a very unique character … it's very unofficious, slightly subversive and not very corporate. I work with smart, attractive, intelligent, funny people…. I really enjoy the soap opera aspects of working in a big company. I don't think I'd ever want to give that up."

While Booth maintains his love of publishing, his book took the publishing world by storm. Its subject matter, which is clearly laid out in the title, tackles the topic of secret societies and their version of major world events and texts. The book sparked a great deal of controversy and contention, and there were many detractors. Indeed, according to San Francisco Chronicle critic Simon Maxwell Apter, "when the book was released in Britain last fall, some reviewers felt it best to hedge their bets against classic British prankishness by insisting that they were still not completely convinced that Mark Booth's effort … wasn't an elaborate hoax." Indeed, the book goes so far as to offer reinterpretations of the Bible and other ancient texts, thus ruffling many critics' feathers. For instance, though London Guardian contributor Hilary Mantel did concede that the "book has plentiful and interesting illustrations and is obviously the product of many years of wide reading," she still found it implausible. Mantel stated that "Black believes that history is made by ‘great men and women’ who share ‘a remarkable unanimity of purpose’, which becomes apparent if you ‘weave together the stories … into a continuous historical narrative’. If you go in for that sort of weaving, all you'll achieve is to strangle critical thought in a noose of wishful thinking."

In her Salon.com review, Laura Miller explained that the critical backlash to Booth's The Secret History of the World may stem from the plethora of conspiracy theories that abound today. Indeed, Miller observed that "nowadays … it's hard to keep even the most awesome secrets under wraps. Sooner or later, no matter how tight your security or how fearsome your lawyers, a disgruntled apostate will leak your closely guarded scripture to the Web, where, stripped of mystery, it often looks as absurd as middle-aged white guys wearing purple robes and trading funny handshakes." Miller added that, "somehow, the precious sacred writings always turn out to be endless, badly written tracts stuffed with woolly, incomprehensible abstractions." Another reviewer felt that the widespread popularity of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code (which also addresses archaic conspiracies) may be to blame. The book has made the public somewhat immune to Booth's revisionist theories. These theories also have political implications, a fact which is noted by Apter. As Apter has commented, "constructed as it is with no barriers, no banishment of fiction from the realm of fact," The Secret History of the World "removes accountability from human knowledge … a fallacy especially troubling as we watch today's candidates (and tomorrow's president) do the exact same thing."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Bookseller, July 27, 2007, Katherine Rushton, "Mark's ‘Woo-Woo’ Moment: Century's Mark Booth Dreamed up SAS Thrillers and ‘Chav-Lit’, but Now Written an Ambitious History of the World through Secret Societies," p. 22.

Guardian (London, England), October 13, 2007, Hilary Mantel, review of The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2007, review of The Secret History of the World.

Library Journal, October 1, 2007, David Keymer, review of The Secret History of the World, p. 83.

Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2007, review of The Secret History of the World, p. 58.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 20, 2008, Simon Maxwell Apter, review of The Secret History of the World, p. M3.

ONLINE

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (January 28, 2008), Laura Miller, review of The Secret History of the World.

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