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A selection of readers' responses:

J. E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, vols. I (1994) and II (1997)

"The volumes of the HDAS are the most important works of linguistic scholarship to have appeared this century. While slang has long been of interest, there has never been any thorough work by an academic devoted to the subject. Lighter has spent his entire career toiling in obscurity to produce these outstanding volumes, which are of value not only to the linguist or lexicographer, but the sociologist, folklorist, historian, literary scholar, and journalist as well. Working virtually alone, Lighter has consistently produced material of the highest standard, frequently besting the efforts of the teams of researchers who work for the Oxford English Dictionary or the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Many of the books you're likely to have nominated as "best" represent interesting criticism, or fresh approaches to existing questions, or well-written summaries of available material. Lighter's work is scholarship in its purest form, and will be of value for decades after criticism has moved on to the next big thing. The first two volumes of the HDAS unquestionably deserve to be considered among the best academic books of the decade, if not the century.

Full Disclosure: I was Lighter's editor at Random House for these two volumes; I now run the North American office of the Oxford English Dictionary. However, I do not exaggerate the importance of this work."

-- Jesse Sheidlower

Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in the Russian Monarchy
Loren R. Graham, Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union
Sheila Fitzpatrick, Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivization

"These are not only the best, but the only scholarly books of the 1990s I've read that combine solid academic research with innovative approaches to scholarship itself and - most of all - truly beautiful, clear, readable and appropriate writing style."

-- Kate Pickering

Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World

"Edmund Morgan, the great colonialist, used to say that he wrote for a reader who knew nothing of the subject but was smarter than he was. These three books are pitched that way. The writers believe in their readers, trust that with proper guidance we too can understand analytic philosophy or the visual arts or philosophy of mind. What's more, these writers all believe that their subjects matter, that art and philosophy, faith and learning act in history. Finally, Monk, Hickey, and McGinn write well, and most scholars do not."

-- Mark Oppenheimer

Stanley Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally
Stanley Fish, The Trouble With Principle
Stanley Fish, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too

"Stanley Fish is America's utmost intellectual, argumentative machine. His wit swims deep and broad. He talks back, explains and debates, with joy and humour. He is a pedagogical genius as a writer."

-- Kyosti Niemelä

Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve

"The Bell Curve shows us once again that statistics are truly like a lamp post -- a student uses them for illumination and a drunk for support."

-- Jeffrey Roberts

Carole Levin's The Heart And Stomach Of A King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power provided me with new, perceptive insights that aided me in developing ideas on the intersection of politics with gender and sexuality with power. Levin's thorough examination and reassessment of scholarship on the subject gave me refreshingly original ways of approaching it, and her prose was delightful to read.

-- Albert J. Geritz

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