Men Dominate the Historical Books Genre, According to Slate Survey

Writers at Slate took it upon themselves to investigate gender disparity in the history genre, a project born out of their impression that “uncle books” make up most of the genre, and also that male authors seemed to dominate both in sales and number of titles. “Uncle books,” they explain, are books that you would give to an elderly male relative, generally on subjects such as World War II, US Presidents, or the Civil War. Inspired by the Vida Count Project, Andrew Kahn and Rebecca Onion decided to look at the authors behind 614 history books from 80 popular presses published in 2015.

They found that 75.8 percent of the authors were male. Among the books they looked at, 21 percent were biographies, and out of these, 71.7 percent had male subjects. They also found that most women biographers wrote about female subjects. In other words, they found a strong connection between the author’s gender and the gender of her or his subject. Only 13 percent of biographies written about men are by women, and only 6 percent of the male biographers chose to write about a woman.

The researchers reached out to friends in the publishing industry to question them about their finds. Lara Heimert, publisher at Basic Books, said: “There is no question that there is a real problem with gender imbalance in trade history publishing. It is something I worry about a lot.” Andrew Miller, editor at Knopf, agreed, saying that most of his history books have male authors as well, although not by conscious design.

An article by the Guardian points out that matters are not much better in the UK, where women are outnumbered in sales, prize nominations and titles. The interesting thing is that women seem to shy away from writing about the popular “uncle topics” such as the Civil War and World War II. Is this a conscious choice? Or is it that female authors are trying to make sure that ignored female voices from the past are heard? Lara Heimert noted that there is a conventional wisdom that men read non-fiction and history, while women read fiction, and that this often influences publishers. She added that she has never seen a study proving this to be the case.

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