Before getting side-tracked on other things, I had started to say that I was at a good place on my book on The Invention of the Afterlife and to lay out how I actually write a book like this.  I explained how I choose what book to write next, and I talked about how writing a trade book is very different from writing an academic one.

I’d like to pick up there since I am at the end of a major phase in my preparation for the book, and would like to explain how I typically proceed.

Once you know what book you want to write next, what do you do next?  How do you proceed?   Of course any trade book that I decide to write is on a topic that I’ve thought about for many years – almost always for thirty or forty years, on and off.  Most of the time my trade books are on topics that I’ve taught about in undergraduate and graduate courses since the 1980s.  So I already have done a good bit of reading and thinking and normally have some pretty solid opinions about the topic.

But all of that is open to change as I do my research.  The key to the books is doing the research.  The basic rule for the research is that you have to read everything of importance to the topic –both ancient sources and scholarly books and articles written about them – before even figuring out what you’re going to say in the book.  And so the trick is knowing what to read.

It’s a trick that not everyone masters.  I have some grad students who …

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