Cormac McCarthy Rewrites Science

The formerly reclusive author moonlights as a copy editor, taking his red pen to Quantum Man, a biography of a physicist.
Fri February 24, 2012 12:31 am

Quantum Man by Lawrence M. Krauss, the book of the year according to PhysicsWorld.com, simply wasn’t good enough for Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist of such works as The Road and Blood Meridian , so for the paperback edition, McCarthy, the former El Pasoan, offered his services as copy editor .

“To start with,” Krauss told the Chronicle of Higher Education , “he made me promise he could excise all exclamation points and semicolons, both of which he said have no place in literature.”

These elements of style, along with the stripping of quotation marks from his characters’ speech, are hallmarks of McCarthy’s writing. But instead of presenting them all as artistic statements, it might be worth considering that McCarthy was possibly working on a typewriter that predated the integration of an exclamation point and semicolon key.

Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times reported that this isn’t McCarthy’s first dance with the red pen . In 2005, he copy-edited Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions by Lisa Randall, the Harvard physicist. Despite misspelling his name in the acknowledgements—Cormack—McCarthy also helped with Randall’s second book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door .

So what makes McCarthy, a famously Biblical writer, such an authority on science? According to Nick Romeo of Newsweek, McCarthy is regarded in the vaunted halls of the Santa Fe Institute as “an acutely curious and supremely competent amateur scientist .” (And accomplished interior decorator!)

But on the issue of the exclamation point, McCarthy seems out of touch. Wrote Stuart Jeffries of the Guardian in 2009: “… exclamation marks — those forms of punctuation derided by the funless and fastidious — are making a comeback , thanks to an internet renaissance that is bleeding over into every form of written communication.”

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