“The Little Book of Plagiarism”

The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

This book is literally little—the pages are 4 by 6 inches, and it’s only about 100 pages long. However, its comments on plagiarism—how it is defined (with difficulty) and what it means historically and in our world today—make a great quick read. Students will better understand why plagiarism is such an intellectual sin. Teachers can mull over the changing nature of plagiarism and might even want to use a few of Posner’s examples. And no—you wouldn’t be plagiarizing to do so if you credit Posner. Just don’t use too much of Posner as examples for your classes—then you’d be violating fair use—a copyright rather than a plagiarism issue.

Some of the more fun passages in the book include a look at Shakespeare’s source for Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare? A plagiarist?); the origin of the word plagiarism (from a Latin word that describes someone who stole someone else’s slave); a discussion of fairly recent accusations of plagiarism (Dan Brown of “The DaVinci Code” fame, J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, and the historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose). A perfect example of the kind of plagiarism that high school students are often guilty of is discussed throughout the book—Kaavya Viswanathan’s use of slightly altered passages from the ‘chick lit’ works of Megan McCafferty. You probably couldn’t find a better example for a class discussion.

Other than a few political jabs at the ‘lefties,’ including academics (who are all lefties, I guess) soft on plagiarism, the book is entertaining as well as enlightening.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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