History and religious studies professor Carlos Eire GRD ’79 knows what it takes to write a book and juggle the exhaustive duties of a Yale professorship.

After all, one book took him 17 years to complete and as a Yale professor he said his time is already filled with committee meetings, classes and administrative commitments. He said that during the year, he cannot dedicate the intense labor writing a book requires. Unlike the two memoirs he has penned, his latest project was research-based and needed even more time, Eire said.

“Without research, it’s like a walk in a park on a sunny day,” he said. “With research, it’s like carrying a 60-pound backpack up Mt. Everest. It’s that different.”

From typing up a paragraph in between class sessions to reading an article during a commute, some Yale professors try to squeeze in as much time as they can for their books. But since the school year brings busy schedules, some scholars said that the time to write is over break or academic sabbaticals.

For Eire, the inspiration for one of his works came from reading a French historian’s book. In it, the author wrote something which Eire knew was “absolutely wrong” — that people in the Middle Ages did not worry much about purgatory. He said that in response, he wrote his book to debunk this statement, among other reasons.

His most recent book, “The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: A Biography,” analyzed the interpretations of a pivotal Christian text that influenced the Counter-Reformation. He said he was able to complete the book in four years, and he dedicated much of his academic leave to writing. According to Eire and other professors interviewed by the News, Yale often allots one semester off for every five spent teaching.

“I can never do any serious writing when school is in session —ever,” he said. “But everyone’s different.”

David Sorkin, a modern Jewish history professor, published his book on Jewish history because he wanted to chronicle the Jewish people over a wider part of the globe and a longer timeline than existing works. The hardest part about writing, he added, was the first draft.

“As you write, you have to be aware of what you think the overall structure is, and you have to keep track of it as it keeps changing,” he explained. After he published the work, Sorkin said he sent copies to his four adult children and to his colleagues across the world.

Then, he said, the reviews began to come in. Sorkin said that he expected plenty of negative takes on his new book because it’s “extremely controversial.”

For many professors, books and publications in academic journals are the meat-and-potatoes of their academic careers. History professor Paul Freedman has written dozens of works, and his latest book — “American Cuisine: And How It Got This Way” — was released last month.

Even though the work is more than 500 pages in length, Freedman wrote in an email to the News that he is not someone who writes naturally or easily — especially when it comes to the introductions or conclusions.

“[I’m] very, very busy and stressed during the semester,” he wrote. “But we do have sabbatical leaves and I am able to devote a lot of time to research and writing during the summer.”

To Eire, the effort, time commitment and stress needed to write a book becomes worthwhile when he sees his words in print. But like most books, his work has eventually seen the virtual shelves of Amazon’s used book catalogue.

“It can be a humbling experience to see your book being sold for a dollar,” he said.

According to the History Department website, all of Eire’s books are banned in Cuba.


Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu