Currently I am reading a textbook (in financial mathematics), and the bibliography is just huge. Pages upon pages of books and articles and whatnot. I'm talking hundreds of sources.

Did the author really read all of those things during the course of writing the book? Is that normal?

Or is it just something they think will be useful for students, i.e. a source they may know as popular in the field but haven't read themselves? For example, somebody in mathematics might now of books by Rudin and what topics they contain, without ever actually have read themselves, so they could use that as a source without having read it, i.e like this:

for further information about functional analysis, see (Rudin, 2003) [1].

  • 13
    Why do you limit the period they can read the literature to when they're writing the book? They might have read Rudin's book as far back as 1953, started writing their own book 40 years later, and finished it in say 1998. That's a lot of time to read stuff.
    – Anyon
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 16:03
  • 10
    What do you mean by "read a book"? If I use a definition in a dictionary, then cite the dictionary, am I said to have "read the book"?
    – JRN
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 3:09
  • I would say NO, bcs I know that most of us only read results, and that is only few sentaces, so it is not much
    – SSimon
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 11:00
  • 2
    Yes of course. <Must keep a straight face.> Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 17:54

3 Answers 3


Yes, an author will presumably have read all the material, but not "in the preparation of the book". Typically, if you write a book, you already are in expert in the area and you have read, at one point or another, most of the seminal work in your field, so you don't need to read everything in detail again when writing the book.

I should also point out that "hundreds of sources" really isn't that much. I am a comparatively junior researcher, and my "standard bibtex file" which contains papers I regularly cite already contains multiple hundred entries (and of course I have read all of these at some point - not always in great depth, though).

  • 8
    I would add that one doesn't need to have read the source in its entirety to cite it, especially when all you need from it is a single chapter/section/theorem/equation//figure/quote. Some Authors are more helpful to the readers and make the important part of the source explicit in their citations (e.g., "see [Rudin, 2003, Ch. 3]").
    – Matteo
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 10:56

Did the author really read all of those things during the course of writing the book? Is that normal?


Source: I am a textbook author, and cannot claim to have read and understood every line of every page of every source I cited in my book. Nor do I think that that would be a sensible thing to require or expect of an author.

I did however look at every source I cited, and read enough of it to determine it to be relevant for my readers; otherwise I would not have cited it. Many of the sources I read in full, of course.


I would be inclined to believe that if a source is cited (anywhere - be it in a textbook, monograph or journal article), that work is read or has been read. Of course, some scholars (and the temptation is admittedly always there), will perhaps read the abstract and a few lines and 'cite it' without actually reading the whole thing. How much to read before one can 'ethically' cite it is of course a matter up for debate.

But I will say this: I know for a fact that some scholars cite certain works because of citation politics (ie. review demands, to show their depth and breath of the literature) without actually reading it. Others, will insist that one should only cite another work if they have read the whole thing otherwise there will be a chance of misconstruing the work cited.

(Sorry if I went a little off-tangent here but I thought this bit was also relevant for the question you were asking!)

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