Tuesday, January 09, 2007

PJ O'Rourke's New Book - On A Wealth Of Nations

Allan Sloane writes in the New York Times:

Before we had radio, telephones, television, the Internet and iPods, we had books. Long books. Complicated books. Books that got read, their length and complexity notwithstanding, because before talk shows and chat rooms, what else was there to do?

Back then, people like Adam Smith wrote long, long, long volumes like “The Wealth of Nations,” which revolutionized economic thought and theory when it was published in 1776.


Today, however, almost no one other than the obsessed (or the assigned) is likely to read Smith’s book, which runs more than 900 pages; the author’s convoluted prose makes it seem even longer than that.

So the free market in books has produced Smith-lite: P. J. O’Rourke channeling Adam Smith in a work titled “On ‘The Wealth of Nations.’ ” Think of it as a hardcover blog, in which O’Rourke cites Smith’s essential points, and riffs while preaching Smithian doctrine.


This opus is part of a series its publisher calls Books That Changed the World, a description to which we should append, as O’Rourke says, the further title “Works Which Let’s Admit You’ll Never Read the Whole Of.” Due soon are two other oft-cited but rarely-read-in-full classics: The Koran and Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” It’s a very clever, very market-driven thought: getting to know the classics without having to read them.

I kind of like this idea, not for the condensation of Smith's book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations", but for the idea of a easily accessible introduction to the material.

My re-introduction to the Western Canon was similar. I found a couple of lists purporting to be the 25 books every freshman must read and the 20 greatest geek novels of all time as well as an earlier proposed classics curriculum from Dartmouth College; while reading one of the books I was led to by the geek novel list (Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson) I noticed how many of the classics were referenced and decided to open a new blog centered around the Dartmouth Canon. That led to the formation of, the currently dormant, Olympia Academy.

If O'Rourke's book gets other's reading then more power to him.