Saturday, September 15, 2007

 

Relativising "a billion pages of his thoughts about the "flat earth""

In a recent memo published on the world-wide-web (a "blog post")(Maybe I was too hasty on this "world is not flat" business?) James Fallows worried:
Before a TV appearance with Friedman last year, I calculated that more than a billion pages of his thoughts about the "flat earth" now exist. A big thick book, millions of copies in print, it adds up. Not nearly as many pages as the Harry Potter series, but still.
Indeed, lots of pages in the pipeline. But why suppose that everyone who buys it reads it through? Of those, how many "buy" the arguments? The comparison with Harry Potter has the merit of comparing countable numbers of physical pages, but can we really consider "believing" or "buying off on the concepts" as being comparable between what is purportedly non-fiction and what has never claimed to be other than fiction?

Nevertheless, I had a quick look at LibraryThing.dot.com to see how many other members have the book in question, and how they rate it; there are 67 reviews and over 600 ratings. Iwon't try to summarize or articulate a concensus opinion. I'll just note that many people don't have it (but may have read a borrowed copy), I am one (and haven't).

The world is flat : a brief history of the twenty-first century by Thomas L. Friedman: 3,485 members (of 269,801) have the book in their library. There are 191 books more popular.

Of those, I have a dozen:

15009 The Hobbit -- J.R.R. Tolkien
8025 Slaughterhouse-five -- Kurt Vonnegut
6412 L'Etranger (The Stranger) -- Albert Camus
5749 Guns Germs and Steel -- Jared M. Diamond
5607 The Name of the Rose -- Umberto Eco
5354 The Elements of Style -- William Strunk
4792 Le Prince -- Niccolo Machiavelli
4360 Cat's Cradle -- Kurt Vonnegut
4203 The God of Small Things -- Arundahati Roy
3959 The Restaurant at the End of the Universe -- Douglas Adams
3865 Sound & Fury -- William Faulkner
3661 The World According to Garp -- John Irving

[and Godel, Escher, Bach -- Douglas Hofstadter -- almost (3481 vs 3485!).]

I don't know of an adequate quant model to go from such stats --not just relative to me, but relative to the 191 other books and those who own them-- to "ideas in good currency" (especially with a pronounced english-first-language bias both in the population and in my collection). I'll simply note that "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "The Prince" are both in wider circulation and seem to have "tenure" of some sort. Did I miss something?



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