Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Future of the Book

Sometimes I buy a book just because I want to get upset. That's because too low blood pressure runs in my family, and the Canadians are just so damned nice. In some instances however, I can't even make it through the preface. Here is an example, from the preface to the 2nd edition of N.M. Taleb's book 'Fooled by Randomness':

    "The rules while writing the first edition of this book had been to avoid discussing (a) anything that I did not either personally witness on the topic or develop independently, and (b) anything that I have not distilled well enough to be able to write on the subject with only the slightest effort. Everything that remotely felt like work was out. I had to purge from the text passages that seemed to come from a visit to the library, including the scientific name dropping. I tried to use no quote that did not naturally spring from my memory and did not come from a writer I had intimately frequented over the years. [...] These rules remain intact."

Hey, if you don't yet know what to do next weekend, why don't you write a book? Everybody can do it! We certainly need more printed redundancies.

Luckily the man has friends, so it continues:

    "But sometimes life requires compromises: Under pressure from friends and readers I have added to the present edition a series of nonintrusive endnotes referring to the related literature."

So, I might give the book a second try. Maybe just skip the preface, he must have something to say after all. But for now I will continue reading one of these old fashioned things where the author at least doesn't proudly proclaim he avoided looking right and left while writing down his arguments.

For more on the future of the book, please consult the helpdesk.


  1. lol Bee,
    hard not to use what has been said before, or to quote famous people who have said it ...
    would we have to give up writing
    would we have to give up maths if we could not use the numbers 1 to 9 and zero (cero or nought 0).
    Ancient science fiction?

  2. Dear Bee,

    that's really a quite unique method to write a non-fiction book ;-).

    I have read the prefaces of many books, and never come across something similar... For some reason, I always start with the preface, and often, that's all what I read in a book, but in most cases because I get distracted, not because the preface dissuades me from continuing.

    In this case, It probalby would ;-)...

    Cheers, Stefan

  3. Hi all,

    I recomend:
    Bill Bryson: "A Short History of Nearly Everything".

    For the pro and the amateur alike.



  4. The guy should have just written a blog. ;-) (making a jab at myself more than anyone else)

  5. Hi Quasar:

    hard not to use what has been said before, or to quote famous people who have said it ...

    Well, if we start writing books without even bothering what has been said before, we will sooner or later do nothing else than just repeating the same circles again and again. If we don't take care to pass on relevant information, the system will lose its memory. As I've mentioned before in The Right not to Know badly organized information is essentially useless information. Best,


  6. Klaus, I suspect that Bryson has picked up that idea from this older classic: The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy.

    Highly recommended! :-)

  7. Hi there -
    I am currently on page 210 of the book. I find it hard to read, but the fact that he wrote the book in the manner he did, was of interest as I wanted to get a fresh insight into some form of economics.

    What can I say? I was bored, so I went to Borders one day and found it. If you can migrate through the numerous analogies and whatnot, you might end up liking the book, despite the fact that it is a hard read.


  8. Hi Bee,

    I have always thought -I'm such a snob- that for a book, being read by me is a privilege, not to be granted to anything! My CPU is a rather scarce resource (and it's decreasing as we speak), so some management overview is necessary.

    So I perfectly concur that a threshold has to be set - and the threshold may well be the interest that the few first lines of a preface arise.



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