Important books

There are no important books.

Paul Krugman concludes his review of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by stating:

So Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.

I wouldn’t let Paul Krugman advise me on a deli sandwich or a barbershop, yet the editors at the New York Review of Books suggest I listen to him regarding a $40 hardcover book on economics, something I wouldn’t read unless you paid me, or unless you transported me back to the dorms and gave me a bushel of the best marijuana known to man. Reviews like Krugman’s remind one of how boring and square the Review is today.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a best-seller, made so by hype and silly comments from people like Krugman. This is not a book that has come to life by the word-of-mouth of keen readers, but rather it has flourished because of advertising dollars.

How does one deal with important books? I don’t buy them, but I often get them as gifts, so I put them on the shelf, unread, and they usually wind up in the Goodwill pile when it comes time to cull the library. Other times I might try to read these books years later, to see if they are interesting beyond the hype that influenced a friend to buy me a copy.

I have been surprised by popular “important” books.  The Looming Tower and 1491 are terrific and I am glad I read these books and discovered these authors. Do I feel bad about not reading them when they were popular? Of course not. Good books outlast their hype. Will Piketty’s book last? I don’t know, but given the history of books, it is doubtful.

Only a fundamentalist would call a book important. Ignore fundamentalists and you will live a good life.

There are no important books.

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