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Francis Spufford writes just like our very own Dan Simpson and he also knows about the Australia paradox!

Golden Hill was just great—a book that truly lived up to its reviews—so when I was in the bookstore the other day and saw this book of Spufford’s collected nonfiction, I snapped it up.

I was reading the chapter on Red Plenty (a book that I’ve not yet read), I was struck by how similar Spufford’s writing style was to that of Dan Simpson. Uncanny, really. I can’t quite pin down what it is, but the resemblance is striking. I didn’t see it in Golden Hill, though, just in this essay.

The other thing I noticed was that Spufford knows about the Australia paradox! OK, he doesn’t call it by that name, but it’s recognizably the same thing. I’d not before realized how applicable the Australia paradox is to storytelling. The real Australia really does exist, but places in stories are stage sets. Obvious, really, but I’d never thought of it that way before.

One other thing: Spufford says in his book that he’s written lots of book reviews (“a couple hundred thousand words of literary journalism”) but is only including a few of these because he “was never very good at declaring sufficient independence from the book at hand, and producing something that I wanted to say, in a form worth keeping.” I don’t care, I want to read them all, or at least a lot of them. Remember Orwell’s 4-volume collected essays, letters, and journalism? Of course you do. I’d love to see a big fat book with small type, crammed with just about every review that Spufford’s ever written. And it’s not like I’m the world’s biggest Spufford fan. I just like to read book reviews. Too bad that the market for books is declining (competition with free stuff online such as this blog!) so we’re not going to see such a collection. I remember running into Alfred Kazin’s son once and asking if they could put together a collection of his dad’s unpublished book reviews, but he didn’t seem at all interested in the idea.

P.S. I wrote this post around six months ago and it just happened to come up today, just coincidentally right after Dan’s literature-related post.


  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I liked Golden Hill a lot, but it’s no Red Plenty… although maybe the absence of Kantorovich, linear programming and data measurement issues in the former explains the difference.

  2. Adam says:

    What is the Australia paradox? All Google finds is something about sugar and obesity.

  3. I think debates on blogs go through cycles. We don’t see superb analytics on too many fora. So at least Andrew provides one opportunity.

    The tendency is to avoid being caught up with the best debaters. I base this on what Philip Tetlock’s Political Expert Judgment as well as my own experience. Naturally the pool of superb thinkers is small. And they are not going to willy nilly share their best ideas in a public venue b/c they would like to see them published under their own names.

    A literary bent is a huge asset in science. We need more of it.

    • >And they are not going to willy nilly share their best ideas in a public venue b/c they would like to see them published under their own names

      See, this is I think one of the reasons I have such trouble with academia. It’s all about the “names” and the recognition, and where you published, and rarely really about the ideas.

      It’s why I’ve consciously chosen to engage this superb venue Andrew has created directly where I get to hammer out the ideas themselves with other smart and engaged members, and let the gazillion readers benefit. I really do want to figure out the ideas, and I don’t much care about the fake praise of having some editor at Nature or whatever choose to publish my article thereby creating “prestige” for me.

      Cash donations are welcome though ;-)

      • This is one reason why I am so intrigued with the sociology of expertise. The ideas do not necessarily generate from the academics themselves. It’s sometimes the literary eclectics in their midst that are the catalyst for expertise. The story tellers. That was the case to a much greater degree at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, and Harvard up through the 80’s.

        Today the competition is even more fierce. And creativity is much less in academic settings today. Scientists at MIT had been more vocal about the lack of creativity.

        I think that social media has changed the landscape for expertise.

        Original thinkers are probably less apt to post their original ideas b/c of intellectual property rights issues.

  4. Michael Bailey says:

    I read “Red Plenty” a few months ago. It’s great. Highly recommended.

    On the library list for his most recent.

  5. Peter Dorman says:

    I can’t recommend Red Plenty highly enough. It is the best critique of actually-formerly-existing socialist economics I’ve ever read, and it reads like a dream. A brilliant book.

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