Tue Sep 13, 2005

Maybe they can put my name on the cover of Suicide

Routledge publish a nice line of classic social science, literary criticism and philosophy. A couple of months ago I picked up their edition of Words and Things, Ernest Gellner’s entertaining hatchet-job on linguistic philosophy a la Wittgentein, J.L. Austin and the like. The flyleaf has a couple of blurbs from Bertrand Russell and the Times (“The classic attack on Oxford Linguistic Philosophy”, etc) but also one from Bryan Wilson, the sociologist of religion. He says “No one who has flirted with, or been puzzled by, postmodernism, or wondered about the meaning of resurgent Islam, should fail to read this tour de force.” What? This is in fact an endorsement of another of Gellner’s books, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion. Perhaps a small, once-off error, I thought—but then last night I was in a bookshop and saw Routledge’s edition of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. While the front cover affirms the author was Max Weber, the spine insists that credit should go to Friedrich Hayek. Perhaps there’s an intern somewhere in need of a harsh performance review. I suppose these errors aren’t quite so bad as they might have been: a friend of mine who was an editor for a major university press once told me that they had to recall the entire run of a prominent astronomy book because, mysteriously, every instance of the word “quasar” in the text had been replaced by the word “banana.”