(Guest post by Greg Forster)
I was so excited by my effort at quantifying greatness yesterday – well, okay, I was testing Alex Beam’s assertion that Great Books tend to be prohibitively long – anyway, I was so excited I couldn’t resist counting the pages in the Great Books I had at home to add to the data set I acquired in my office yesterday.
I had thought that the books at home would be shorter since I keep some of them there for regular reading, and the ones I read regularly tend to be shorter (for obvious reasons). I forgot, however, that some of them I keep there simply because I don’t read them very often at all, and those books tend to be longer (for obvious reasons). The books in my office represent the middle of the spectrum in terms of how often I read them.
Anyway, here’s what I came up with at home. Remember, our test case is Beam’s book, a history of the Great Books movement that claims Great Books are too long to be easily accessible and that clocks in at 245 pages:
Machiavelli, The Prince: 78 pages
Havel, The Power of the Powerless: 87 pages
Lewis, Mere Christianity: 113 pages
Mill, On Liberty: 113 pages
Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress*: 154 pages
Orwell, 1984: 240 pages
Chesteron, The Everlasting Man: 254 pages
Aristotle, Rhetoric: 257 pages
Dante, Inferno: 260 pages
Swift, Gulliver’s Travels: 293 pages
Augustine, Confessions: 305 pages
Pascal, Reflections: 329 pages
Marsilius of Padua, Defender of the Peace: 432 pages
Kant, Critique of Pure Reason: 628 pages
Smith, The Wealth of Nations: 1,028 pages
*I include only the original Pilgrim’s Progress, not the “second part” that he wrote years later.
Again, Beam is clearly on the shorter side of the halfway mark, but the original finding is confirmed: the broad generalization that Great Books are prohibitively long has been falsified.
Moreover, the distribution of page lengths isn’t a bell curve. It’s clustered – and Beam’s book is right smack dab in the biggest cluster:
Coming next: a comprehensive set of metrics that quantifies all the qualities that make a book “great,” thus allowing greatness to be expressed mathematically – just like Dr. J. Evans Prichard, Ph.D. did for poetry in Dead Poets Society.