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Apr 7, 2004 4:23 pm

Barnes and Noble History ...

Over at Crooked Timber, Kieran Healy looks at what is most likely to be found in sections of your local Borders or Barnes and Noble. He's amusing us, of course, but isn't it so? He's spot on the money about Ayn Rand in the Philosophy and the general poverty of the Religion sections. His version of Barnes and Noble History:
Content has stablized since the 1996 law requiring that 90 percent of all history books be about the Civil War or World War II. The remainder can be about how the ethnic group of your choice saved everyone else's sorry asses, but it's not like people are grateful or anything.
It's not like there's anything else worth writing about back then. Is there?

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Roderick T. Long - 4/13/2004

Just a quick note on one reason in particular that Rand deserves to be in the philosophy section. By any standard, one of the most celebrated developments in academic philosophy in the second half of the 20th century was the Kripke-Putnam revolution in the theory of reference. By devising a way for as-yet-unknown properties to count as part of a thing's essence, Kripke and Putnam overturned the widespread view that empirically discovered truths cannot also be necessary truths. Rand came up with the same solution (albeit with different details) *independently*. Anyone who arrives independently at what is generally admitted to be one of the most important philosophical developments of the last four decades surely deserves to be classified as a philosopher.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/9/2004

Hey, Ralph, not to toot my own horn, but ~do~ take a look at my AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. It will give you a dramatically different picture of Rand, and a deeper understanding of the nature of the growing ~scholarly~ interest in her work, a growth that was noted by THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION in a major piece, published---ironically---five years ago, today:


Ralph E. Luker - 4/8/2004

We were hoping you wouldn't notice! I can't speak for all of us at Cliopatria, Robert, but those of us with clear heads really do regard Ayn Rand as a quaint pre-occupation of our friends at Liberty & Power -- several of whom are, really, otherwise intelligent human beings and very often stalwart allies in noble causes. It's just, it's just, well, odd of you, somehow ...

Robert L. Campbell - 4/8/2004

Ahem! Do the Cliopatriarchs and matriarchs realize that, right next door, several of us admitted fanatics at Liberty and Power count Rand as a significant influence? Or that Chris Sciabarra edits the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and I'm the associate editor?

If you've got an objection to what Rand said about something, have at it! But why presume that someone whose ideas (or manner of writing?) you object to isn't worth reading?

I can think of three nonfiction books by Rand (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Virtue of Selfishness, and The Romantic Manifesto) that really should be shelved in a philosophy section, as they pertain to epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. Possibly also a fourth (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal), depending on where the big chains bother to put their political theory.

I'm not saying this to excuse the underpopulated condition of the Phil section overall, in the big chain bookstores. I'd like to see the Cambridge edition of Kant on the shelves, collected fragments of the Stoics and the Epicureans, the best editions of Locke and Hume and Spinoza, Charles Taylor and John Searle, and all kinds of other authors that they don't think the general public is terribly interested in reading.

I think Jean Piaget ought to be in the Philosophy section, too, but he's starting to get scarce on the Psychology shelves, and saying he ought to be considered a philosopher might rile a different bunch of people...

Jonathan Dresner - 4/7/2004

Why bother? The used bookstores around universities always have multiple copies.....

Ralph E. Luker - 4/7/2004

Where would we put Rand? Exotica? Need we stock her at all? There must be some demand, but where to put her?

Ophelia Benson - 4/7/2004

Yes, Borders is better where I am, too, I think it must be store policy rather than managers.

But if only people wouldn't shelve Rand in philosophy or Brooks in Sociology. That's all I ask...

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/7/2004

I have found Borders to be better, but perhaps it is my local manager.

Still, outside of major cities, Broders (and even B and N) have increased the on-shelf availablity of some decent history.

Yes the topics are are far too few, but let's face it, these are the topics that most people buy. The local Borders does squeeze in enough other topics to make browsing somewhat interesting, but I'm pretty sure that they still mostly sell war, local history, and the various ethnic groups that saved one place or another.

I don't think that's their fault.