Getting a second opinion

A while back, Bob Nardini of YBP asked if I’d be interested in reviewing The Economics of Attention by Richard A. Lanham, with the review to appear in YBP Academia, YBP’s online magazine/review site where select Cites & Insights essays are also appearing.

I agreed, got the review copy, eventually managed to slog through it, and wrote this review. A bit nervously, both because I found the book such heavy lifting and because I hate writing negative book reviews–but found no other choice in this case. Well, there’s a third reason: My college major was rhetoric (actually, it was called speech, but the department changed its name to Rhetoric the year I graduated), and this book is theoretically all about rhetoric. But I found the book frustrating, and as a humanities person who understands math (I was informally a math minor) I was outraged by the author’s seeming pride in innumeracy, a pretty serious flaw when you’re talking about economics.

I wrote the review–toning it down before submitting it–and gave the book away. Then I encountered this lengthy review/article in First Monday. In some ways, it’s reassuring: Someone who’s thought about the “attention economy” a lot more than I have also found the book lacking. In some ways not: the reviewer (Michael Goldhaber) thinks the “attention economy” is a meaningful term, and he praises Lanham’s style and his “brilliant explanation of the value of rhetoric.” But Goldhaber is a theoretical physicist, and maybe Lanham’s comments on rhetoric struck him more brilliantly than they do a rhetoric graduate.

Maybe we’re both wrong. Maybe it’s a brilliant book. Certainly the reviews at Amazon are more positive, and the book’s way up there in the top 40,000 in sales.

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