The vanishing book editor

I’m hugely enjoying David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations. Both Tyler Cowen and Paul Krugman lauded the book as an insightful account of the development of endogenous growth theory, sometimes known as the economics of increasing returns. But even 70 pages into the work, I do fear for the state of book editing.

When Warsh introduces David Ricardo, he mentions that his family moved to England in the middle of the “nineteenth century”, before Ricardo was born in 1772. Later a key Ricardo quote has “these these” muddling up the sense. When John Stuart Mill appears, he is referred to as John “Start” Mill. All authors make these kinds of mistakes, but even a poor editor should catch them. Books were once edited to a higher standard than newspapers and magazines. Now, I’m not sure. I don’t think Norton, the publisher of Warsh’s book, is the only culprit.

There’s another editing niggle I have with the book. Throughout the discussion of Adam Smith, Warsh refers largely to England. Given Smith’s firm Scottishness, I think he should have used Britain in almost every case (curiously, the one time Britain gets a look in is when Warsh discusses Napoleon’s planned invasion of England being foiled by the British Navy). I don’t think Warsh or his editors made a conscious choice here. Too many Americans seem to think England is Britain. It isn’t. Great Britain has three nations: England, Scotland and Wales (and it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).

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