Saturday, October 11, 2008


I just finished skimming a proof of Michael Kinsley's new book, Creative Capitalism: A Conversation, due out December 2. Kinsley asked Warren Buffett, Oxfam's Elizabeth Stuart, Matthew Bishop and a few dozen others how to retool the global economy to ease poverty.

Say what you will about its timing; the book is intriguing—especially for the way Kinsley got it written. Remember how Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer talked his friends into painting his Aunt Polly's fence (so that he wouldn't have to paint it, himself)? Right after Bill Gates delivered his now famous speech on "creative capitalism" at the 2008 World Economic Forum, Kinsley—the founding editor of Slate—set up, a place where people in his network could debate Gates' concept.

Kinsley made their postings into a book. It's 310 pages and 75 very short chapters long and roughly resembles a comment string at the end of a blog entry. Kinsley makes no apologies:

"We can debate the quality of Internet prose: the suspension of grammar, the cutesy acronyms (not to mention emoticons!), the casual spelling, the half-finished sentences, but it is the language of our time. And people do read it. And write it. So the idea for this book was to find a collection of smart people, entice them into a Web-based discussion of creative capitalism, and by this means trick them into producing a book. The book would have the quality of a blog or a "chat" or one of Slate's email dialogues. The prose would be casual, the organization perhaps a bit chaotic. The experience of 'reading' it would be somewhat like surfing the Web—except without the hyperlinks. Plenty of books have grown out of Web sites. But have there been Web sites started with the specific intention of using them to produce a book? Maybe so, but not many. This may remind you of the way Tom Sawyer got Aunt Polly's fence whitewashed. But rest assured that contributors will be compensated."

Most impressive is the brevity of some of the commentary, considering the sources. Kinsley may be on to something (again). Look for more "fast" books to be created this way, via the mass participation of a social network. It's just another way that social media are reshaping the conversation.

(Bending Globe, above, by Laurie Simmons for Project Globe 2008)

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