Thursday, October 28, 2004

‘If a book is worth reading it’s worth buying’
I have been trying to find a copy of Michael Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy. He called it an essay on education and equality and is accepted as the first to use the word, though its currently accepted meaning is far from his. If I remember the synopsis correctly he developed a thesis on the likely consequence of a society operating as a true meritocracy and the book ends in social revolution by the masses because the elite have become too arrogant and detached. Having got to the top on merit they feel justified in treating anyone below them as of no merit and therefore contemptible. In the book this does not happen until 2033: Young evidently did not foresee the rapid acceleration of the effect under a Labour government with an unhealthily large majority. But it is interesting that he did foresee the trend, for he was a member of Atlee’s government and indeed credited with a strong influence on the 1945 manifesto that brought it to power.
I went to my local public library to find a copy. After a fruitless search of the shelves I approached the librarian, who asked when it was published. I guessed about forty years ago.
‘Oh, then it won’t be in stock now’, she said. ‘We only keep books about five years.’
‘What happens to them after that?’
‘They disintegrate.’ I was taken aback. I had thought this only happened to the most heavily thumbed pages of forbidden texts like Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
‘Don’t you replace them?’, I asked hopefully.
‘Not if they’re not popular’. She seemed quite unconcerned at the monstrous non sequitur in this policy, so pausing only to enquire about a complete works of Roger Woddis, also not in stock, perhaps censored, I left for Waterstones, shaken. They didn't have it either.
When I got home I tried Amazon and bought a paperback copy, their last, for £2.49 plus £2.75 for delivery. A very few hardbacks were on offer for fifteen quid or so, so if you have one you don’t want you might get a good price.

I hope it proves worth reading.

1 comment:

Paul said...

That explains why libraries are stocked with the stuff that school kids study, plus a wide selection of airport novels.