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June 11, 2002

Old muddy river
Posted by Teresa at 10:58 PM *

J. Bradford Delong notes in his Semi-Daily Journal that Amazon.com made him a hot offer:

The Theory of Moral Sentiments Or, an Essay/2 Volumes Bound in 1 Book : Towards an Analysis of the Principles, by Which Men Naturally Judge Concerning… by Adam Smith …List Price: $30.00

Great Buy: Buy Theory of Moral Sentiments with Sex and the City - The Complete Third Season today! Buy Together Today $64.88. Buy both now!

That unbelievably hashed title is actually Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments; or an essay towards an analysis of the principles by which men naturally judge concerning the conduct and character, first of their neighbours, and afterwards of themselves; to which is added, a Dissertation on the Origin of Languages (1759). As of this moment, several hours after the Semi-Daily Journal post, Amazon has decided that it pairs up better with John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.

However, there’s a sad lack of parity. If you click through to the page for the Keynes title, the recommended pair-up is not Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, but the collector’s edition DVD of Chasing Amy. Meanwhile, the recommended pair-up for Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is the widescreen version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. And if An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations isn’t your cup of tea, you can try any one of the other eighty-four titles Amazon lists as being by the same author, including Gettysburg 1863: High Tide of the Confederacy by Carl Smith, illus. Adam Hook; Sams Teach Yourself Adobe GoLive 6 in 24 Hours by Jennifer Smith, Lynn Grillo, and Adam Pratt; and The Comic Book Kid by Adam Osterweil, illus. Craig Smith.

Lord almighty, this is a mess.

It’s not just the economic philosophers. For some while now Amazon has been recommending Sex and the City—The Complete Third Season! as the obvious complement to all the works of H. W. Fowler, who as you know Bob is the author of the cranky and magisterial Dictionary of Modern English Usage. You can buy the two together for just $47.83.

That’s assuming you can find it. Amazon’s been listing that basic reference work as Oxford Fowler’s Modern English Usage Dictionary —which title, to borrow John Clute’s immortal phrase, contains more errors than it does words— “by H. W. Fowler (Editor), Sir Ernest Gowers”. I pinch the bridge of my nose, I shake my head. Fowler is the author. Gowers edited the second edition. And the descriptive text Amazon runs underneath this travesty refers to the unbeloved third edition, edited by Burchfield and well worth avoiding.

If you click on the Fowler’s name to see his other works, you get the works of one Earlene Fowler, a writer of murder mysteries. H. W. Fowler’s works are listed below that, followed by another recommendation for Sex in the City—The Complete Third Season!

As of this evening the Oxford Fowler’s Modern English Usage Dictionary title appears to have finally gotten fixed, but I’m not reassured. I know authors who’ve been trying for years to get Amazon to fix risible errors in their listings, and who’ve watched in dismay as new errors have randomly appeared. For instance, Debra Doyle, co-author with Jim Macdonald of assorted space operas and other ripping adventure yarns (available at fine bookstores everywhere), is currently credited by Amazon with the authorship of 607 books, apparently because one of the editors of CountryWatch.com’s “Country Reviews” series is also named Doyle. Meanwhile, a long string of errors in the listings for their books—mostly miscrediting Jim Macdonald as “contributor”, “illustrator”, “et al.”, etc., and misspelling his name as “MacDonald”—continue to go uncorrected.

I’d better stop now or I’ll rant myself into a froth. I was just checking one last thing on the site and noticed a listing for “Arthur Conan, Sir Doyle”. I swear to god, the errors on Amazon are fractal.

Comments on Old muddy river:
#1 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2002, 08:15 PM:

One thing these people just don't grasp is how annoying this type of advertising is. Advertisers generally don't understand how deeply their work is hated (probably they require this blindness to do their jobs), but this particular kind of advertising is exceptionally noxious for reasons I don't fully understand.

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