Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Who is the King of the Airport Book Store Rack?

I just flew from Oakland to LA and this provided me with the opportunity to study the Airport's book rack.  While Dubner and Levitt have been the Kings for a long time, there is a new "kid" on the block and he is UCLA's Jared Diamond.  Below, I reproduce a photo I took of the cover of his new book "The World Until Yesterday".


Given the success of his "Guns and Germs", he has earned the right to this top billing. I must admit that I quickly put down his book and started reading Pete Townsend's autobiography of his time with The Who (while I enjoyed the 10 pages, I didn't buy it either).   In the brief section I read, Townsend discussed how the band repositioned itself (circa 1979) after the death of Keith Moon to change its style of music.

Returning to Jared Diamond,  some  sociologist should write a paper about what predicts whether an academic's project achieves popular success.   When do academics break through to the other side?  The answer my friend may be blowing in the wind?  The number of attempts at "success" could be quantified by counting trade publication books and then defining "success" by some sales threshold. A linear probability model could then be estimated as a function of a bunch of attributes of the author and the subject material and the year when it was published.  For example, would Freaknomics have been a smash success had it been published in the midst of a deep recession (say 2009) rather than during good times (2004)?    Would "Why Nations Fail" have sold many fewer copies had it appeared during good times?

I do not have the time or inclination to think about these deep issues because I'm heading to San Diego for the ASSA meetings.