I joined a friend on a road trip yesterday afternoon down to Washington, DC, for a bowl of chili and a book report.
The chili was pretty good, courtesy of the folks at Hard Times Cafe. The book report was even better, as delivered by P. J. O’Rourke at the Cato Institute. The politics of the event were something I pretty much ignored. What excited me was the concept behind the book; a lesson to people who would write something, but can’t think of what to write.
A snippet from the publisher’s description of the book:
In On The Wealth of Nations, America’s most provocative satirist, P. J. O’Rourke, reads Adam Smith’s revolutionary The Wealth of Nations so you don’t have to. Recognized almost instantly on its publication in 1776 as the fundamental work of economics, The Wealth of Nations was also recognized as really long: the original edition totaled over nine hundred pages in two volumes—including the blockbuster sixty-seven-page “digression concerning the variations in the value of silver during the course of the last four centuries,” which, “to those uninterested in the historiography of currency supply, is like reading Modern Maturity in Urdu.”
P.J. noted a number of differences between his book, and the work of Adam Smith. Chiefly amongst these was that the original work was over 700 pages long in small print, while his is barely 200 pages long, with larger print and wider margins. Of course, while his book approaches the material with a satirical bent, it also acts to illustrate the concepts and ideas that make the original work important.
As we left the event, I found myself thinking back to some of the books that I read while I was a University student, and wondering how many of those could be used as the inspiration for a modern version.
In some ways, many of the posts here benefit from the same approach – attempting to take patent filings and translate them into something more accessible and readable, while still trying to retain some of the ideas of the original in a way that shows the value that they may have.
In creating content for many web sites, you don’t always have to start with a blank page. One source of inspiration can be looking back at some of the works that people find value in, and exploring the topics discussed in works that have been cited as classics of a field, and seeing how you might be able to update those, expand upon topics discussed within them, and provide value for your intended audience.
It’s something that writers have been doing as long as there have been classics to rewrite.