Wednesday, August 08, 2007

He'p me unnerstand!

Can someone explain to me what John Henry Clippinger’s “A Crowd of One” is all about? I read the first 100 pages before finally giving up – it’s meandering, disorganized, occasionally incoherent and (what finally got to me) internally inconsistent.

Chapter 7, “Transforming Trust: Social Commerce in Renaissance Florence” is as far as I could get. Within the 18 pages of this chapter Clippinger says:

Within 150 years, Italy [note, there was no concept of “Italy” until the 19th century!], and Florence in particular, became one of the most innovative, influential, wealthy, humanistic, civic-minded, and vital societies the earth has ever seen. How? There was, after all, no omniscient ruler.” [page 101]

This approach [merchants banding together to offset the nobility] among the merchant-based republics [i.e., Florence] and guilds stood in contrast to those Italian city-states that were dominated by the Big Men rulers, the signori, and the authoritarian rule of the old gentry and the church.” [page 103]

Although Florence was a republic, political participation remained limited to the wealthy merchant and aristocratic families. The Big Men [emphasis added], the Medici, …were able to gain control over the political processes.” [page 108]

I’m sure there’s some point Clippinger is trying to make – but he still hadn’t gotten to it half-way through the book! Perhaps it’s his ramblings and meanderings into current political and social events (most of which are neither interesting, entertaining or particularly insightful) which are poorly tacked on to historic reviews of long dead societies. Or, perhaps, it’s what happens when you try to cobble together years’ worth of cogitations into a poorly formed magnum opus. I really expect more from a PhD who’s also a Harvard fellow. Maybe I expected too much, but at least a modicum of internal consistency, at least a simple statement of thesis are things any work – no matter it’s length – should have. And this book, sadly, doesn’t.

Or have I badly overlooked something?

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