Today’s the Day

I once owned a book where page 317, in its entirety, read as follows:

ERRATA

On page 317, change ERRATA to ERRATUM.

It’s a good thing I didn’t steal that joke. Because as it happens, The Big Questions contains an actual erratum. True, it’s only two missing letters. But of all the letters in the book, these are probably the two I’d least like to have seen go missing.

Fortunately, I discovered this erratum within minutes of receiving my first hardcover books a couple of weeks ago, and the Free Press division of Simon and Schuster sprang into action. Everyone, from the publisher to the editorial assistants to the warehouse managers, understood immediately that we needed to fix this. Better yet, they kept me involved and informed throughout the process, which contrasts dramatically with experiences I’ve had with other publishers.

finalDoubly fortunately, I happened to pour out my woes to the brilliant psychometrician Ellen Julian, who suggested that we make up cards much like the one illustrated here and somehow get them into the tens of thousands of books that were scheduled to leave the warehouse the following Monday morning. (This was a Thursday.) The Free Press made it happen in a day, and all would have been well had I not awakened on Saturday to the sickening realization that the cards contained the wrong URL. Now it was the weekend and too late to have new cards made in-house.

After a frantic phone consultation with a very supportive publisher, I located a print shop that agreed to produce the cards over the weekend and deliver them to the warehouse first thing Monday morning. Triply fortunately, that print shop was FedEx/Kinko’s number 1220 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which delivered on all their promises and more, even while fielding hourly phone calls from an increasingly frantic author seeking reassurances. On Monday morning, the Kinko’s manager hand-delivered the cards to the warehouse at the moment they opened.

Today is the day The Big Questions will appear in stores. Yesterday I dashed down to my local Barnes and Noble, got an advance peek, and verified that the errata (excuse me, erratum) cards are indeed present.

Therefore, I have absolutely no reservations about encouraging you to trot down to your own local bookstore and pick up a copy—or, if you prefer, to order one online.

If you do, these are some of the big (and occasionally small) questions you’ll find addressed:

Why is there something instead of nothing? What do we learn from economic models? What arguments are there for and against the existence of God? How does color vision work? Why do virtually all economists oppose economic protectionism? What do religious believers actually believe? Do we have free will? Do we have ESP? Is there such a thing as a legitimate disagreement? How do we discover truths in mathematics? What is the difference between truth and provability? What are the limits of human knowledge? What does Godel’s incompleteness theorem say? How much can we learn from pure logic? How much can we learn from pure evidence? How can we distinguish correlation from causality? What does the Heisenberg uncertainty principle mean? What is most odd about the quantum world? What is the difference between right and wrong? What does it mean to be socially responsible? What do we owe our neighbors? What do we owe to future generations? How do we recognize fairness? What can we learn from metaphors? How big should the welfare system be? Why is the price system efficient? How should we deal with pollution? How should we think about rising inequality? Should poor people receive the same medical care as rich people? How should we think about global warming? What should we study? What justifies a belief? How should we live?

Enjoy your reading. And then come right back here to the blog and join the fray.

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10 Responses to “Today’s the Day”


  1. 1 1 Al Gerra

    What was the wrong URL?

  2. 2 2 Steve Landsburg

    Al Gerra wrote:

    > What was the wrong URL?

    Oh, that’s a long story in and of itself.

    The original URL for this site was http://www.The-Big-Questions.com (with hyphens). The cards were printed without the hyphens. Somehow, they looked fine to me when I went to bed on Friday night. But on Saturday morning I woke up with a start and said “The hyphens are missing!”

    This left two options: Get new cards made up and delivered over the weekend and/or acquire the non-hyphenated domain. I contact the non-hyphenated domain owner, who unfortunately failed to respond immediately. So we went with Plan B and had non-hyphenated cards made up.

    Monday morning, I knew that both the hyphenated and non-hyphenated cards had been delivered to the warehouse, so I called to verify that the correct cards were being used and the others discarded. The warehouse manager said he’d be sure to see to that, though he wasn’t sure what the issue was because the only difference he could see between the cards was a pair of little hyphens. (!)

    At this point, I heard from the non-hyphenated domain owner and decided that I really should own both versions of the domain, so I went ahead and bought that—though I drove a much harder bargain than I would have on Saturday morning.

  3. 3 3 Snorri Godhi

    The book should be very worth reading, though my reading plans might lead me to wait for the paperback. I have a suggestion and a question.

    The suggestion: either put the index on a web page or make it possible to “look inside” at Amazon.

    The question: what is the book that had the self-referential Errata? It sounds like the kind of book that I might enjoy.

  4. 4 4 Steve Landsburg

    Snorri:

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I believe that there will soon be “Look Inside” text at Amazon, and when there is, I will try to include a link to it directly from the blog page.

    As for the book with the self-referential errata—I’m afraid I can’t remember another thing about it. I’d love to credit the author, but I have no memory of the author, the title or the subject.

  5. 5 5 Dan Smith

    So, the book came from Amazon today and the card fell out of it when I opened the front cover (mine has the dashes).

    I then went to pg. 29 and was indeed confused (not unusual for me, mind you). I then came here, hoping there was some kind of prize. . .and all you want is for me to write in my book. Not cool. Where’s my invisible man in the sky-damned prize?

    I’m looking forward to a good read!

    P.S.–sorry about your douche bag editor.

  6. 6 6 Anthony Gore

    Can’t wait to read it!

  7. 7 7 JamesFromPittsburgh

    The Kindle version had the correction applied. The joys of digital distribution!

  8. 8 8 Steve Landsburg

    Dan: Were you unaware that life is unfair?

    Anthony: Thanks!

    James: I knew it was *supposed* to be fired in the Kindle edition but was thinking of buying it just to be sure. Thanks for saving me $14. And for being kind enough to let me know.

  9. 9 9 Jeff Semel

    The Errata paradox is mentioned on page 33 of Douglas Hofstadter’s book Metamagical Themas, in a section about self-referential sentences, with a credit to Beverly Rowe.

  10. 10 10 Steve Landsburg

    Jeff Semel: Thanks for this! Now I have to wonder whether my memory of this book is actually a distorted memory of having read Hofstadter.

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