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