Sunday, July 4, 2021

Book: Plenitude by Grant McCracken

 McCracken, Grant. 1997. Plenitude: Culture by Commotion, Book 1. Toronto: Periph.:Fluide.

I had meant to read this for many years - ever since it became clear how much of an influence it had on two of my favorite reason magazine editors: Nick Gillespie and Virginia Postrel. Indeed, you can get a sense of the book from the corresponding article in reason in 1998. If you do a search at you will obtain a long list of citations to the book in the 20+ years since its publication, most of them by Nick.

The reason (cough, cough) for all this attention at reason is clear: McCracken documents and celebrates the technology-driven destruction of gatekeepers and decentralization of intellectual and social life that characterizes the past three decades. Cultural libertarianism marvels at changes that provide so much scope for individuals to live their lives as they please.

One choice bit:

"The fashion system does not work as it once did. Once, what came into fashion was obliged to go out of fashion. The old was forced out by the new. But fads and fashions no longer seem as thoroughly discredited by their fall from grace. Even platform shoes can stay in circulation. It's as if we are surrounded by the archaeological accumulation of all the styles of life we ever cared about. They can come again, and they do."

There is a wise discussion of the dark side of plenitude, which I think McCracken underestimated a bit in the relatively innocent days just prior to the Millennium. There is a most enjoyable takedown of the left's narrow and excessively political notions of diversity; sadly, the takedown defied my efforts to find a short quotation that truly delivers the punch. 

And, on page 40, one very poor prediction:

"Poor Donald Trump, once the "short-fingered vulgarian" so despised by Spy Magazine, is no longer emblematic enough to enrage or embarrass."

McCracken has a blog, called, and is an occasional tweeter @grant27. It will perhaps not surprise that he has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

The book is out of print. I got mine on Abebooks. The first copy I bought had a printer error (!) and was missing some pages while providing duplicates of others. I am not sure if that makes it worth more (as it would with postage stamps) or worth less (or even worthless). Both copies are signed and dedicated - the one without the printer error to someone called Karal.

Highly recommended: a quick, fun, and surprisingly deep read.

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