Modern Edition of Henry George's Book
Progress and Poverty Published

Nadine Stoner


[Reprinted from GroundSwell, July-August 2006]


The 2006 Annual Conference of the Council of Georgist Organizations was held this year in Des Plaines, IL, a suburb of Chicago, July 19-23. The Welcoming Reception featured a book launch for the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation's new modern edition of Henry George's masterwork, Progress and Poverty.

The evening featured a book signing by Bob Drake, who edited and abridged the book for modern readers. Bob spoke with GroundSwell a few weeks after the event. Bob Drake is the Board President and Director of Education at the Henry George School, Chicago.

GroundSwell: Congratulations on such a successful launch for your new book.

Bob Drake: Thank you. We sold out 100 copies in about a half an hour. I never expected that.

GS: It seemed everyone had a good time, and many people were very excited about this opportunity to attract new readership.

BD: The Schalkenbach Foundation certainly hosted a wonderful event. I was honored that so many of their board members were able to attend and that they said so many nice things about the book. If I recall correctly, Ted Gwartney was the host, and Herb Barry, Bill Batt, Wyn Achenbaum, and Richard Biddle all spoke on behalf of the Foundation. Lindy Davies, who designed the cover and set the type, also spoke.

I'm sorry that Mark Sullivan wasn't able to get there due to transportation issues, because he certainly put in a lot of effort managing the entire project. And while I'm on a roll, let me make sure to thank Cliff Cobb for his help getting the project started and in getting it finished. Of course, Schalkenbach and the Center for Study of Economics provided the necessary paperwork, etc.

In fact, let's make this really simple: Everyone should just go out and buy a copy of the book -- right now! Then they can read all the thank you's in my Editor's Preface. It was a huge project and I really appreciate everyone who helped.

GS: I understand you put quite a lot of work into this project, too. How long did it take you?

BD: The whole thing spanned more than five years, but that's counting time when the project was on hiatus for various reasons. In hindsight, I might have been able to combine some steps -- but I'm not sure if that would have yielded the same accuracy in presenting Henry George's thesis.

GS: Was accuracy a prime consideration?

BD: Oh yes! I think even hard-core Georgists will be hard-pressed to find any place that I've misrepresented what Henry George said in his original edition. Of course, now that I've said that I'm sure I'll get tons of letters. But we had quite a vetting process, including RSF board members, Henry George School instructors and students, and various other kibitzers. Chuck Metalitz, here in Chicago, and Lindy Davies, up in Maine, really gave me a working-over. We debated some things for days. Then Mark Sullivan, at Schalkenbach, had to referee and make the official decision on behalf of the publisher. Of course, I was almost always right. (laughter) But in the end, it made for a much stronger product.

GS: What would you say were your main goals in undertaking this project?

BD: The first goal was to make Progress and Poverty accessible to a much wider audience. The second goal was to not lose anything of importance in the process. Obviously, that's a little tricky when you're abridging a rather large work like this. But it's also true of the modernization. I just tried to say what Henry George said in simpler language -- or perhaps I should say, in simpler sentences. Although I was going from English to English, I always thought of it as a "thought-by-thought translation." In other words, I tried to follow his thought process as he presented it. I did very little in terms of rearranging or "simplifying" what he said.

GS: Well then, why did you see a need to change it at all?

BD: As an instructor at the Henry George School in Chicago, I saw students struggling to get through the reading. Let me be honest, I took the basic course three times and I still never read the whole thing. Now part of that is just modern life: people don't have time to do everything they'd like. So if something is not really easy to read, it's going to drop by the wayside. In fact my biggest fear, I suppose, is that students still won't do the reading. But at least I've made it a lot easier for them.

GS: How much easier would you say it is?

BD: When I first proposed this, I did some readability measures and found that only 11% of the population would find it easy to read. That is, the style of writing was basically appropriate to graduate students. The new edition should be in the comfort range of over 75% of the general population. Plus it's about half the size. So an average reader could theoretically get through this in as little as five or six hours. Of course, not a lot of people will actually sit there and concentrate for the amount of time straight. But President Kennedy, who was a pretty good reader, could have done it in just over an hour.

GS: Do you expect this new version to replace the original?

BD: Heavens no! I hope the new version encourages many more people to read Henry George in the original. But most people are not going to do that without a little help. I think the modern edition will enable new readers to quickly understand the importance of Henry George and his ideas. They can get the basic concepts clear in their minds. That way, when they read the original, they will be able to appreciate the nuances they would have overlooked on first reading.

GS: But you do want to sell a lot of copies.

BD: Oh yes, as I said at the signing, it's the perfect gift for birthdays, holidays, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. Now you can give Progress and Poverty to all those friends you've wanted to read it.

GS: Will you be doing more speaking to support the book?

BD: If someone has a venue out there that they think is appropriate, they can contact me at hg2100@gmail.com. If you are willing to do the legwork, I can send you a list of dozens of potential places you can check out, from colleges to chuches to your local Rotary club. Schalkenbach is being very supportive of this, and I'm sure, between us all, we can work out some good PR. By the way, a lot of radio stations can do phone interviews no matter where they are located.

GS: Anything else you'd like to add?

BD: Don't forget it makes a perfect gift! Seriously - your friends will be able to put this on the coffee table right next to the latest thriller. It is totally relevant to today's issues.

GS: I remember you said something about the longest sentence? I'd like to end with that.

BD: Well, the average has gone down from something like thirty words per sentence to about fifteen -- but I believe the longest was something like 275 words in a single sentence!

GS: I hope our subscribers will take advantage of your shorter sentences.

GroundSwell editor's note:


Henry George's Progress and Poverty, edited and abridged for modern readers by Bob Drake of Chicago, is published by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, New York, NY. The Publisher's Forward is written by Clifford Cobb, president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation Board of Directors. The Afterword is written by Agnes George de Mille, the granddaughter of Henry George. The attractive cover was designed by Lindy Davies of the Henry George Institute.

Including the table of contents, index, and information on the Foundation and Georgist movement, the book is 344 pages long.

The list price is $12.95. However, Administrative Director Mark Sullivan of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation is making a special offer of 10% off to GroundSwell Readers who order the book and mention "Groundswell offer". Schalkenbach is also offering 40% off 5 copies or more. Add Shipping at $5 per order (not per copy) in USA, $7.50 per order in Canada, and $10 per order for other countries. The more copies one orders, the more one saves on shipping.



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