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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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
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