Books

Six Strange Facts About the No. 1 Book on Amazon.com


Thomas PikettyPhotograph by Emmanuelle MarchadourThomas Piketty

1. The strangest fact about the No. 1 book on Amazon.com (AMZN) as of April 24 is its identity. It’s not by Stephen King, or Dan Brown, or Danielle Steel. It has not a word of advice about how to get thinner thighs or a raise. It’s a book of economic theory and history by a French academic, Thomas Piketty, with the impressive but daunting title of Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I wrote about it in this Opening Remarks column.

2. Harvard University Press, which isn’t used to topping the Amazon.com charts, has been overwhelmed. “Sales of Thomas Piketty’s book have definitely exceeded our expectations,” publicist Lisa LaPoint wrote to me in an e-mail today. “Up until now, our biggest books in recent memory have sold 60,000 copies each—Piketty’s sales are already at 80,000. We have more printings on the way for the U.S., our European Office, and India (we’ll release and publish the book in India in May), and will continue to print as needed.”

3. The title echoes Karl Marx’s Capital (Das Kapital in German), but Piketty has a low opinion of Marxism. “I belong to a generation that never had any temptation with the Communist Party; I was too young for that,” Piketty, who is 42, told the New York Times.

4. The French pronunciation of the author’s name is toe-MAH pee-keh-TEE. (That’ll impress the people in your book club.)

5. Piketty attacks inherited wealth, but economist Tyler Cowen, reviewing the book in Foreign Affairs, says it has its uses, noting that “scores of artists who relied on bequests or family support to further their careers included painters such as Corot, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec and writers such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Verlaine, and Proust, among others.”

6. Piketty’s argument for a global tax on capital—essentially forcing rich people to fork over a few percent of their wealth to the government each year—has driven some people kind of crazy. One Twitter (TWTR) user wrote, “I propose a global 10% per annum biomass tax on Thomas Piketty’s body,” subsequently adding, “From the top down, of course.”

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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