Thomas Piketty’s remarkable book continues to create a storm of controversy and publicity. It has been Amazon.com’s #1 Bestseller (though, given Amazon’s pathological secrecy, who knows that what means?) and it’s at the top of the New York Times bestseller non-fiction list. It’s already sold over 100,000 copies in the US. And it’s got the American Right rattled and/or annoyed.
So there is definitely a Piketty Phenomenon. In conversation the other day, a sceptical colleague jokingly observed that Capital in the Twenty-First Century “looks like being the next Harry Potter”. But then we had a more sober conversation in which both of us racked our brains to identify the last time a serious book had garnered such astonishing attention. And the answer we came up with was Francis Fukuyama’s famous book, The End of History and the Last Man, which was published in 1992 and appeared to catch the Zeitgeist. Certainly it transformed its author into one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals. My expectation is that Piketty’s book will do the same for him.
Interestingly, Fukuyama recently published an interesting article in Foreign Affairs lamenting the dearth of good left-wing ideas. Perhaps he didn’t know that Piketty’s tome was coming down the tracks?