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Quick Introduction

Abridge Me is a wiki collection of abridgements of books, particularly non-fiction books. There isn't much here at the moment. Its rules of engagement haven't really been worked out yet, but if you have anything to contribute (mistakes to correct, embellishments to add, or entire abridgements/critiques of books to upload) then feel free to create an account and get wikifying.


What we do have is:

And one or two housekeeping pages:

Help on using the Dokuwiki system (on which Abridge Me is based) can be found in the following pages:

If you have comments, questions or abuse, you can email abridgeme at gmail dot com. The ”donate” link at the bottom of the page enables you to give money to the author of the wiki system that Abridge Me uses, Dokuwiki, in case that is something you might like to do. Maintainers of and contributors to Abridge Me will not receive any part of such a donation.

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Slow Introduction

Wikis are fantastic. Essentially perfect, in fact. They'll easily capable of ridding the world of such evils as malaria, AIDS, death and procrastination. Since they are such an universal Answer To All Ills, there should be a wiki full of abridged versions of all books that should have been read by people that don't have enough time to read them.

A good abridgement is fantastic, too. The thing of it is that, say, a year after having read a non-fiction book, most of us only remember the broad outline of it. So what was the point in going through all of that detail line-by-line, when a condensed version would have given the same overall result? Well, sometimes we need to use that detailed knowledge in the near term, to write an essay or whatnot. But even then it's extraordinarily rare that an essay will require the whole of a book to inform it; usually it'll require a few bits from one book and then however many other bits from elsewhere. Writing essays efficiently isn't a matter of reading lots of books, it's a matter of scanning lots of books and figuring out which tiny little pieces within them are relevant to the subject at hand. Some people are excellent at this; for those of us that find it harder, abridgements can be an excellent tool firstly to assess whether a particular book has any relevance, and secondly to track down which parts of the book are actually worth reading.

It therefore follows that a wiki of abridgements should be set up, to create a free-speech-free common resource that will someday lead to the eradication of malaria, AIDS, death and procrastination. Maybe a couple of dozen should be set up, so that they can fight it out in the evolutionary cockring of glorious free-market competition; may the best-thought-out wiki survive.

I (which is a naughty word in wikiworld) also have some notes on books lying around on my hard drive. They're not proper abridgements because they don't adhere to a NPOV (more on this in a second). They're some bastardised combination of critiques and abridgements, with a healthy dose of error and ignorance thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless this seemed like a possibly viable set of nucleating content from which a much-needed wikibridge could gently grow.

There are, of course, many enormous problems with this idea. They mostly have to do with the Neutral Point of View (NPOV) concept that I mentioned earlier. An abridgement is an act of selection, and selection is somewhat inseparable from political commentary. It's possible to claim that an abridgement is separable from a critique in that it is entirely ”fair and balanced” (in Fox's resonating phrase) — but we should gently shake our heads and tut with a wizened and weary countenance whenever we hear anybody foolish enough to do so. It's almost a tiny bit like the Orwell line

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

Maybe it's not like that at all. My point is simply that allowing political “bias” to enter into any piece of writing is far less dangerous than the pernicious notion that it is possible to write without it.

Of course, minimising the extent of that bias, to perhaps the extent that it doesn't stray as far as “demonstrable falsehoods” (so far as such a thing exists) is all well and good, but then anybody writing a critique ought to steer appropriately clear of those if she is minimally serious about doing a good job.

Further, a good critique is fantastic — and a bad one is a horror. When reading an abridgement one does not have enough time or detailed knowledge of the original (unabridged) text to always be able to spot mistakes, bad logic, general idiocy and so on on the part of the original author. A good critique provides that extra guidance, judging the soundness and import of ideas as they're explained (without adding in too many extra mistakes, too much extra bad logic and general idiocy).

What makes a critique good or bad? Well, there's the usual tumble of writing style and so on, but perhaps most important is that the critic happens to share your own peculiar array of foibles, fanaticisms and general political prejudice. You may be quite happy reading an (honest-minded) fascist's abridgement of a thermodynamics textbook, but you're unlikely to be satisfied by his comments on Reich, no matter how witty and intelligent he might be. (That is, assuming you're not a fascist yourself. If you are then you will hopefully be appalled by everything herein (at least until the thermodynamics section gets up and running) and really ought to toddle off back to the Daily Mail.) So is the answer to split into however-many wikibridges representing however-many minute or not-so-minute shades of political opinion?

I don't know.

Which is why I don't really know how this thing should work. I don't want to leave this as a static site because

  • the notes I already have have not been well proof-read, and I don't have the energy to do it myself, and
  • it's unlikely I'll get around to much with any great rapidity (and it would be awfully nice if someone else (non-fascist) would).

But then without some wikipedia-esque NPOV clause I have no idea what would become of the place if it's just released into the wild without any mollycoddling or carefully-thought-out structure. Isn't that dangerous?

I guess it depends on how scared you are of other people making decisions. This is, so far as I can make out, the wiki way. If anybody has the slightest interest in the place then there will be horrible fights and it'll all sort itself out in the end. Maybe I'll just sit over on the sidelines and watch. Or maybe everybody will do it wrong and I'll yell my tits off, be ignored, and end up sitting on the sidelines sulking furiously. More likely somebody else will do a better job of it somewhere else and this site “will be utterly forgotten, dissolved by time like a super-8 film left out in the rain, without sound, and quickly replaced by thousands of silently growing trees.”

home.1290527318.txt.gz · Last modified: 2010/11/23 12:00 (external edit)