ONE of the hottest books in New York appears on no best-seller list.
â€œRussian Thinkers,â€ a 1978 collection of essays on 19th-century Russian intellectuals by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, has virtually disappeared from bookstores across the city, including Barnes & Noble, Labyrinth Books and Shakespeare & Company. The Internet is not much help either: the book is sold out on bn.com, and though it can be ordered from Amazon, the order wonâ€™t be shipped for two or three weeks.
The culprit behind this Berlin craze turns out to be none other than Tom Stoppard and his epic three-part play, â€œThe Coast of Utopia,â€ which opened at Lincoln Center on Nov. 27. Tucked deep inside the showâ€™s playbill is a list titled â€œFor Audience Members Interested in Further Reading,â€ with â€œRussian Thinkersâ€ at the top.
â€œIf you were intrigued and wanted to know more, this would be a good place to start,â€ said Anne Cattaneo, the playâ€™s dramaturge, who compiled the seven-book list. â€œI tried to keep it to a little George Sand, a little Turgenev.â€
As a result, Mr. Berlinâ€™s book is not only all but impossible to find in New York, it is also completely out of stock with its publisher, Penguin, which earlier this month quickly ordered two reprintings totaling 3,500 copies, the first time in 12 years the book has been printed, to satisfy more than 2,000 suddenly unfilled orders.
As my wife pointed out, these days, everyone wants a little more information. That extra aside or note or pointer to something related. A tangent for the inquisitive. This list of further readingâ€“ what we librarians used to call a bibliography (it’s a term from the late nineteenth century, basically the Victorian equivalent of a hyperlink)â€“ is a clear example of this growing acceptance of the interconnectivity of all knowledge and information. Sure, this sort of thing existed before but it was nerdy stuff, practiced by academics. The internet, that wild and woolly system of tubes, has just democratized the concept and made it mainstream. Hell, it’s even gone Broadway.