Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Top Ten/One Hundred Lists are a Waste of Time

There is a letter in today’s Herald (Glasgow) berating Melvin Bragg’s selection of his 10 top people in British history. The sub-editor adds a headline: ‘Instead of the usual English suspects’ (The Herald, 18 April 2006).

Its author, Ian Anderson, from Dingwall, writes:

Let me demonstrate my own prejudices: Adam Smith's An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; a friend and contemporary of Smith's, James Hutton and his The Theory of the Earth which showed that Earth had evolved over millennia, challenged the Church's view that it was 4000 years old, and which strongly influenced Charles Darwin in his unoriginal Origin of the Species; and last but not least, A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism by James Clerk Maxwell.”

Lists of anything to do with almost anything are controversial, which is why I seldom take them seriously. A list of the top ten Scottish books would provoke controversy, just as the recent public voting on the most illustrious Scots men and women.

This produced votes for William Wallace over Robert Bruce, who actually won Scotland its independence from the English, but his film role in Brave Heart was not too favourable (each film must have only one hero). Even Donald Dewar, the first of Scotland’s First Ministers, did well, and a very personable man he was too and a giant compared with the present First Minister and the one before him, he was not by any standards (and I suspect, including his own from what I knew of him – a paragon of modesty with no reason at all to be modest) in a serious top ten list .

David Hume and Adam Smith did not do well comparatively.

However, Melvin Bragg’s list was designed and selected I suspect more for his television series and the associated book on those included. Hence, should we take it seriously? I do not think so, especially when the medium determines the message.

I did like the letter writer, Ian Anderson’s, inclusion of James Hutton, the geologist and friend of Adam Smith (he was one of his literary executors). It is always nice to see forgotten giants re-discovered from their obscurity.

Read Ian Anderson’s letter at: http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/60281.html


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