Throw out your used books

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

You should simply throw out your used books, Tyler Cowen argues, instead of gifting them:

If you donate the otherwise-thrashed book somewhere, someone might read it. OK, maybe that person will read one more book in life but more likely that book will substitute for that person reading some other book instead. Or substitute for watching a wonderful movie.

So you have to ask yourself — this book — is it better on average than what an attracted reader might otherwise spend time with? Even within any particular point of view most books simply aren’t that good, and furthermore many books end up being wrong. These books are traps for the unwary, and furthermore gifting the book puts some sentimental value on it, thereby increasing the chance that it is read. Gift very selectively! And ponder the margin.

You should be most likely to give book gifts to people whose reading taste you don’t respect very much. That said, sometimes a very bad book can be useful because it might appeal to “bad” readers and lure them away from even worse books. Please make all the appropriate calculations.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    If a book is absolute garbage, I’ll throw it out to avoid wasting anyone else’s time with it. If it’s halfway good, I’ll donate it to a thrift shop.

    People who get books at thrift shops are used to worse than what I get rid of.

  2. Graham says:

    If I ever doubted that our age of abundance in both information and physical resources had created its own characteristic problems, alien to most of human history, this would put paid to that doubt.

    I mean, if one actually thinks a book is crap and wasted time, then absolutely. The physical reverence due a book as object or as vehicle of information is suspended. Toss or burn as permitted by local ordinances. But the rest of the argument seems a bit OTT, if not indeed patronizing.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    There is indeed something patronizing about giving a book. It amounts to: “here, you should read this, because you’re woefully ignorant about certain things.”

    I may suggest that someone should look into something, but I won’t get that pushy about it. Only certain types of ignorance are curable, and those are very easily cured.

    Also, there are some seriously ignorant and stupid books out there, pushed by seriously ignorant and stupid people. My answer to that is to promote empiricism and critical thinking, as they apply to the matter at hand. I start with a phrase such as: “you do know that’s been exposed as a hoax, right?”

  4. Graham says:

    Well, I did today recommend “In a Dark Wood Wandering” by Hella Haase to a colleague who is as historically minded as me and probably more literary.

    I didn’t gift or loan him my copy though. I rarely do that. Just because I don’t as a rule give away books, though I should. But this has the side effect that if he goes ahead and looks for it and orders it, he must be interested and had the chance to make that choice. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Intellectual autonomy of my colleague, yeah.

  5. Kirk says:

    Giving a book as a gift is patronizing now? What fresh hell of ignorance do you come from, Harry?

    This is the kind of crap I expect from mal-educated halfwits of the Millenial generation, who cannot bear to hear a contrary word to their varied and sundry shibboleths. What ego is so fragile and sheltered that it cannot bear a new thought, and takes the gift of a book as an insult?

    I find myself shaking my head at this bit of un-wisdom. Even if a work is full of bullshit and bad information, it can serve as a shadow in service of highlighting enlightenment.

  6. Graham says:


  7. Harry Jones says:

    I love you too, Kirk.

  8. Kirk says:

    I feel… Validated.

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