Review of In Praise of Folly

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1993 Edition

This is a good book, obviously a classic and one that uses great humor to get across its message. It is complex and demands careful attention, and probably multiple readings. The book itself would be five stars. I particularly liked the letter at the end from Erasmus to the theologian Maarten van Dorp, which I thought added significantly to my ability to get into Erasmus’ head. And I thought the ending of the book itself, with the note that Folly prefers an audience that quickly forgets, was a nice smack in the face to those thin-skinned idiots who would have taken offense at his “general” criticisms and thereby showed openly what their own self-perceived shortcomings were.

My problem with this edition is with the footnoting. There were too many footnotes and they were irregularly placed, and too long, and they completely broke the flow of the text. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I suspect the footnotes themselves were almost as long as the text of the book, which says a lot about the ego of the editors; in any event it detracted from my ability to lavish the careful attention that the book demands and redirected my attention to footnotes about where common phrases had been used in other pieces of literature. It would not have been difficult to put a footnote after every paragraph and explain all the relevant information within that paragraph there; instead they would place one footnote in the middle of a paragraph, explain everything in the preceding three paragraphs, then place another footnote one sentence later at the end of the same paragraph and explain just that one sentence. Totally obnoxious footnoting.

Long story short, between the book and the footnotes the text was 132 pages, but the footnotes alone probably would have taken up at least 60 of them. Let the text speak for itself, please.


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