David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Dr. Seuss, Political Scientist

Today in my email comes a little chunk of unintended hilarity from the automated suggestion monkeys at Amazon.com:

The Politics of Inequity in Developing CountriesDear Amazon.com Customer,

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated books by Dr. Seuss have also purchased The Politics of Inequity in Developing Countries (International Political Economy) by Philip Nel. For this reason, you might like to know that The Politics of Inequity in Developing Countries (International Political Economy) will be released on May 27, 2008.  You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

Now it turns out on further investigation that this Philip Nel is also the author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon and The Annotated Cat, not to mention an unauthorized guidebook to the Harry Potter novels. So there does seem to be some correlation here. But I’m guessing that my 18-month-old nephew Elijah will find Mr. Nel’s treatise quite a disappointment after One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Though if he does enjoy it, I’ll make sure to send him The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks and Democratizing Foreign Policy?: Lessons from South Africa for his birthday. (Quick: what rhymes with “Mozambique”?)

Still, looking at the product description of the book on Amazon (“This book argues that a high level of economic inequality undermines a country’s growth potential, retards the development of social capital, and encourages corruption”) I can’t help but think: Isn’t that essentially the plot of The Lorax?

I haven’t laughed this hard at Amazon’s expense since the email suggesting that I might enjoy Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ because I purchased — get this — Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 2. Really. True story. Of course, it’s certainly possible that the juxtaposition was a purposeful attempt by certain customers to subvert the Amazon recommendations against a movie they disliked. But no, it’s more fun to think that Jeff Bezos’ algorithms really did find some thematic undercurrent between these two films, besides the excessive violence.

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  1. Derek Johnson on May 15, 2008 at 11:39 am  Chain link

    “Quick: what rhymes with ‘Mozambique’?”

    Fit of pique, chubby cheek, take a leak, what a geek, widow’s peak, hide and seek…

  2. Philip Nel on May 15, 2008 at 11:51 am  Chain link

    Dear Mr. Edelman,

    It’s true: Amazon doesn’t distinguish between different types of works by the same author, nor between two authors with the same name. This, in turn, leads to some odd recommendations, as you note.

    For the sake of clarity, I’m the author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004), The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats (2007), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels: A Reader’s Guide (2001), and The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks (2002). I am not the author of Democratizing Foreign Policy?: Lessons from South Africa, nor of The Politics of Inequity in Developing Countries. Those are both a by a different Philip Nel. He’s a South African political scientist based in New Zealand (see his webpage, here: http://www.otago.ac.nz/politicalstudies/philip_nel.html). I’m an American Professor of English based in Kansas, U.S.A.

    So… I can’t take credit for his books! It would be interesting, though, if Amazon lead readers of one Philip Nel to become readers of the other Philip Nel. However, as you note, the dissimilarity of the titles render this rather unlikely.

    Best regards,

    Philip Nel
    Associate Professor of English
    Kansas State University

  3. David Louis Edelman on May 15, 2008 at 1:46 pm  Chain link

    Derek: “Widow’s peak” rhyme with “Mozambique”? Don’t be a freak.

    Professor Nel: Thanks for the clarification! There also seems to be a Philip Johannes Nel who has written Deciduous Fruits and Vines: Pests and Diseases and Their Control, among other works.

  4. Calvin Lawson on May 16, 2008 at 12:52 am  Chain link

    the juxtaposition of “political” and “Dr. Seuss” reminds of those old propaganda cartoons he did:


  5. David Louis Edelman on May 16, 2008 at 8:55 am  Chain link

    The Japanese caricatures always make me cringe…

  6. Cindy on May 18, 2008 at 7:32 pm  Chain link

    Just to clarify, Elijah is 22 months old, UNCLE David. And, while he certainly enjoys “One Fish, Two Fish,” I’m sure he would enjoy (ripping up) a book on American post-modernity — especially if it has pictures or pop-ups.

  7. David Louis Edelman on May 18, 2008 at 7:40 pm  Chain link

    22 months old??? How the heck did Elijah get to be 22 months old? <sings> Sunriiiiiiise, sunset…

  8. East Middle School ss group on January 19, 2009 at 2:40 pm  Chain link

    Dear Mr. Edelman,
    We are a social studies group from East Middle School. We are studying Dr. Seuss at the moment for a project, and we noticed that you now a lot about him and his Political Influences. We would appreciate it if you could tell us a little more about your thoughts about him and these 5 of his books.
    The Lorax
    The Sneetches
    The Butter Battle Book
    Green Eggs and Ham
    Oh the Places you’ll go
    If you could please comment as a reply to these questions, that would be great. Thank you, and have a nice day!

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