Strangest Book of the Week #6 - The Rise of the Meritocracy

Strangest Book of the Week #6 - The Rise of the Meritocracy

Yet another book with lovely, unique ephemera in the form of personal letters between the author and eminent sociologist Daniel Bell. This is a 1993 re-issue of the book originally published in 1958, so not a first edition by any stretch, but it is impeccable condition.

The Rise of the Meritocracy by Michael Young

Transaction Publishers, 1993.

This is a sociological satire, a look at a dystopian future UK of 2033. Young wasn't the first to coin the term meritocracy (that would be Alan Fox in 1956), but this book did popularize the term. The concept of course is as old as anything: a social and/or political system "based on ability and talent, rather than wealth or social class" (wiki).

I personally don't have the knowledge of political history and philosophies to expound much on the book itself, of which you can read for yourself on the relevant wikipedia pages. So what I'll focus on is what makes this particular copy unique. This was Daniel Bell's copy, personally inscribed from Young: "For Dan, For thanks for almost a lifetime of support and friendship, Michael, Nov. 93" and includes a signed, typed letter from Young that was clearly sent with the book. Bell had the foresight to photocopy his reply, which is included here as well.

Young's letter, dated 23 November 1993:

Dear Dan,

A little publisher has brought out a new American edition of meritocracy. I have quoted you in a new introduction. Anyway, I thought that you might like to have a copy.

It is very hard being without Sasha.

Love to you and Pearl,


Printed on Institute of Community studies letterhead of which Young was the director, and addressed to Professor Dan Bell, Department of Sociology Harvard University. Sasha, Young's wife, had died earlier that year.

Bell's reply, dated December 9, 1993:

Dear Michael:

News and letters travel in pairs. I had just spoken to Toby the other night and learned about Sasha, and immediately sent off a letter to you at Gibson Square. Now I have your note (of 23 November) and the handsome copy of the re-issue of The Rise of Meritocracy, with the acknowledgment to me.

When I retired from Harvard, I moved the locale of my activities, in part because I had lost some rooms and secretarial and other help, and in part because the Academy provides a pleasanter ambience for office and work. One small price is having to make a small trek to Harvard (where I keep na office to store books in an out-of-the-way building) to pick up mail, for only first-class letters are forwarded and packages and notices are not. Hence the tardy receipt of the book and the letter.

It is a handsome re-issue. Your account of the difficulty in finding a publisher reminds me of a story--did I ever tell you--of an occasion when I was teaching at Columbia and a sudent did a term paper on your book. It was a brilliant analysis. The only problem was that he had gotten so wound up in the problem that he never realized or acknowledged that it was a "fable," but that it was a gravid sociological work. What kind of grade does one give to such a student. An "A" would be wrong. An "F" was out of the question. A Beta-minus is for dull students. So I invented a grade, but the registrar would not accept it, though the student finally understood. I gave it a "non-A".

I well understand about Sasha.

As ever,


How lovely is that?

Available for purchase now.

We have had other books to do with Daniel Bell, including his classic The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, but the interesting set we still have available is Vilfredo Pareto's The Mind & Society, in four volumes, with Bell's ownership signature in Volume 1.

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