February 20th, 2012

Math, it is hard

I'm reading _David Crockett: Lion of the West_. It's kind of cool how the author both uses and credits (inline) work done by family genealogists in trying to make sense of Crockett ancestry.

However, there is this mysterious passage.

"On June 4, 1787, John sold the two hundred acres he had purchased four years earlier in Sullivan County for one hundred shillings for fifty pounds. [14] At the time of the transaction, both John and Rebecca signed the bill of sale, which brought them virtually no profit, since one pound sterling was worth about twenty shillings."

There's an error here. Where is it?

Purchase price: 100 shillings OR 5 pounds
Sales price: fifty pounds OR 1000 shillings

That's a 10 bagger, in investor-speak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_bagger). A ten bagger in four years is pretty cool. However, there was some post-revolution inflation which I'm having some trouble quantifying.

Where is the error?

(1) Basic math (my fave)
(2) Close to 10x inflation over the four years in question, unmentioned by the author but presumed to be known by the reader (which I do not know to be true)
(3) An author who thinks that a ten bagger in four years is "virtually no profit"
(4) Some other explanation that currently escapes my imagination?

I checked -- a pound really is 20 shillings, so _that_ is not the location of the error.

Note 14 ibids back to the previous note, which is: "Shackford, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, 5."

_American Chestnut_, Susan Freinkel (kindle)

I believe this was a kindle gift from my friend I., who, as always, has impeccable taste in histories. This was an especially good choice for me, because I really enjoyed it and I was not likely to pick it out on my own. I _love_ when that happens.

Freinkel is slightly less present as an authorial voice than the kinds of books I pick out for myself, but she's definitely there: doing fantastic research, guiding the story along, and helping you really understand the people she is interviewing and studying by depicting relationships. She has a sense of humor, but it is subtle, more a sort of pervasively ironic stance than outright funny. Why, really, she seems to be asking, are we all so obsessed with bringing back the American Chestnut?

I knew the loose outlines of the story (that blight had killed it and that people were trying to bring it back, at least in part by crossing it with related chestnuts from Asia) but absolutely no detail. Freinkel tells more than the obvious story, by telling about the death of chestnuts in the Piedmont before the blight we are familiar with hit. She delves not only into the science and the history, but the policy responses and the personalities involved in forming those policies and the businesses that rode on the health and then demise of the chestnut. She then tells the multiple strands of efforts to bring the chestnut back, and places it all in a larger context of extractive industries and conservation/the environmental movement.

It's a great story, told well and worth your time.