I am considering a new edition of WHEE, but every time the issue comes up of this book, and its often criticized style, I remind myself that ‘clarity’ and the workings of an editor would backfire. I have tested this: editors seek to simplify the terminology or dense passages. Actually they are not dense: the concepts are simply unfamiliar. To protect itself from false design arguments and or neo-reductionist versions based on the so-called ‘model’ the somewhat labored style is actually a form of protection. Once a simple version of this material gained traction and the spectacular nature of the data sunk in, it would rapidly degrade the way, ironically, the Old Testament degraded (it didn’t seem that way at the time!) and turn into a tale of the supernatural, or worse, given the seeming uncaused sets of events, as a series of false summaries in semi-causal or semi-fantastic formats.
Michael Polanyi wrote a book called Personal Knowledge, and the issues it raised are significant: the knowledge of something as vast as world history is a personal data set in each individual’s brain, related directly to the number of books he has read, and the way he ‘visualizes’ a large sector of history (e.g. the ‘Greek Archaic’). It is hard to summarize large histories of this type, but the model given doesn’t do that: it rescues itself from the danger by existing as a Table of Contents that hides a dynamic. It is fortunate the ‘dynamic’ can do that, and this allows a way to stay away from false causal statements: the account is about people, and not mechanical laws. But a new version may be inevitable, and the last, no doubt. A first attempt will be an short fifth edition under a different title: Enigma of the Axial Age: many students of the Axial Age have never encountered WHEE because the concept of the Axial Age, buried inside, never comes up in google searches, etc… The concept of the Axial Age has been critiqued many times, and WHEE replaced the term with its too abstract equivalents, but I think one can image a book using the term ‘Axial Age’ could be imagined (in the age of epub and kindle) to change its title after a certain point (??) and leave behind the term ‘Axial Age’.
I think that WHEE is slowing but surely eroding the foundations of darwinism in people’s minds, and any day now the spell cast by the the social darwinists using darwin’s theory for class warfare will dissipate.
In any case, once you see the dilemma, you can translate the dense text without too much trouble.