Literature Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

Explain Volney's theory in The Ruins that "If books were to be judged of by their volume, the following would have but little value; if appraised by their contents, it will perhaps be reckoned among the most instructive."

The preface to the American edition of Volney's The Ruins argues that books should be judged by their content, not their size.

Expert Answers info

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer, Professional Writer

bookB.A. from Ferris State University

bookM.A. from Western Michigan University

bookJ.D. from University of Michigan Law School


calendarEducator since 2020

write95 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Law and Politics, and History

The preface to the American edition of Volney's The Ruins states that “If books were to be judged of by their volume, the following would have but little value; if appraised by their contents, it will perhaps be reckoned among the most instructive.”

The writer means that if books were judged by size (volume), The Ruins would be judged poorly—presumably because it's a relatively small book. If books are judged by the knowledge or wisdom they contain, however, The Ruins would be judged far better. Despite being small, the writer claims, The Ruins offers excellent knowledge or wisdom.

In one way, this quote can be understood as a restatement of the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover." Instead of the cover, however, the writer warns readers not to judge The Ruins by its small size. Another old saying that might apply is "Good things come in small packages."

The writer of the preface goes on to explain that writing an introduction to a subject—a 101-level book—is very difficult. An introductory book has to introduce a reader to a subject they know nothing about in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader, but that communicates a lot of very important information very quickly.

According to the writer of the preface, Volney has succeeded in writing just such a book with The Ruins. The writer praises The Ruins as a short but very effective introduction to its topic.

The fact that it is short, says the writer, is no reason to refuse to read the book. In fact, it is a reason to actively seek out and choose to read The Ruins over other books on the same topic, because the small size of The Ruins compared to other introductions to the topic shows that Volney understands the subject well enough to condense it into a clear, easy to read volume for beginners.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial