Time Essay: Making the Most of The Best

It is the fate of weighty books in summer to be lugged to shores and mountains, to gather sand and silt and rings where vodka-and-tonic glasses treated them like coasters, and to go unopened. War and Peace, Gravity's Rainbow, Remembrance of Things Past, The Gulag Archipelago: they will all be home soon, reminders of Mark Twain's melancholy observation that a classic is "a book which people praise and don't read."

One summer seller that people are still reading and discussing is a slim nonbook titled The Best. Compiled by two Columbia professors, Peter...