French economist Thomas Piketty talks about his book
Thomas Piketty talks about “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” this month at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. (Ivan Couronnei/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

It’s 700 pages.

It’s THE hot summer read of 2014.

It’s sold out on Amazon.

It’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by French economist Thomas Piketty.

Possibly some people who bought it were under the impression that, for once, they were just flat out selling capital on Amazon, so you could join the ranks of the rich-and-getting-richer now, for a flat fee of $39.95. Alas, this is not the case. You can never, it turns out, join the ranks of the rich-and-getting richer. Instead you get to sit in your tiny rented cottage, gazing with Nick Carraway-esque longing at their lavish firework parties with music from the future. This, it seems, is to be our lot.

Ah, Capital! Soon to join the ranks of Mark Twain’s Fancy Embargoed Autobiography, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” (if you can find a busload of people who have read more than the title and six thinkpieces about it, I’ll buy you a sandwich), Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and every book ever written by a presidential candidate in the annals of classics: (in Twain’s own words) books “men praise and don’t read.”

A good rule of thumb is that if something is 700 pages long and hits the top of the best-seller list, no one who talks about it has actually read it. The more people who weigh in, the clearer this becomes.

Here is a chart I made, if you find that sort of thing convincing:

talking vs reading

Good luck getting your hands on a copy. In the meantime, just do what everyone else is doing: forming a strong opinion about it without reading it.

Here are some tips to get you through the cocktail conversation, if you are (un?)fortunate enough to hang out in a crowd where “that 700-pager about income inequality” is required reading.

capital

But you’re bound to run across more than a few copies of “Capital” out and about this summer. Here are a few handy conversation tricks to keep you out of hot water:

  • Talk about “Fifty Shades of Grey” instead, that other summer best-seller about millionaires putting average joes into bondage. “I found it appalling yet titillating.” “What those millionaires get up to is frankly stunning.” “Not enough numbers, I think. Could always use more numbers.” “I didn’t like all the implied bondage.” They probably won’t notice.
  • Insist that you just started and don’t want any spoilers. “At this point, I am rooting for both the middle class and the 1-percenters, and I believe anyone could come out on top.”
  • Bring wine to the discussion. Several bottles.
  • Talk only about Karl Marx, saying things like, “BOY, if only Karl and Friedrich were here, they’d have some SERIOUS WORDS to say about this.” “Proletariat, eh?”
  • Complain that the book lacked a compelling female protagonist. “After ‘The Hunger Games,’ I was excited to read a book about an ominous capital, but there were definitely not enough women. Also, I missed the high-speed trains.”
  • Shout “Spoiler alert: Progressive global annual taxes might fix this?” at anyone you see reading it on the subway.

Or you could just wait for the movie. Hey, if they’re making “Fifty Shades of Grey,” they’ll make anything.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.