The quest for Grant Shapps's "extremely rare manuscript"

11 October 2012

Tory chairman Grant Shapps’s internet adventures continue to reveal insights into his past and the character of the man himself.

One Shapps site that caught my eye was meaning-of-dreams.com. The site has now been removed although the domain is still registered to Shapps’s pseudonym of Seb Fox. Fortunately I screenshotted meaning-of-dreams.com on 3 September this year.

Until very recently, the site was selling an ebook called The Meaning of Dreams by the American psychiatrist Isador Coriat in an edition republished by “Michael Green”, another Shapps pseudonym.

Shapps quite rightly acknowledges the authorship of this book and doesn’t try to pass it off as his own work. But a very large part of his sales pitch centres around the supposed rarity of the text, which is offered for sale as a PDF download for $29.97.

Here’s Shapps’s patter as delivered “from the desk of Michael Green” (with original emphasis):

First of all, please be aware that this book was published in 1915 and is now extremely rare, so you won’t find it sitting on any bookshelves at your local library.

You might just be able to locate an original copy in a specialist bookshop. But the last time I came across a copy it was reselling for $249.97 and I haven’t found another hard copy since then.

Remember that this is a manuscript that is genuinely rare and in the view of many people who have actually read it, contains exceptionally valuable information on dream analysis!

So by the time you’ve added the current cost of a copy of this book $249.97, together with a charge for your time and energy required to locate a copy (say another $100), you might expect to pay hundreds of dollars for this incredible resource.

Shapps’s use of the word “manuscript” reminds me of the character Keith Talent from Martin Amis’s London Fields. Talent is a con-man with the gift of the gab. One of his many scams is that he offers unsuspecting punters a “limousine service” from the airport in his Vauxhall Cavalier. The Cavalier is of course not a limousine but just a car. Likewise, Shapps’s product is not a “manuscript” – an original handwritten or typed text straight from the author with all the gravitas and rarity that implies – but just a book.

Oddly, the unusual word “manuscript” is used in a testimonial supposedly sent to Shapps by one J H Collins from NY, NY:

Michael,

I have to confess I was more than a little skeptical when I originally picked up a copy of this 1915 dream analysis manuscript. However I quickly discovered that it was written an an intelligent and meaningful way and I’m just re-reading the book for the third time.

It’s almost as if Shapps/Green and J H Collins are the same person. But I’m prepared to put this one down as mere coincidence. Shapps has given assurances to the Advertising Standards Authority that all his testimonials are above board and if his word on this matter is good enough for them it’s good enough for me.

But what of Shapps’s main claim, that this is a copy of an “extremely rare” book that would otherwise be expensive and difficult to obtain?

I’d love to tell a Borgesian tale of trawling through dusty university archives and tramping the Charing Cross Road in search of a rare and expensive original copy. Sadly, the reality is a little more prosaic.

A quick search for the title on Amazon.co.uk turns up 12 different editions by various publishers, including a copy of the 1920 hardback edition from a bookseller in Lincolnshire at the prohibitive sum of £8.50.

Clearly, if you want to discover the meaning of your dreams, this book is neither difficult nor expensive to obtain. Isador Coriat’s The Meaning of Dreams was published:

and of course by Shapps’s plucky HowToCorp sometime after December 2003 when the meaning-of-dreams.com domain was first registered (not necessarily by Shapps himself).

Shapps is categorical about the effort he’s had to expend to bring this title to market:

Why am I giving this book away so cheaply, when I’ve not only bought an original copy, but have also had to pay to transcribe it ready for the modern eBook PDF format?

Why indeed? If Shapps had, as he says, purchased and transcribed this book at great expense then he’s a bigger mug than he’s taking his prospective customers for. Even if he couldn’t find an original 1915/1920 edition cheaply, the Sun Press and Society of Metaphysicians editions were in print at the time he first offered Meaning of Dreams for sale. I suspect that a cheap or free digital edition was also available at the time though I haven’t yet found evidence for that. The work is out of copyright so there’s nothing to stop anyone republishing it legally.

Sadly, meaning-of-dreams.com is no more. If you’d like to discover the true meaning of your dreams you’ll have to splash out nearly £10 on Amazon, postage included, to get a print copy. And while Shapps’s diligent efforts towards the digital preservation of our scientific history have come to naught, you can peruse the full text online at Chest of Books and download a PDF of the whole thing from archive.org.

That’s free to you but it probably took at least $100 of my time† to find it.

You’re welcome.

† at around $1000 per hour.