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Cowboys of Information

David Foster Wallace’s notes from a tax accounting class

In the late 1990s, the novelist David Foster Wallace enrolled in an accounting class.

He was preparing to write The Pale King, about American tax collectors, which was ultimately published in unfinished form after Wallace’s 2008 suicide. His notes from the class are preserved among his papers at the University of Texas at Austin, and were the subject of a great New Yorker piece last year. With US personal income taxes due next week, here are two pages from Wallace’s notes, which review some core concepts of accounting—the difference between an income statement and balance sheet, for instance—and include this choice observation, which made it into the book: “ACCOUNTANTS ARE COWBOYS OF INFORMATION.”

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