People seem to forget that observations about the readability of wide columns of text are accompanied by recommendations that do not simply end with "restrict the width to ten words". Such recommendations came about through centuries of experience with the printed word and included other measures such as increasing the line spacing or "leading", or using shorter paragraphs (a general trend in mainstream writing, particularly in electronic media).
I do agree that CSS is a fairly poor tool for dealing with flexible layout and thus delivering multiple columns without a lot of extra work, however.
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