What I’ve been reading

by on November 28, 2013 at 7:32 am in Books | Permalink

1. The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720, edited by William N. Goetzmann, Catherine Labio, K. Geert Rouwenhorst, and Timothy G. Young, with a foreword by Robert J. Shiller.  A beautiful full-size book with amazing plates as well as text.  Think of this as a book about a book, focusing on a Dutch publication around the time of the bubble called The Great Mirror of Folly, “a unique and splendid record of the financial crisis and its cultural dimensions.”  Recommended to anyone with an interest in the economic history of bubbles.

2. Catherine Hall, Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain.  An engaging and well written book about Thomas Macaulay’s father Zachary and then Thomas himself, focusing on themes of slavery, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and empire, not to mention the education of children.  A good read on why some strands of liberalism hit such a dead end when confronted with the realities of the British empire.

3. Iain MacDaniel, Adam Ferguson in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Roman Past and Europe’s Future.  A clear and conceptually argued account of Ferguson’s thought, which will convince you he is not the lightweight of the Scottish Enlightenment.  Starting with a comparison with Montesquieu, MacDaniel emphasizes Ferguson as a critic of the idea of progress and a historical pessimist, focusing on issues of war and martial virtue.  This book is also useful for understanding the subtleties of Smith on the ancients vs. the moderns and why he was more sanguine about Britain than about the Romans (no slavery, for one thing).

4. John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.  One of the world’s greatest Bach conductors is also one of the greatest Bach writers, with an emphasis on the vocal music and also what we know about Bach’s life.  Especially noteworthy is the lengthy case for the John Passion and the discussion of the B Minor Mass.  Definitely worthy of the “best books of the year” list and perhaps in the top tier too.  I’m not going to liberate this volume, I am going to keep it.

1 Parser November 28, 2013 at 7:45 am

#3 “more sanguine about Britain than the Romans” – he was more sanguine about Britain than he was about the Romans, or he was more sanguine about Britain than the Romans were about Britain? (The Romans reportedly had a very low opinion of the Brits, considering them unfit even for slaves.)

2 dearieme November 28, 2013 at 10:01 am

Some Romans thought the Brits very clever because they could burn stone.

3 Jack PQ November 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

(1) In his review of Peter Garber’s book, John Cochrane argues the Dutch tulip mania was not really a bubble, at least not in the sense that values were “irrational”.

4 dearieme November 28, 2013 at 10:04 am

If you insist on valuing an investment by the income it brings, how do you value a tulip bulb without guessing at the capital you can get for its progeny? Maybe the values were “arational”.

5 Douglas Knight November 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

“Argues” is an odd choice of word, implying that Cochrane disagrees with Garber. Here is Cochrane.

dearieme: Tulips and tulip prices were not homogeneous. Indeed, there is huge variation in price today. Exotic flowers sold for a lot of money, justifying the bulb prices.

6 dearieme November 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Thanks. But I’m not sure that the heterogeneity has any bearing on my point.

7 TGGP November 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for the link. Now I know not to bother reading Mackay & Kindleberger’s poorly sourced stories.

I will however note that Cochrane does not seem to be entirely of one mind. He starts out praising Garber for debunking traditional stories, then takes a step back and questions whether Garger is able to maintain a consistent view and points out that we’d need more historical data to truly understand what (Cochrane claims) are really markets in options.

8 prior probability November 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm

What fraction of an entire book counts as “reading” that book? 50%? 25%? 10? I doubt whether Tyler or anyone else could really “read” so much with a full course load during a regular semester

9 Ryan Langrill November 28, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Just a minor correction: the Ferguson book is by McDaniel, not MacDaniel.

10 Al November 30, 2013 at 9:18 am

These rhymes are Darryl’s, the burgers are Ronald’s.

11 freethinker November 29, 2013 at 7:05 am

Tyler, can you tell me if the book on Bach presume some prior knowledge of western music? will I be able to appreciate Bach’s music better if I read it ?

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