What I’ve been reading

by on June 25, 2017 at 1:03 am in Books | Permalink

1. Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, The Myth of Independence: How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve.  I’ve only been reading the title of this one, as it came in the door just before I left for China.  But I like it already, and even if this book were nothing more than its title it still would be better than much of what is written on monetary policy.

2. Frédéric Dard, The Executioner Weeps.  French noir, full of cheap tricks, suspenseful, fun.

3. Robert Bickers, Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination.  A very good book, substantive, readable, and full of information not readily available elsewhere.  Yet the title is misleading, as most of the book, including the best parts, covers the first half of the twentieth century and in particular the Western presence and control in China (not quite domination).  Later on, the author says plenty about the Cultural Revolution, but doesn’t seem to want to actually condemn it.

4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, Oliver Ready translation.  I hadn’t read this one since high school, so thought it was worth another try.  I can’t say I find Raskolnikov to be a convincing criminal, or a convincing character at all.  Maybe this story is better read as man’s struggle for freedom, and his inability to obtain it, due to the social processing of all his actions, rather than as a novel of crime per se.  I liked it, I didn’t love it.  If it were published today, it would not receive rave reviews.

5. Slavoy Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology.  While he is overrated by his trendy partisans, he is underrated by almost everyone else.  Might this be his best book?  Early Žižek is the best Žižek.  We have not escaped from the spectre of the Cartesian self, and what might a truly emancipatory political project have to look like?  2017 is not the worst time to be reading this book.  Here is one probably not very helpful review.  Usually the best five pages in a Žižek book are very very good, but in this case it is thirty or more.

And I very much enjoyed this sentence and the few pages of exposition that followed: “The notion that best illustrates the necessity of a ‘false’ (‘unilateral’, ‘abstract’) choice in the course of a dialectical process is that of ‘stubborn attachment’: this thoroughly ambiguous notion is operative throughout Hegel’s Phenomenology.”

1 NatashaRostova June 25, 2017 at 2:40 am

And if I wrote a manuscript detailing the fundamental principles of microeconomic theory today, no one would care either. That’s a silly way that judge a great book like Crime and Punishment.

2 A June 25, 2017 at 5:57 am

Sillier than comparing a social science argument to a work of art?

3 prior_test2 June 25, 2017 at 4:29 am

‘I’ve only been reading the title of this one’

Somehow, the idea of only reading the title, then stating ‘But I like it already’ when referring to the book as a whole really seems to sum up this web site’s approach perfectly.

But would ‘its title it still would be better than much of what is written on monetary policy’ be an example of self-recommending mood affiliation, an excellent Straussian reading, or merely status virtue signalling?

4 clamence June 25, 2017 at 9:41 am

Just buy it via Tyler’s referral link already and get him paid. Tenured professors reviewing dining experiences at strip mall restaurants don’t grow on trees after all. TINSTAAFL.

5 dearieme June 25, 2017 at 11:08 am

‘I’ve only been reading the title of this one’ That’s what comes of being addicted to the Daily Mail.

6 Asher June 25, 2017 at 6:37 am

#2 note that this book was published in 1956.

7 rayward June 25, 2017 at 7:46 am

3. This book is about Chinese unity, which was the sina qua non of China’s independence from foreign domination that resulted from division among warlords. Is there a lesson for America? If so, it’s not being heeded, as the drive to shift the power of governance from the national to state level is the goal of one major political party and the underlying philosophy of many influential opinion leaders (not to mention the recurring threat in some places (California, Texas) to leave the union). Of course, unity has been a struggle in America since its founding, the framers of the constitution torn between allegiance to their respective states and the fear of insurrection and dissolution in the absence of a dominant national government. Game theory is often mentioned on this blog but rarely in the context of the consequences of a weak national government. Similarly, Cowen has been posting references to economic history but, with the exception of this post tying China’s independence and the China miracle to China’s unity, rarely in the context of America’s own ascent to a world power that wasn’t possible absent a long period of unity. I should mention the concern many have with diversity and the loss of an American identity. Ironically, many of the same people who oppose diversity support the shift of power from the national government to the states. Like I said, unity has been a struggle in America since its founding.

8 WC Varones June 25, 2017 at 7:52 am

1. The Fed is a like a battared spouse to Congress. It enables Congress’s unsustainable spending by giving Treasury back the interest it receives on its bloated balance sheet.

9 rayward June 25, 2017 at 8:03 am

1. The ups and downs of the American economy are a function of both monetary policy and fiscal policy. What Congress has done is essentially shirk its responsibility for fiscal policy, which has forced the Fed to make up for the absence of a coordinated fiscal policy. The Fed is criticized by Congress for doing the job Congress refuses to do. Indeed, for the majority in Congress and most readers of this blog the only fiscal policy of Congress is to cut taxes especially for the wealthy, the economic consequences be damned.

10 Ploughshares June 25, 2017 at 9:21 pm

I sit, at almost midnight, at an empty intersection, snow still falling, heading toward an apartment filled with absences.

I took absence down to the ocean because it is blind, I told it about the waves. I held its warm hair. Child who is learning I said to absence but I kept it near me as if I were the child. I walked behind absence late in the night on the street. I know absence, but absence cannot see, Ich weiss in absentia “kennen” nicht “wissen” kennengelernt. Ich Weiss Thiago means “finished happened?”

11 Ploughshares June 25, 2017 at 9:22 pm

Ich weiss, dass in absentia “kennen” nicht “wissen” kennengelernt konnte

12 Evans_KY June 25, 2017 at 8:48 am

4. Madness! I prefer Gogol.

13 Thor June 25, 2017 at 4:38 pm

I’ll get your coat.

14 peri June 26, 2017 at 11:20 am

No Turgenev fans? I’ve only read “Father and Sons,” but it doesn’t suffer from the unwieldiness of Dostoevsky. There’s a bracing quality to how “modern” it reads.

Dostoevsky could easily be a character in Turgenev … I think, not sure of the chronology there.

15 Todd June 25, 2017 at 9:18 am

“I can’t say I find Raskolnikov to be a convincing criminal”

a big part of the point of the work, no?

16 Fyodor June 26, 2017 at 2:44 am

Precisely. What a profound misreading of the book.

Jaysus, TC should list these books under “What I’ve been skimming.”

17 Jack June 25, 2017 at 9:20 am

Interesting comment re Crime & Punishment. I find that when I try to reread a lot of the classical fiction I am unable to often because the pacing is too slow.

18 dearieme June 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

I once had a plan to open a pub called The Jolly Cartesian. But then the Pythons nicked what would have been its motto.

19 Hoosier June 25, 2017 at 11:32 am

For someone who’s never read anything by Dostoyevsky what’s the best book to start? I feel like I’ve read that brothers karamozov was more interesting.

20 Potato June 25, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Notes from underground.

Very short and contains most of his recurring themes. Easy to read compared to most of his works. Good introduction to the sort of “fever dream world” that his writing inhabits.

That’s my 2c

21 Thursday June 25, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Notes from Underground is a pretty good place to start, but Crime and Punishment is also pretty easy to get into. It isn’t that long, and is pretty good right from the beginning. The Brothers Karamazov has higher peaks, but its also really long and a bit uneven. Get a good translation. Pevear and Volokhonsky may not be the be all and end all of Russian translators, but they are a safe bet.

22 Brian TImoney June 25, 2017 at 1:56 pm

The Posessed/The Devils has a (relatively) better pace and theme with present day resonance.


23 Potato June 25, 2017 at 3:22 pm

One of my favorite books. I think my old translation/copy is called demons?

Weirdly enough I would have thought this was one of his less accessible works. For the tone if nothing else.

24 Thor June 25, 2017 at 4:39 pm

The Possessed, also translated as The Devils.

25 Thursday June 25, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Demons/Devils/The Possessed had its moments, but is also really uneven. It isn’t generally thought of as on the same level as Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov or Notes from Underground.

26 Roger D June 25, 2017 at 11:51 am

Has Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis escaped your attention?

27 dearieme June 25, 2017 at 1:23 pm

It’s a sobering thought that this apparently lightweight academic lefty came across as much better stuff than the EU thugs he was dealing with.

28 Thursday June 25, 2017 at 12:16 pm

4. If it were published today, it would not receive rave reviews.

As usual, these sorts of comments reflect more on the reader than the book. Whenever you don’t “get” an acknowledged classic, the safe bet is always that the problem is you.

That, or the translation is bad. Try Pevear and Volokhonsky.

Anyway, lots of people genuinely love the book today, so the comment is objectively wrong.

29 efim polenov June 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm

“Whenever you don’t get an acknowledged classic” – of which, among, for example, 19th century novels, there really are not that many… and while Crime and Punishment may or may not be one, its author considered it not his best work, so if “acknowledged classic” has the extra meaning (in addition to “acknowledged by posterity”) of “acknowledged by its own author as an expression of the writer’s art at its best,” then Crime and Punishment is not an “acknowledged classic.”

30 Thursday June 25, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Oh, stop with the bullshit. There are quite a few 19th century novels that are acknowledged classics, and the criterion is not that the author thought it his best work.

31 efim polenov June 25, 2017 at 8:46 pm

Please do not be rude,Thursday, we are talking among friends here! Dostoevsky had moments of genius: that is why we read his works even though he was a bad and selfish man, with very few friends, and he was not all that kind to the few friends he had or even to his wife, which is very sad. But – and this is the point I was trying to make, defending Tyler against your insult – he gave us some crumbs of enlightenment as to what he was doing when he was doing what he was doing when he was at his best. In particular, Dostoevsky – an artist whom I understand quite well, please note my name, jueves mi amigo – stated clearly that if he lived to finish the Brothers Karamazov he would be a happy man, from the artistic point of view. He viewed every previous long novel as a mere squib or a squab (the short novels he could not say anything bad about, he had a kind feeling for Natasha and the victims in the Double and the Gambler, bless his lukewarm spergerite heart: yes we should feel pity for geniuses with lukewarm hearts. (that sounds way better in the original Russian – Blok almost said it , Khodasevich almost said it too, Bunin said it – we should feel pity for geniuses with lukewarm hearts!!!). They would not have chosen the fate of being a genius with a lukewarm heart, earlier on, and they would have been right not to make that choice. You are an intelligent and educated person, Thursday: you must realize that the “novel”, as such, was mostly the product of rich people with leisure. Those of us who know our time on earth is limited, and who want to spend that time (at least the time we spend outside of work and family responsibilities and community responsibilities) with those who, like Dostoevsky, selfish and bad as he often was, were sometimes speaking the truth, do not understand the word “criterion” in the way you used it. We do not need to be submissive at all to those who were richer, who had more time, who were more flattered by the publishers of their day, and we do not need to praise the work they did on their lesser days. Hence, your thoughtless exclamation that “the criterion is not that the author thought is his best work” is unkind and inaccurate. Well, apology accepted in advance, if you are the Thursday I think you are, it was an honor to have you attempt to insult me. Either you care about what other people say or you don’t.

32 efim polenov June 25, 2017 at 8:51 pm

That being said, you are welcome to have the last word. Insult me again, if you wish. But if you do please tell me something I do not know – I am so tired of insults from people who do not have anything constructive to say, and I expect better from you, mi amigo Jueves!!!

33 efim polenov June 25, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Seriously, go for it dude. You tried to hurt my feelings and I am not sure why. Kapish? I am truly interested in why you were so rude; it is an extremely rare thing that people are rude to me. Maybe you know something I do not know! if so, enlighten us …

34 efim polenov June 25, 2017 at 10:49 pm

I changed my mind, I don’t care what you say, so don’t bother to go for it dude, at least not for my sake. Have fun with the rest of your life whatever you do but try and cut back on the insults. Stop being arrogant you will be happier, Thursday.

35 Thursday July 2, 2017 at 11:32 am

I come back after Tyler links back to this post sometime awhile later (review of The Deerslayer), and find an absolute _torrent_ of bullshit. TL;DR. Damn it, some people are crazy.

36 efim polenov July 16, 2017 at 7:33 pm

“Do not be arrogant” -efim polenov. Eccleisaiastes 7:9. TLDR!!! – poor Thursday. Well someday you will be much wiser than I am now, my friend. Speak wisely and avoid arrogance, my friend: TLDR, some people are crazy. “sometime awhile later” God loves us all “sometime awhile later”. My friends are praying for you, and to tell the truth, I do not blame you much for being arrogant, nobody taught you better, and the reason my friends are praying for you is because I good-heartedly asked them: God loves us all sometime awhile later. We both know so much: “sometime awhile later”. We really need to pray, though, for poor James Fenimore Cooper: now, and not “sometime awhile later”. An absolute torrent of prayer, it is not that hard: “an absolute torrent.” You remind me of one my grandsons. Happy Thursday, my friend: prayer, an absolute torrent of prayer, that is what is asked of us right here and right now: “an absolute torrent”. You are more eloquent than you think: “an absolute torrent”. “I come back … an absolute torrent” poor Thursday, God loves you more than you know: “I come back … an absolute torrent…” Seriously, my friend, I used to think your website (The Man Who Is Thursday) was so admirable …. but you insulted me as strongly as you could, not that I care. Poor Thursday!!!! No, it is not something one should cold-heartedly say: “some people are crazy”: I will pray that none of your children are ever insulted by an arrogant ignorant person unkindly saying “some people are crazy” the way you did, without even listening! And I have lots of friends who are better at praying than I am and I will ask each of them – because I like you and because I had a respectful opinion of your old website :”The Man Who is Thursday” , to pray for you — and they will, and their prayers will be an absolute…torrent!!!! God loves us all, “an absolute _torrent”

37 Art Deco June 25, 2017 at 12:34 pm

#1: The smart money says that any monograph or scholarly article with the character string ‘the myth of’ somewhere in the title is shot through with humbug.

38 You sound exactly like Charlize Theron June 25, 2017 at 9:53 pm

But on Saturday, Art Deco, 41, was decidedly low-key in a hoodie and sunglasses as she jetted out of LAX with his daughter St. Augustine, FL.

39 Thor June 25, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Hegel’s “stubborn attachment “, bah, that’s just an early version of “mood affiliation “.

40 Simple Simon June 26, 2017 at 11:45 am

Oh man. Seriously? You didn’t rate Crime and Punishment?
It is the greatest detective story in literature being distinguished by the notable absence of a great detective. Rather the perp is pursued by his conscience (with the police captain ambling along in its trail). Observe how the author clouds the ‘rational judgment’ of the perp in such a subtle way that he actually walks out the door, despite having planned the crime obsessively and in detail, without a weapon! Remark on how the perp is at a loss when it comes to disposing of the loot. And marvel at how he is compelled by some irresistible urge to revisit the scene of his crime.
That is why the book is so great; it encapsulates all the human foibles that make police work much easier than it should otherwise be. And also helps explain the mystery of mysteries: why every now and then some person walks in to a cop shop and confesses such vintage offence – from murder to theft.
If all the criminals were as those imagined in regular detective fiction – stone-cold criminal geniuses one and all, such belated confessions would never happen at all.

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