What I’ve been reading

by on July 28, 2017 at 12:38 am in Books | Permalink

1. Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.  One of the few books that have a perfect title.  These are a cross between short stories, ruminations, and essays.  Yiyun Li is from China, yet she refuses to write in Chinese or to have her work published in Chinese.  At times you wonder what is really in here, but her voice and vision stick with you.

2. Yaroslav Trofimov, The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holy Shrine.  Compulsively readable, and also excellent background on both the Gulf region and the Saudi-Iran conflict.

3. William R. Cline, The Right Balance for Banks: Theory and Evidence on Optimal Capital Requirements.  Not for the unconverted, but a good guide for anyone with a prior interest.  Capital requirements should be higher, but it is wrong to think the American economy currently has “too much finance.”

4. Regulating Wall Street: Choice Act vs. Dodd-Frank, published by NYU, with many notable contributors including multiple essays by Lawrence J. White.  Balanced, judicious, the best look so far at pending reforms to banking and finance.

5. Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute: Or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?  A lot of this book is only so-so, but the Preface — “A Glance into the Archives of Islam” — counts as one of the better works I’ve read this year, even though it comes in at only 27 pp.  It covers Hagar and Sarah, how Muslim and Christian understandings of the Abraham story differ, and the intellectual sources of institutional problems with Islam and political order.  That’s the secret to reading SZ, not to let yourself get distracted by the bad stuff or empty pages.  Amongst those who do not revere him, he remains underrated.

Arrived in my pile is the exhaustive and comprehensive Edward N. Wolff, A Century of Wealth in America.  This is likely to prove an important work for many researchers.

What also appears valuable, but I cannot read right now, is Kevin R. Brine and Mary Poovey, Finance in America: An Unfinished Story.

1 A clockwork orange July 28, 2017 at 1:50 am

a devilish swash buckle of eggs if I’ve ever seen one.

2 efim polenov July 28, 2017 at 2:11 am

“A Thousand Years of Good Prayers”, by the same author, is also a very good title. I suppose every one of us sees titles of books we will not read in a different way. Anyway, even if I never read “Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in your Life” , I am glad I read that title.

3 dan1111 July 28, 2017 at 7:17 am

I like how Tyler can say “A lot of this work is mediocre, and yet this part is brilliant and worthwhile”. How many of us are fair-minded enough to do that? I have to admit that if I read a book and find something that I don’t think is very good, I am likely to rush to judgement and assume the whole thing is worthless.

4 rayward July 28, 2017 at 7:36 am
5 rayward July 28, 2017 at 7:56 am

5. “In Galatians 4, Paul uses the story of Sarah [the wife of Abraham] and Hagar [a slave who bears Abraham’s child] to illustrate the results of two different covenants: the New Covenant, based on grace; and the Old Covenant, based on the Law. In Paul’s analogy, believers in Christ are like the child born of Sarah [Isaac]—free, the result of God’s promise. Those who try to earn their salvation by their own works are like the child born of Hagar [Ishmael]—a slave, the result of human effort.” While Jews traditionally see themselves as descendants of Isaac, Sarah’s son (who was born about 14 years after Ishmael), Arabs and Muslims trace their lineage to Hagar and Ishmael – Hagar and Ishmael were cast out into the desert by Abraham and Sarah. One can see from this tidbit of information fertile ground for theological debate among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

6 dearieme July 28, 2017 at 5:10 pm

“theological debate among Jews, Christians, and Muslims”: why bother? They’re all delusional.

7 anonymous reply with a quote from Shakespeare July 28, 2017 at 9:38 pm

To the contrary. Shakespeare once said that he had never had a boring conversation with someone who knew who created her. All of his delusional characters were antagonistic to the faiths of their childhood.

8 anonymous reply with a quote from Shakespeare July 29, 2017 at 2:03 pm

that could have been ovid, not shakespeare, they are easy to mix up at a distance; maybe from the Amores or the First Book of the Metamorphoses.

9 Ray Lopez July 28, 2017 at 10:48 pm

You can also see this as fertile ground–if you know your Christian Bible–between Paul and Peter (and they did clash). Historically, Paul was trying to popularize Jesus the Jew to the non-Jews.

10 rayward July 29, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Paul was supposedly a Jew and a Roman citizen (due to the latter he was beheaded and not crucified), the latter as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus before his conversion. Paul, having never even seen Jesus, was opposed by the leaders of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem, Peter and John, who more than once rebuked Paul. As you indicate, Paul took the Jesus movement to Gentiles, who were more receptive to Paul than the Jews whom he had persecuted and by whom he was rebuked. Was Paul thin-skinned? Was Paul an anti-Semite? Was Paul a self-loathing Jew? Or was Paul just an ambitious faith healer? Paul was definitely conflicted. Of course, the religion we know today as Christianity (especially the Protestant evangelical and fundamentalist variety) is far more the product of Paul and his letters than the teachings of Jesus reflected in the canonical Gospels (written after Paul’s letters). Paul taught, and evangelical Protestant Christians today believe, that we are justified solely by our faith in Jesus, without regard to our good works. A convenient theology for Paul and a convenient theology for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians today.

11 msgkings July 30, 2017 at 1:39 am

This is a very worthy comment, I actually enjoyed that post.

12 Sandia July 28, 2017 at 9:53 am

#3 – if you mean finance as in capital raising maybe. if you mean fiance as in the 1.5% + per annum tax on peoples savings and retirement funds the financial industry skims, you are far off base.

13 Ray Lopez July 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm

+1, also #3 I would think contradicts #4. See also this:
The Economics of Global Warming Paperback – June 1, 1992 by William Cline
The United States as a Debtor Nation: Risks and Policy Reform by William R. Cline
William R. Cline is a senior fellow jointly at the Institute for International Economics … since its inception in 1981

I think Cline has strong opinions, I am guessing from the titles. He could be right, but he could be wrong, for example there’s no risk to being a Debtor Nation if growth > interest rate on debt. Also for global warming it depends on the discount rate chosen as to whether it’s a problem or not, which is hard to choose.

14 Cornflour July 28, 2017 at 11:02 am

re. 5.
Slavoj Zizek’s “A Glance into the Archives of Islam” can be read, and downloaded, at Scribd. Thanks to Tyler Cowen’s recommendation, I’ve done so. It doesn’t take long to read, so if anybody else wants to take a look, there’s no need to buy the book. According to Wikipedia, Zizek remains committed to the ideals of Communism.

Before this, I’ve read nothing of Zizek’s. I’m not a religious scholar, but neither is Zizek, who’s often characterized as a celebrity philosopher of culture and politics. My first take on “A Glance into the Archives of Islam” is that it’s both interesting and ridiculous. I don’t know quite what to make of it, but I plan to read it again. Not sure whether that’s a recommendation.

15 Thor July 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

I like what Adam Kirsch (spelling?) had to say about Zizek a little while back.

As for “interesting and ridiculous”, well put. I sometimes feel the content of Zizek is ridiculous but the fact that he has a huge following is interesting.

16 Cornflour July 29, 2017 at 11:52 am

Which books do the British steal?
by Tyler Cowen on July 29, 2017 at 12:20 am
“As we showed him the door he told us: ‘I hope you’ll consider this in the Žižekian spirit, as a radical reappropriation of knowledge.’”

Mr. Cowen: Thanks for your sly support of the free Scribd download.

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