That is the latest entry in the Conversations with Tyler series, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  Here is the overview:

Michael Orthofer, one of the world’s most prolific book reviewers, joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on — what else? — books. Read to discover why Michael believes everyone should read more fiction, how we should choose books, why American popular literature is overrated, what he thinks about authors like Herman Melville, Fyoder Dostoevsky, Goethe, J.K. Rowling, Arno Schmidt, and many others, his recommendations for the best sites for readers, why studying literature at college was such a big disappointment, how much book covers matter, and why his opinion will never be the final word.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s another life hack which I totally reject, but it may just be because I’m an addict of sorts. You tell me why, for you, it’s wrong.

A lot of people say to me, “Well, I love fiction, but I’m never going to read new works because I can’t tell what’s really good. I’ll just wait 20 years and then look back on what was truly excellent from 20 years ago and read that 20 years later. In the meantime, now I’ll just read classics or things in other areas which are verified as being truly excellent.” Does that make sense?

ORTHOFER: I worry very much about people who rely on what gets that stamp of approval. Just because it has a cover review in the New York Times Book Review does not mean that that book really is, if we look at it from five or ten years down the road — that that book will still be a significant work. I find so much which is highly praised at any one point long‑term won’t be. Again, however — .

Another question:

COWEN: If we take American citizens, who are not necessarily the people who read you, but at the margin, we could give them more nonfiction, we could give them more travel, we could give them more fiction, or we could actually give them more of some really good TV, which of those things are we rooting for them to do more of, at the margin?

And this exchange:

COWEN: Bottom’s Dream. Most people have never heard of Arno Schmidt.

ORTHOFER: Regrettably, no.

COWEN: We have a chance now to read his masterwork. Some of his others are in English already. Tell us why we should care.

COWEN: But you giggled when you read Bottom’s Dream, right?


COWEN: You giggled a lot.

ORTHOFER: The English edition, I think, is just under 1,500 pages.

COWEN: A mere pittance compared to Dream of the Red Chamber, right?

Do read the whole thing.

Here is my short review of Michael’s big book on world literature: “If you measure book quality by the actual marginal product of the text, this is one of the best books written, ever.  Reading the manuscript in draft form induced me to a) write an enthusiastic blurb, and b) order about forty items through Amazon, mostly used of course.  The book is basically a comprehensive guide to what is valuable and interesting in recently translated world literature, a meta-book so to speak, with extensive coverage of most of the countries you might want.”  And here is Michael’s blog.  You can order Michael’s book here.

Thank you all for making the first day of The Complacent Class such a success; pre-orders were strong and according to one standard metric it was the #1 best-selling book for Monday.

I am working to get you information on Kindle pre-order, as of now the pre-order extra book offer still stands.  I also am told that on UK Amazon you have to search for title, not by my name, for whatever reason.

That is my new Bloomberg View column, here are some excerpts:

Enter Richard von Glahn’s “The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century,” a book likely to go down as one of the year’s best. Over the last 15 years, the economics profession has gone from a poor understanding of China’s economic history to knowing quite a bit. Von Glahn’s exhaustive but readable book is the best guide to this rapidly growing body of knowledge.

…a lot of autocratic Chinese regimes in history have proven stable even in periods of fairly slow economic growth. It can take them centuries to fall and be replaced, and even then a foreign invasion, like ones by the Mongols or Manchus, may be required.

From today’s media, one sometimes receives the impression that a Chinese growth rate below 4 or 6 percent could mean radical instability and a rapid fall of the government, but Chinese history does not show this pattern. That is hardly proof of how things will run in the future, but it should shift our expectations in the direction of greater Chinese political stability.

Other times, Chinese regimes can fall for what might at first appear to be relatively arbitrary reasons.  And the key point is this:

If there is a single common theme running through the many centuries covered by this book, it is the never-fully-successful quest of the Chinese state for revenue and fiscal stability. One reason China fell behind Western Europe in the 18th century is simply that the Chinese state spent less on creating valuable public goods and infrastructure.

In 1993, 15 years after it began making market-oriented reforms, the Chinese central government’s direct revenue was only 3 percent  of gross domestic product, with the usual caveat that no Chinese numbers should be taken as exact measures. Only in the last 10 years has that revenue share exceeded 10 percent of GDP; by comparison, in the U.S. in normal times that number sits in the range of 17 to 18 percent. For all the images Americans might have of China’s government as a communist behemoth, the country’s political order is better understood as still somewhat immature.

Do read the whole thing.  You can order Glahn’s book here, it is one of my favorites of the year so far.

That is my next book, now finished, due out February 2017 from St. Martin’s Press.  You can pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes&Noble.  Recommended!

Very little of the content of this book has appeared on Marginal Revolution.  It contains my thoughts on the death of American restlessness, what is happening with segregation by race and income, how we have become a nation of “matchers,” why crime rates will move up, the ultimate sociological roots of the economic great stagnation, why Steven Pinker is probably wrong about world peace, what we can learn from the riots and violence of the 1960s, why the bureaucratization of protest matters, marijuana vs. cocaine vs. heroin, in which significant way gdp statistics really do under-measure productivity, the importance of cyclical theories of history, and what Tocqueville got right and wrong about America.

And much more!  Most of all it is about why the future will be a scary place.

I also am making a special offer for those who pre-order the work.  Just send me an email to (or my gmail), and tell me you have pre-ordered The Complacent Class, and I’ll send you a free copy of another work by me — about 45,000 words — on the foundations of a free society.

I have been revising this second one for over fifteen years, and it is called Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.  It is finally ready.

You will receive links to an on-line version with images, a pdf with images, and a plain vanilla pdf for Kindle.

In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”

These are my final thoughts on those topics.  And to be fair, this is likely to come out someday as a more traditional book, but that will not happen soon as I have not shopped it around to any publisher.  So if you pre-order The Complacent Class, you’ll get what is an advance and also free copy of Stubborn Attachments.

Are you feeling down because of the political conventions?  Or maybe you’re feeling down because of me?  This is exactly the bracing and optimistic tonic you need.  These two works, taken as a whole, cover where we are at and also where we need to go.

Addendum: If you are a member of the media and would like to receive a review copy of THE COMPLACENT CLASS (St. Martin’s Press; On-sale: February 28, 2017), please contact Gabrielle Gantz:; or 646-307-5698.

Three new books on Europe

by on July 24, 2016 at 9:32 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

Markus K. Brunnermeier, Harold James, and Jean-Pierre Landau, The Euro and the Battle of Ideas.

Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, Europe Isn’t Working.

Philipp Ther, Europe Since 1989.

All three appear to be useful…

That is the new and excellent book by Kerry Brown.  Almost all books on China are either bad or mediocre, but this one is the best book I ever have read on the exercise of power in contemporary China.  Every page is good, here is a short excerpt:

More important than a cabinet in the Western system of government, yet ostensibly separate from day-to-day decision making, the Politburo owns the crucial function of dispensing ideological, spiritual and political leadership.  This description means it covers nothing and everything.  It has the broadest framework within which to operate, which means it can wander into every area of administrative and governmental life in the country.  But like the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, in a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher kings.

Definitely recommended, one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year so far.  I can readily imagine re-reading it.

What I’ve been browsing

by on July 22, 2016 at 12:43 am in Books | Permalink

1. Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.  I am not right now looking to read 595 pp. on mid-19th century Marxism, but this is a high quality Belknap book which should be of great interest to some.

2. Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896.  On how free trade debates reshaped America’s political parties and also how free trade and anti-imperialist views were connected.  Interesting in parts, but too dependent on concepts such as “neoliberalism.”

3. Lawrence Rosen, Two Arabs, a Berber, and a Jew.  A very fine work of anthropology about Morocco, focusing on the lives of four men, read this very good review.

4. Marc Levinson, An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy.  There need to be many more books on this critical topic.

5. Matthew D. Adler and Mac Fleurbaey, The Oxford Handbook of Well-Being and Public Policy.  A superb collection on contemporary welfare economics, and I usually dislike edited collections.

This excellent book by June Teufel Dreyer has the subtitle Sino-Japanese Relations, Past and Present.  Here is one short bit:

Moreover, the Chinese distinction between themselves as civilized and all others as barbarians was, they [the Japanese nativists] argued, absurd, given the reality that barbarians had several times conquered China and the barbarian leader was the anointed as the son of heaven.  Who, then, should be considered barbarian?  To nativists, the logical conclusion was the Japan had become the true Middle Kingdom.  While one might reverse China’s past accomplishments, China had declined into an entity that was no longer worthy of emulation.

The book is substantive and readable throughout, essential for our time as well.

The explosive growth of a mass market for chocolate from the 1880s transformed the world cocoa economy more radically than at any other time in history.  The consumption of chocolate increased more rapidly than that of either coffee or tea in the West, and prices held up better…World imports of cocoa beans grew ninefold between 1870 and 1897, whereas those of tea doubled, and those of coffee rose only by about half…Consumption of cocoa per head rose by a factor of nearly six in Britain between 1870 and 1910, while that o f tea did not even double, and that of coffee actually fell by half.

That is William G. Clarence-Smith in the new, excellent, and self-recommending The Economics of Chocolate, edited by Mara P. Squicciarini and Johan Swinnen.

*A Book About Love*, by Jonah Lehrer

by on July 14, 2016 at 10:12 am in Books | Permalink

Here is my deliberately short review: It is a good book.

Here is David Brooks’s NYT review, he notes “The book is interesting on nearly every page.”

I am well aware of Lehrer’s previous failings, but today I am evaluating only this book.  Paul Celan went so far as to try to kill his wife, but still he is one of my favorite poets of the twentieth century.  I also can walk through a museum without much worrying about my knowledge of artistic biographies — for the living and the dead — and no one seems to think that is weird or an uncalled for way to look at the art.

I have read the Jennifer Senior NYT “take down” review, but I don’t think she scores many points.  While many criticisms of “pop psychology” books about love can be made, and with considerable validity, in those regards Lehrer’s book is well above average for the genre.

London is the richest city in Europe.  Real output per person is central London is nearly four times the average in the European Union, and nearly twice that Europe’s other large, rich metropolitan areas, such as Amsterdam and Paris.  Strikingly, London is more than twice as rich as the next richest region within Britain.  However one slices it, the city is an extraordinary economic outlier.

That is from the forthcoming Work, Power and Status in the Twenty-First Century, by the always worth reading Ryan Avent.

The [1707] Act of Union was a legislative measure agreed in Scotland by a tiny patrician elite against some internal parliamentary opposition and much external popular hostility.

That is from T.M. Devine’s new and useful Independence or Union: Scotland’s Past and Scotland’s Present.

That is the new book by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan, with the subtitle How People Shape Them — and They Shape Us.  I have not had it in my paws during my travels but everything they write is good.

Here are the authors on Goethe’s second price auction.  And on the successes of food bank networks.  And on the notion that if you have to argue economics, you already have lost the debate.  Sad!

Gillian Tett very much liked the book.

In the early to mid twentieth century, the majority of the city’s libraries had live-in superintendents. Like the superintendents who still live in many of the city’s residential buildings, these caretakers both worked and lived in the buildings for which they were responsible. This meant that for decades, behind the stacks, meals were cooked, baths and showers were taken, and bedtime stories were read. And yes, families living in the city’s libraries typically did have access to the stacks at night—an added bonus if they happened to need a new bedtime book after hours.

There is also this:

The family, who were joined by Rose Mary’s younger brother Terrence in 1945, lived in the library until Patrick Thornberry retired as the building’s superintendent in 1967. Their home was in what the library now refers to as the “closed stack” (a locked stack reserved for rare books). While the closed stack is currently sealed off to daylight to protect its rare contents, when the Thornberrys lived in the library, it was a light-filled and vibrant space. But the family was by no means confined to their apartment. They also enjoyed a penthouse-level garden and after hours, access to the library’s stacks and large reference rooms too.


Cait Etherington offers much more, including additional photos.  For the pointer I thank Ted Gioia.

I will be holding a Conversations with Tyler chat with her soon, no public event, podcast only.

Most of you have read her, I suspect.

She is a lead obituary writer for The New York Times, here is her Wikipedia page.  Her background is in linguistics and classical music, but by now she has penned over 1,200 obituaries, with many links to those on the Wikipedia page.  You also can follow her obituaries and other tweets on Twitter.

Here is her Paris Review interview.  Read her also at Creative Non-Fiction.  Here is a $2.99 eBook of selected obituaries.  She is funny, that is funny ha-ha, the other funny I could not say.

She also has written two excellent books: The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, and Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind.

So what should I ask Margalit Fox?