Books

The third edition of Modern Principles of Economics is now available! Modern Principles is the best written and most interesting economics textbook and it has a wonderful new feature which puts it far ahead of its competition.

The third edition features over 30 beautifully produced videos each carefully chosen to integrate perfectly with Modern Principles of Economics. A majority of the videos are newly written and designed by Tyler and myself and all are linked in the text with URLs and QR codes. The videos will also be available in Macmillan-Worth’s learning management system, LaunchPad, along with the e-text, grading system and assessment tools.

The videos integrate perfectly with Modern Principles but they also work great with any textbook, Most importantly, we will be making all of the videos available to anyone in the world completely free of obligation or charge (more on that next week!).

A new chapter in Modern Principles covers asymmetric information so here is our video on adverse selection featuring Groucho Marx and George Akerlof!

If you read a book, how many other related or similar books does it make you order?  (Of wish to order, if you are budget constrained.)  If the number is at least three or four, the book you read is almost certainly very interesting and worthwhile, if not always accurate.

Andrew Roberts’s biography of Napoleon made me want to read an additional biography of Napoleon, because it made his life to me more interesting.  It made Napoleon’s period more interesting too.  I might read a book on cavalry tactics as well, a topic I have never read on before.

Some books pretend to be the final word on a topic, but it is unlikely they succeed.  If you don’t end your read with some additional book orders, maybe you need to ask yourself what exactly went wrong.

At times it is not a book order which is the appropriate follow-up.  Say you read a book on Sri Lanka and you respond by going to Sri Lanka, well that counts too.  Or a biography of Beethoven may lead you to more of his music, rather than to another book on his life.

If I apply the Amazon order test, the best book for me this last year was Michael Hoffman’s Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays.

Hofmann’s book wins additional points for chain effects, namely the books I ordered, as a result of reading Hofmann, in turn made me want to order further books.  But chain effects are tricky.  Following my read of Andrew Roberts, and then a follow-up Napoleon biography, will I read yet another life of Napoleon?  That may depend on how good the follow-up is, and Roberts should not be held liable for that.  Or should he?  What should you think of a book which leads you to so-so follow-ups rather than to excellent follow-ups?  A blog post which does the same?

What percentage of the value of a book is derived from the quality of the follow-ups it induces?  Under plausible rates of discounting, for serial readers this could easily by eighty or ninety percent or more.  (Could it be that actual book reviews are not consequentialist? Horrors.)  How about a book review outlet which refuses to consider the books under consideration, but rather considers and evaluates what they will induce you to read next?

I would subscribe.

What I’ve been reading

by on January 2, 2015 at 1:53 am in Books | Permalink

1. Hilda Hilst, With My Dog-Eyes: A Novel.  Life as an academic, as viewed by the Brazilian avant-garde.  This underappreciated novel is available in English for the first time, recommended to those who think they might like it.

2.Bengt Jangfeldt, Mayakovsky: A Biography.  A non-fiction work translated from Swedish to English is virtually guaranteed to be good.  This book brings major advances to our understanding of Mayakovsky’s life, although it is perhaps for those who already have an interest in the topic.  That’s me.

3. Roberta A. Ness, The Creativity Crisis: Reinventing Science to Unleash Potential.  A good overview of why innovativeness has declined and what might be done to restore it.

4. Tom Paulin, Writing to the Moment, Selected Critical Essays 1980-1996.  I loved this book, which (by a very important metric) caused me to buy at least five additional books on Amazon.  One of Ireland’s greatest poets writing an appreciation of other English-language poets and writers.  A 1996 book, but one of my most exciting reads for the year.

5. E.M. Forster, A Passage to India.  A very good reread, the Straussian in me remains convinced that the final “Hindu section” of the book somehow has to make sense.

Arrived in my pile is:

6. Andrew I. Gavil and Harry First, The Microsoft Antitrust Cases, which upon a brief perusal appears to be a very thorough and useful look at what the title promises.

In the book market:

…a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less.

Here is some analysis:

“Your rabid romance reader who was buying $100 worth of books a week and funneling $5,200 into Amazon per year is now generating less than $120 a year,” she said. “The revenue is just lost. That doesn’t work well for Amazon or the writers.”

Amazon, though, may be willing to forgo some income in the short term to create a service that draws readers in and encourages them to buy other items. The books, in that sense, are loss leaders, although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.

And when it comes to food?:

New research shows that paying that much for a buffet might actually make the food taste better. Three researchers did an all you can eat (AYCE) buffet field experiment to test whether the cost of an AYCE buffet affected how much diners enjoyed it. They conducted their research at an Italian AYCE buffet in New York, and over the course of two weeks 139 participants were either offered a flier for $8 buffet or a $4 buffet (both had the same food). Those who paid $8 rated the pizza 11 percent tastier than those who paid $4. Moreover, the latter group suffered from greater diminishing returns—each additional slice of pizza tasted worse than that of the $8 group.

“People set their expectation of taste partially based on the price—and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I didn’t pay much it can’t be that good. Moreover, each slice is worse than the last. People really ended up regretting choosing the buffet when it was cheap,” said David Just, professor at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and one of the study’s authors.

In the old days one heard speculation about bundling a great number of newspapers and blogs into a single-price access model, but in retrospect this probably never had much financial potential, for reasons which by now should be clear.  What would an “all-you-can-eat buffet for economists” mean?  And who if anyone would benefit from it?

*Hall of Mirrors*

by on December 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

The author is Barry Eichengreen and the subtitle is The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses — and Misuses — of History.  My copy has now arrived.

Throughout the debate, no one (not even Marat or Robespierre) took the truly revolutionary position of suggesting venal offices might be illegitimate privileges that could be cancelled without payment.

This book is interesting throughout for its treatment of fiscal and monetary issues during the time of the French Revolution.  It is not geared toward current macroeconomic debates, but arguably that liberates it to be more interesting on the historical side.  The author is Rebecca L. Spang, of The Invention of the Restaurant fame.

This is from Karen Dawisha’s more-important-than-ever Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?:

When the economy almost collapsed in 2008, the Russian government bailed out state-supported banks first, to the tune of 5 trillion rubles (approximately $230 billion), in a move which government ministers who sat on boards (such as Finance Minister Kudrin, who sat on the board of VTB Bank) simply helped themselves to their own private stimulus package.  But instead of using the money to stabilize the Russian ruble (which plummeted from 23RR/US$ to 36RR/US$) or the stock market (which lost 80 percent of its value), it only stimulated capital flight.  Kudrin estimated that between October 2008 and January 2009, $200 billion was taken out of the country — i.e., virtually the entire stimulus.

This book contains a remarkable amount of research.  The point I wish to make today is that the Russian economic collapse is just beginning to unfold.

*What makes this book so great*

by on December 27, 2014 at 1:03 am in Books, Education | Permalink

That is the title of the new Jo Walton book, and the subtitle is Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  It is an extended paean to the pleasures of re-reading, exhibiting a taste which is interesting , useful, and yet uneven (fifteen separate works by Lois McMaster Bujold are covered, each with its own chapter.  I do like her, but…).  Most of the book offers analyses of individual works, here is one broader bit:

In a science fiction novel, the world is a character, and often the most important character.

In a mainstream novel, the world is implicitly our world, and the characters are the world.

In a mainstream novel trying to be SF, this gets peculiar and can make the reading experience uneven.

…The difference between a mainstream novel and a SF one is that different things are just scenery.

She is trying to tell me that I should attempt Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren again.  She recommends re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, but can’t bring herself to say it is good.  Overall buying this book caused me to make four additional Amazon purchases, a good sign that is was worth my while.

Other essential books of 2014

by on December 26, 2014 at 1:31 am in Books | Permalink

A few weeks ago I listed the best non-fiction books of 2014, here are a few which I either forgot or were late coming to my attention or were published or shipped after the first list.  These are all very, very good:

1. Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of World Order, 1916-1931.  This one also starts slow but after about 13% becomes fascinating, especially about the internal politics in Germany and Russia, circa 1917-1918.

2. Michael Hofmann, Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays.  Excellent and informationally dense literary essays, I especially like the ones on the German-language poets and writers, such as Benn and Walser and Bernhard and Grass.

3. Henry Marsh, Do No Harm, a neurosurgeon does behavioral economics as applied to his craft.

4. Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford, Rendez-Vous, a discursive chat while looking at some classics of art

5. Clive James, Poetry Notebook 2006-2014.  A superb book, one of the very best appreciations of poetry and introductions to poetry of the 20th century.  This book has received raves in the UK, it is not yet out in the U.S.

In fiction, to supplement my earlier list, I recommend:

6. Hassan Blasim, The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq.  Short stories about the conflict in Iraq, by an Iraqi.  I expected to find these widely heralded stories to be disappointing, as the premise is a little too easy for the Western critic to embrace.  But they are excellent and this book is one of the year’s best fiction releases.

7. Andy Weir, The Martian.  Ostensibly science fiction, but more a 21st century Robinson Crusoe story — set on Mars of course — with huge amounts of (ingenious) engineering driving the story.  Lots of fun, many other people have liked it too.

8. Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies, Poems 1952-2012.

By the way, Uwe Tellkamp’s The Tower [Der Turm] is now out in English.

Ayn Rand on Christmas

by on December 24, 2014 at 7:25 am in Books, Food and Drink, The Arts | Permalink

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.

From the Ayn Rand Lexicon.

*Mastering ‘Metrics*

by on December 23, 2014 at 2:02 pm in Books, Economics | Permalink

That is the new book by Joshua D. Angrist and Jörn-Steffen Pischke, from Princeton University Press, and the subtitle is The Path From Cause to Effect.  I have not yet had a chance to peruse this book, but the odds are very high that it is a very strong contribution.  The Amazon link for the book is here.

What I’ve been reading

by on December 20, 2014 at 12:15 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden, Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology.  How quantum effects can matter for biological phenomena.  No, it doesn’t mean Roger Penrose was right (and this book usefully tells you why not), but still this is a stimulating book for tying together two apparently disparate areas of inquiry and two apparently disparate areas for popular science books.

2. Michael Oakeshott, Notebooks, 1922-86.  Lots about Aristotle, lots about love, good for browsing.  He wrote “‘The cowboy costume remains mysteriously sexy’.  Yes, but how much better it was when it was felt but not recognized to be so.”  That was from 1964.

3. James Hamilton, A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth-Century Britain.  Another era — this time Turner and his contemporaries — falls under the commerce and culture treatment.  A nice background to the forthcoming Mike Leigh biopic of Turner.  This book made a number of best of the year lists in the UK, it comes out in the U.S. in 2015.

4. James Booth, Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love.  A very good multi-dimensional biography for people already interested in Larkin and knowledgeable about his life, not necessarily a great introduction.

5. Clive James, Poetry Notebook 2006-2014.  A superb book, one of the very best appreciations of poetry and introductions to poetry of the 20th century.  This book has received raves in the UK, it is not yet out in the U.S.

Arrived in my pile are:

6. Alex Nowrasteh and Mark Krikorian, Open Immigration Yea, and Nay.  This book is structured as a debate with two separate parts.

7.  Joachim Weimann, Andreas Knabe, and Ronnie Schöb, Measuring Happiness: The Economics of Well-Being, from MIT Press.

8. F. Bailey Norwood, et.al., Agricultural & Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know.

9. Andrew Zimbalist, Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup.

Modern Principles, 3rd ed!

by on December 16, 2014 at 7:31 am in Books, Economics, Education | Permalink

Modern Principles 3rd
The third edition of the best written, most interesting principles of economics textbook, Modern Principles (economics, microeconomics and macroeconomics), hits the shelves any day now. The 3rd edition features a brand new chapter on asymmetric information, more material on economic growth including geography and growth, a new section on nominal GDP targeting and updated data and graphs throughout. Plus we have a very exciting and brand new feature used throughout the book…but I am going to hold off discussing that for a few more weeks. More to come soon!

*Se acabó la clase media* is now out

by on December 16, 2014 at 12:41 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

seacabo

Now out in Spanish.

How collecting takes on its own life

by on December 12, 2014 at 3:04 am in Books, History, The Arts | Permalink

Collecting, [Howard] Hodgkin insists, is a form of shopping.  But it also takes on its own life.  Once the ‘design’ of the collection has formed in the collector’s mind, according to Hodgkin, then things have to be bought out of ‘necessity as well as passion.’  That, he believes, is the most dangerous, but also the most creative, phase of collecting, involving the head as well as the heart and other ‘lower organs.”

That is from the new and notable Rendez-Vous with Art, by Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford.  The book is an ongoing dialogue between the two men about classical, Renaissance, and 17th century art, centered around specific pictures they are viewing together, recommended, in this genre it is difficult to execute such a book well but they pull it off.