Books

Hey Tyler!

Do you have a process for note taking while you read? Like clipping important parts in books, etc? Or do you just read and that’s all?

Matthew E.

And in the same week William D. writes to me:

…How do annotate, or mark up books that you read? This question is prompted by a lively discussion between a professor of mine (who argued that the text should be kept clean to ensure the integrity of re-readings) and myself (I find that my comprehension and ability to navigate the text is increased by annotations). Do you think that re-readings are harmed or benefitted by the presence of past annotations on the text? Personally I am not sure. Does it depend on the text?

My approach is simple, though not sophisticated.  If I own the book, and there is something interesting on the page, I fold over the page corner.  (If it is a library book I simply write down the page numbers.)  The mere act of folding makes the fact or point easier to remember, and in fact that is my main purpose, namely to turn the piece of information into a claim about visual space.  That said, the folds also make the source easier to find again if needed.  I agree that marking up the page “ruins” your next read of the source.  I find that by having to search again on the page I find other significant ideas as well.

That said, if I teach a book I have to mark it up to find particular passages more easily on the spur of the moment before the students in class.  Then I stop learning from my rereads of the book, but instead learn from the teaching of it.

I pretend no universality for those procedures, but they work for me.  Do you do something different?

This list is aggregating from my reader recommendations:

Jorge Castaneda “Manana Forever” on 21st Century Mexico isn’t as polished but it’s pretty informative.

“To count, the book must have some aspirations to be a general survey of what the country is…” Mexico: Riding, Distant Neighbors, — definitely. Being up to date is not that relevant for attempting to show “what the country is…”. As good or better: Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) (1950) and Charles Macomb Flandrau, Viva Mexico! (1908)

El Laberinto also came to my mind as a better candidate on Mexico. And then there is Understanding Mexicans and Americans: Cultural Perspectives in Conflict (Rogelio Diaz-Guerrero and Lorand B. Szalay) originally published in 1991.

https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4899-0733-2

If you are going to go with a dated option for Mexico, Paz’ “Labyrinth of Solitude” is considerably better than “Distant Neighbors”.

El Nicaragüense by Pablo Antonio Cuadra (for Nicaragua)

On Mexico: Enrique Krauze’s book “Mexico: Biography of Power” has the reputation of “best book about [modern] Mexico,” but I’ve struggled to read it.

For Peru:

The textbook answer should be “The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered” ed. Cynthia McClintock & Abraham F. Lowenthal.

My personal favorite is another book by McClintock (the aforementioned editor and GWU Professor of Political Science and International Affairs) titled “Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru.” Unlike the broad surveys of political and economic history given in the McClintock and Lownthal edited book, “Peasant Cooperatives” gives a great case study of agrarian co-ops and the socio-economic horrors of military rule.

On Nicaragua: Stephen Kinzer’s “Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua”

On Guyana: “Wild Coast” by John Gimlette

And Michael Reid’s “Forgotten Continent” is a useful book about South America.

For Brazil: “Brazil – The Troubled Rise of a Global Power” by Michael Reid – http://amzn.to/2CFGYax

Nicolas Shumway, The Invention of Argentina, extended essay on Argentina books here.

Argentina (classic) Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism

Here is the audio and transcript, Charles was in superb form.  We talked about air pollution (carbon and otherwise), environmental pessimism, whether millions will ever starve and are there ultimate limits to growth, how the Spaniards took over the Aztecs, where is the best food in Mexico, whether hunter-gatherer society is overrated, Jackie Chan, topsoil, Emily Dickinson, James C. Scott, the most underrated trip in the Americas, Zardoz, and much much more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: But if you had to pick a leading candidate to be the fixed factor, I’m not saying you have to endorse it, but what’s the most likely fixed factor if there is one?

MANN: Well, water is certainly a big candidate. There just really isn’t that much fresh water.

COWEN: But we can price it more, and since we have growing wealth — global economy grows at 4 percent a year — we can subsidize those who need subsidies…

MANN: You’re right. But water’s obviously one of them. But hovering over it is these questions about whether these natural cycles . . . is kind of a fundamental question about life itself. Is an ecosystem an actual system with an integrity of its own, with rules of its own that you violate at your peril? Which is the fundamental premise of the environmental movement. Or is an ecosystem more like an apartment building in which it is just a bunch of people who happen to live in the same space and share a few common necessities?

I don’t think ecology really has settled on this. There’s a guy in Florida, Dan Simberloff, who is a wonderful ecologist who has kind of made a career out of destroying all these models, these elegant models, one after another. So that’s the fundamental guess.

If it turns out that it’s just a collection of factors that we can shift around, that nature’s purely instrumental and we can do with it what we want, then we have a lot more breathing room. If it turns out that there really are these overarching cycles, which seems to be the intuition of the ecologists who study this, then we have less room than we think.

And:

COWEN:  Jared Diamond.

MANN: I think an interesting guy who really should learn more about social sciences.

COWEN: Economics in particular.

MANN: Yes.

COWEN: Theory of common property resources.

MANN: Yeah.

And finally:

MANN: …What I think is the underrated factor is that Cortez was much less a military genius than he was a political genius. He was quite a remarkable politician, really deft. And what he did is . . . The Aztecs were an empire, the Triple Alliance, and they were not nice people. They were rough customers. And there was a lot of people whom they had subjugated, and people whom they were warring on who really detested them. And Cortez was able to knit them together into an enormous army, lead that army in there, have all these people do all that, and then hijack the result. This is an act of political genius worthy of Napoleon.

Self-recommending, and I am delighted to again express my enthusiasm for Charles’s new The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World.  Here is Bill Easterly’s enthusiastic WSJ review of the book.

Here were reader recommendations: remember the ground rules, namely that the book must aspire to some degree of comprehensiveness:

Japan and the Shackles of the Past by R. Taggart Murphy.
Japan and the Shackles of the Past is very good. David Pilling’s Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival
Also, Japan through the looking glass, by Alan Macfarlane.
While Richie is *the* famous foreign voice on Japan, Alan Booth’s “The Roads to Sata” is, to use Tyler’s favorite word, underrated and worth a read.

Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West Paperback – March 28, 2000 by T.R. Reid

Good book about Japan by the WaPo correspondent. Funny.

Alex Kerr is another great writer on Japan, but this one is a bit dated although definitely still worth a read. His Lost Japan is my favorite.

The best book I’ve read about Japan, or at least modern Japan, is “Dogs and Demons” by Alex Kerr. It’s a fairly pessimistic book about how various postwar obsessions — material comfort, social harmony, and clear class identities — have created a surprisingly unambitious, overly conservative, deeply sclerotic country that has seen its brief glimpse as one of the world’s major powers unambiguously pass.

For Japan:

Modern: Bending Adversity by David Pilling is an excellent view on modern (deflation era) Japan.

Recent: Covering the Showa Period (1923-1989), the graphic novel “Showa” by Shigeru Mizuki is excellent. (I’m not usually a graphic novel reader, but this was amazing)-4 volumes.

Through 1867: A history of Japan by George Sansom (published 1958) is a three volume set covering -1334, 1334-1615 and 1615-1867.

There are a number of other enjoyable books as well (e.g., Road to Sata) but I would not say that they are representative or “must-reads”, regardless of how pleasant reading it may be.

I am not endorsing (or rejecting) those selections, merely aggregating them.  That said, you should read them.

Here are reader suggestions, I am aggregating this information, do not think of these as independent recommendations from me:

Canada: A Story of Challenge by J. M. S. Careless

For Canada, read “A Fair Country” by John Ralston Saul, “Clearing the Plains” by James William Daschuk, and pretty much any of Pierre Berton’s books.

I recommend “Right Honourable Men” by Michael Bliss for Canada.

Yeah, Vimy is the standard “coming of a nation” book for Canadians – although too oversentimental. The underappreciated element of that book is some weird attempt to recover Hughes’ tarnished image as a proto-Canadian.

Definitenly recommend it to non-Canadians to get a sense of common denominator Canadian “nationalism”

I would second “A Fair Country” but suggest it as part of a field entry with Saul’s “Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin”. Though neither works are above criticism, taken together they represent the best attempt available to answer the questions “Why, and how is Canada different from the United States (and western Europe).

Saul’s work is influenced by Harold Innis, particularly “The Fur Trade in Canada” (1930). This also remains worthwhile, if you feel robust enough to handle Innis’ drier-than-the-Sahara prose, and the fact that it is literally a history of the fur trade in Canada.

Canada is a hard one, esp because of the French/English duality — there’s by definition no single overarching narrative. There’s also no single overarching meta-narrative. But to get the sense of what’s up with English Canada, you could do worse than read George Grant’s Lament for a Nation, particularly the 40th anniversary edition with intro by, er, me. The issue isn’t that Grant got it right, it’s that the ways in which he was wrong, and why he remains so wrong influential, are crucial to understanding the anxieties of English speaking Canada. https://www.amazon.ca/Lament-Nation-Canadian-Nationalism-Anniversary/dp/077353010X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515422833&sr=8-1&keywords=lament+for+a+nation

For Canada, I’d suggest “The Patriot Game” by Peter Brimelow or “Lament for a Nation” by George Grant.

Canada – “The Vertical Mosaic”

For Canada, I recommend “How to be Canadian” or binge watching TSN will suffice. Also check out, trailer park boys and corner gas.

The best book about Canada is “The Patriot Game” by Peter Brimelow. Though Brimelow is now a mostly fringe figure associated with the alt-right and white nationalism, for many years he was a perfectly respected mainstream Canadian journalist who wrote for all the big newspapers and magazines up here. As a Brit, he saw Canada with a certain degree of aloof detachment, and “The Patriot Game” was his effort to write a “Unified Theory of Canada,” that focuses heavily on how Canadian politics, and the “game” of manufacturing a sense of nationalism for a rather curious, anachronistic country (he famously called it “one of the toadstools of history” — that is, something that grew up unexpectedly) provides the essence of Canadian identity. Even as Brimelow’s own reputation has declined, it is still a very widely-quoted book, and was particularly influential in the life of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

As a Canadian, I’d like to know an answer to this question. Growing up, history seemed to be a series of microaggressions (e.g. Boer war, endless fur trade disputes). It would be nice to read a more overarching narrative!

Note that several other commentators expressed displeasure with the work of John Ralston Saul.  What else might you recommend as the stochastically best book to read about Canada?

I will be aggregating information for some other countries and regions soon.

Soon I will be having a conversation with Robin Hanson — the Robin Hanson.  What should I ask him?  The jumping-off point will be his new book with Kevin Simler, but of course we won’t stop there.

*The Case Against Education*

by on January 25, 2018 at 4:20 am in Books, Economics, Education | Permalink

Peterson’s 12 rules

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

They are from this article, via Michelle Dawson.

*Off the Charts*

by on January 21, 2018 at 12:24 am in Books, Education, Science, The Arts | Permalink

As I’ve already mentioned, the author is Ann Hulbert and the subtitle is The Hidden Lives and Lessons of America’s Child Prodigies.  This is an excellent book, and so far I am overwhelmed by the high quality and quantity of books coming out this January (in comparison to last year’s near drought).  You don”t have to care about prodigies per se, I would recommend this to anyone in Silicon Valley or finance who thinks about how to find and recruit talent, or anyone interested in the history of art, science, or technology.

I had not known that musician Henry Cowell was the protege of Thorstein Vebeln’s ex-wife, Ellen Veblen.  Here is just one bit about Henry:

He was in his element. As Clarissa noted, Henry was highly receptive without being unduly impressionable. “Always he has worked mostly alone,” she observed, “browsing for information, when he felt in need of it, whenever a door opened.”

As a child, he quickly outgrew his town’s public library, and was suspected of skimming the books he claimed to have read.  He could give a clear and detailed summary of each.  He was born in rural Menlo Park, formal schooling never really worked for him, and Irish music remained a touchstone of his composing, albeit supplemented with tone clusters, extreme dissonance, and a variety of rhythmic innovations.  To many people at the time, his music sounded like noise.

Here is a short YouTube clip of Cowell playing the piano.

It’s not a “this puts all the pieces together for you book,” but still I am finding it engrossing.  I take the overall message to be a) mentorship is very important for prodigies, and b) most mentors have no idea what they are doing.

Once they moved to Indiana University and started the workshop, they were able to return to the initial idea.  Initially, Elinor Ostrom was hired for teaching “Introduction to American Government” on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7:30 a.m.  “How could I say no?” she joked later.

That is from Vlad Tarko’s new and very useful biography of Ostrom.  Of course in 2009 she was both the first political scientist and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics.

What I’ve been reading

by on January 20, 2018 at 1:15 am in Books | Permalink

I do not have time to read it now, but this appears to be an amazing and very high quality volume: David Biale, et.al., Hasidism: A New History, over 800 pp. but it does all appear to be well-written and also interesting, often gripping.

Shaun Walker, The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past.  Most of all useful for the Russia-Ukraine recent history.

John C. Hulsman, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk.  A consistently interesting history of political risk analysis, I most liked this sentence: “The chapters themselves are baroque in structure, a fond homage to the genius of the pioneering musician and peerless producer Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, particularly his work on his masterpiece Pet Sounds.”

Peter J. Dougherty, Confessions of a Scholarly Publisher (not yet on Amazon).  Peter was the director of Princeton University Press for many years, and these are his thoughts on the (much underrated) importance of university presses.  I would stress that Michael Aronson (of Harvard University Press) and Peter were two of the most important figures in my entire career.

Tim Rogan, The Moral Economists: R.H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E.P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism.  The subtitle says it all.  People talk less about Tawney these days, but his book is well worth reading if you don’t already know it.

I perused them only briefly, but these seemed attractive:

Joshua B. Freeman, Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World.

Timothy Tackett, The Coming of Terror in the French Revolution.

Arrived in my pile and not yet scrutinized is:

Anne Fleming, City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance.

The life of Edith Penrose

by on January 19, 2018 at 12:21 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

That is the subtitle, the title is No Ordinary Woman, and the author is Angela Penrose, daughter-in-law of Edith.  Here is one sentence:

Pen also wrote to Edith of his deepening love for her and how he wished she had remained in Virginia with him.

What a dramatic and eventful book.  Edith Penrose (1914-1996) is a not so well-known but highly underrated economist, with her major contributions coming in the theory of the firm and industrial organization.  As a girl, she survived only because her father shot a rattlesnake about to kill her.  Later, her first husband was murdered, right before their first child was born.  She and her second husband, working in Switzerland, helped Jews escape from Germany, and she later did food planning during the war in England.  In 1948 the couple lost one of their three children, right before his third birthday.  Later she received a doctorate in economics from Johns Hopkins, studying under Fritz Machlup.  Machlup at one point wrote a ten-page letter to her, with the top proclaiming: “I implore you to shut off your hypersensitivity and to overlook it if I sound condescending, arrogant or otherwise unpleasant.  I just want to be helpful.”

She headed the Owen Lattimore Defense Fund.  Later, she did not feel entirely comfortable teaching at Johns Hopkins (she was treated badly and not tenured) and so she ended up teaching in Baghdad and Beirut and was also an important early faculty member at INSEAD, perhaps their first world class hire.  She became an expert on energy economics and multinationals, traveling and advising around the world more or less without stopping.  Drawing on her doctoral work, she also published on IP problems for developing economies, an area where she was well ahead of her time.

She enjoyed writing poems and limericks for her own pleasure.  She also was known for her “direct questions” and her “disconcerting remarks.”

I would describe her work as halfway between economics and the business school tradition, broadly in the Austrian school but more descriptive and without the political slant of Mises and Hayek.  Her contributions include:

1. She insisted that models ought to consider where firms were in the midst of a disequilibrium process, rather than assuming perfect competition or some other smoothly honed end-state.  History matters.

2. She was the founding thinker behind “resource-based” theories of the firm, whereby firms are best understood in terms of what resources they have access to, rather than their products.  This was a dominant approach from the 1980s onward, though she received only marginal credit for her seminal role.  She also focused on which were the slack resources of a firm or not, as a means of ascertaining where the firm was headed, and ran all this analysis through a lens of expectations and perceptions, reflecting her studies with Machlup.  She thought in terms of what a firm’s “moat” might be, as you might expect from a contemporary Silicon Valley analyst.

3. She developed a theory of how some firms would grow very large, but based on “economies of growth” rather than economies of scale per se.  She tried to explain how there was a lumpiness to the growth process itself.  Difficulties of coordination serve as the ultimate limit on firm size.

4. In her theories knowledge creation drives economic growth, and that occurs largely within firms.  The cohesive shell of the firm helps to integrate knowledge.

I would describe her style as “every sentence tries to have some insight,” rather than “forcing you to come away with definite conclusions.”  Those of you who are used to models or data may find it frustrating to read her, though every sentences reeks of intelligence.

It does not seem she marketed her work very hard, but rather she was content to work out puzzles and pointers for her own satisfaction.  I read her work as an undergraduate, as it was recommended to me by some of the Austrian economists, and my recent rediscovery of it has been a pleasant surprise.

I think Ross, along with Steven Pinker, received the hardest (though never hostile) questions from me, but of course that is a measure of respect.  Plus serious questions about God are difficult by their nature.  Here is how the summarizers described the ground covered:

…Douthat’s views on religion and theology, but then moves on to more earth-bound concerns, such as his stance on cats, The Wire vs The Sopranos, why Watership Down is the best modern novel for understanding politics, eating tofu before it was cool, journalism as a trade, why he’s open to weird ideas, the importance of Sam’s Club Republicans, the specter of a Buterlian Jihad, and more.

Not to mention Reformicons, CRISPR, Thiel/Girard, Godwin’s Law, euthanasia, what Ross learned his mother, and the dangers of too much smart phone use.  Ross responded in fine form, here is the audio and transcript.  Here is one excerpt:

DOUTHAT: I suppose that I’m drawn to the idea that the truth about human existence lies in what can seem like paradoxical formulations, and this is of course very Catholic in certain ways. Certainly a G. K. Chestertonian idea, so I’m just stealing it from other people. But the idea that various heresies of Christianity, Calvinism included — with apologies to my Calvinist friends — tend to take one particular element of you that’s supposed to be in synthesis and possibly in tension, and run with it. And therefore the truth about things lies in a place that may seem slightly contradictory.

And I think this is borne out in many ways in everyday experience. This both-and experience of human existence. The idea that you can’t split up grace and works in any kind of meaningful way. It’s connected to larger facts about the nature of human existence. The tension between determinism and free will that persists in any philosophical system. You can get rid of God and stop having these Jansenist Jesuit arguments about predestination and so on, but you’re still stuck with the free will–determinism debate. That debate doesn’t go away.

So, yeah, there’s a point at the intersection of different ideas that is as close to the truth as our limited minds can get and in Christian thought, we call that point orthodoxy. Now, how that is connected to my political views is a really good question.

And:

COWEN: We all know the Marcionite heresy: the view, from early Christianity, that the Old Testament should be abandoned. At times, even Paul seems to subscribe to what later was called the Marcionite heresy. Why is it a heresy? Why is it wrong?

DOUTHAT: It’s wrong because it takes the form . . . It’s wrong for any number of reasons, but in the context of the conversation we’re having, it’s wrong because it tries to basically take one of the things that Christianity is trying to hold in synthesis and run with it to the exclusion of everything else, and essentially to solve problems by cutting things away.

The Marcionite thesis is, basically, if you read the New Testament, Jesus offers you a portrait of God that seems different from the portrait of God offered in Deuteronomy; therefore, these things are in contradiction. Therefore, if you believe that Jesus’s portrait of God is correct, then the Deuteronomic portrait of God must be false; therefore, the God of the Old Testament must be a wicked demiurge, etc., etc. And the next thing you know, you’re ascribing to, again, a kind of . . . What is the Aryan Christianity of the Nazis, if not the Marcionite heresy given form in the 1930s and 1940s?

And so the orthodox Christian says, “No, any seeming tension between the Old Testament and the New, any seeming contradiction, is actually suggesting that we need to look for a kind of synthesis between them, and for a sense in which there is not contradiction, but fulfillment in some way, which —

COWEN: Bringing us back to Hegelian Douthat.

DOUTHAT: Yes, yes.

And:

I think it’s probably fair to say that Chesterton’s Father Brown stories had as much influence on my worldview as his more sort of polemical and argumentative writings. And, again, I think therein lies some important insight that I haven’t thought through, but I think you’re correctly gesturing at, about a particular way of thinking about God and theology that isn’t unique to Christianity, but that is strongly suggested by just the structure of the revelation that we have. Marilynne Robinson has a line, I think in Gilead, about — one of the characters is imagining that this life is like the epic of heaven. That we’re living in the Iliad or the Odyssey of heaven. This is the story that will be told in the streets.

And:

COWEN: When you see how much behavior Islam or some forms of Islam motivate, do you envy it? Do you think, “Well, gee, what is it that they have that we don’t? What do we need to learn from them?” What’s your gut emotional reaction?

On another topic:

I’ve been always disappointed that there hasn’t been a kind of sustained Watership Down revival because it’s such a great book and it’s a book about — essentially, it’s about a founding.

It’s connected, in a sense, to the kind of things that the Straussians are always arguing about and so on. What does the founding mean, and so on? But you have a group of rabbits who go forth and encounter different models of political order, different ways of relating to humankind, that shadow over rabbit-kind at any point.

You have a warren that has essentially surrendered itself to humanity and exists as a kind of breeding farm, and you have a warren that’s run as a fascist dictatorship essentially. And then you have this attempt to form a political community that is somewhere in between the two, getting back to the Hegelian synthesis and so on. And you have sort of this primal narrative where the problem is of course that they don’t have any females, and so there’s this competition, this competition for reproductive power that’s carried out between these different warrens where the rabbits from the good warren have to literally — not kidnap, because the does come willingly — but steal women from the fascist dictatorship, which maintains a ruthless control over reproduction.

So there’s just a lot of fascinating stuff there, and then it’s all interspersed with storytelling. There’s the sort of rabbit folktales that Richard —

COWEN: So, narrative again.

DOUTHAT: Narrative again.

Strongly recommended, and I do thank Ross for putting up with me.  Do read or listen to the whole thing.

And I very much enjoyed reading Ross’s forthcoming book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, which I found totally engrossing.

Modern Principles, 4th ed!

by on January 16, 2018 at 7:25 am in Books, Economics, Education | Permalink

Tyler and I are thrilled to announce the release of the 4th edition of our principles of economics textbook, Modern Principles. In the new edition we have fully integrated the microeconomics and macroeconomics videos that we have been producing for MRUniversity. No other textbook has anything like this wealth of supplementary material–putting it all together makes Modern Principles a new kind of textbook. We have also added a lot of new questions, Ask FRED questions, that use data from the FRED database, more material on health and economic welfare, more material on financial crises and fires sales and much more.

No other textbook has our super simple Solow model which for the first time makes the Solow model accessible to principles students. Modern Principles also has a balanced treatment of Keynesian and Real Business Cycle models, lots of material on modern topics like price discrimination including bundling and tying, a chapter on managing incentives (piece rates, salaries, tournaments) that’s great for MBA students and of course the best guide to understanding the marvels of the price system.

Check out the video!

From the WSJ, here is one excerpt:

“Put yourself in the shoes of a Martian sociologist,” Mr. Caplan writes in “The Case Against Education.” “Your mission: given our curriculum, make an educated guess about what our economy looks like.” You might well “leap from one erroneous inference to another.” Given the amount of time teachers spend on novels and poetry, for instance, there must be a “thriving market in literary criticism,” he writes, adding that most of the subjects that students try to master in school—from history and algebra to foreign languages—will be of little use in their salary-earning lives.

After surveying the research on the “transfer of learning,” Mr. Caplan concludes: “Students learn only the material you specifically teach them . . . if you’re lucky.” Generally, they don’t know how to transfer their reasoning from one topic to a related one. As to informal reasoning—the ability to come up with arguments for or against a particular proposition—education’s effect, he says, has been “tiny.” He similarly dispenses with the claim that schools teach common values or civic education. As college attendance has skyrocketed, he notes, voter turnout has declined.

Here is the full review, which also covers Susan Wise Bauer’s Rethinking School.  You can buy Bryan’s book here.