Results for “What I've Been Reading”
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What I’ve been reading

1. Paul A. Offit, You Bet Your Life: From Blood Transfusions to Mass Vaccination, the Long and Risky History of Medical Innovation.  The stories and anecdotes are fun, most of all about the early history of the polio vaccine and how poorly some of the process went.  By the end of the book, however, it doesn’t add up to very much.  The underlying theme is that early innovation is fraught with risk, but Offit is unwilling to draw straightforward conclusions that we should be more tolerant of such risks.  He instead inveighs against the “disturbing show of hubris” from the recent vaccine manufacturers.  Is that really the problem right now?  (How many ways are there for the biomedical establishment to show that its “anti-expected value, anti-corporate” side can morph into subtle forms of anti-vaxx sentiment?)  He also has the annoying tendency, like many of his peers, to dismiss massive ethical issues with a single paragraph that would not withstand scrutiny in an undergraduate philosophy course.  Yes, we will always treat sins of commission as more important than sins of omission, as Offit argues.  But does he endorse this approach?  (He won’t say.)  Does he think we should vary our practices here at the margin?  (He won’t say.  Too inconvenient!)  Still, the book is informative and enjoyable enough, so I don’t regret buying it or finishing it.  But if you are looking for a “biomedical establishment punching bag,” well it is that too.

What I’ve been reading

1. Carole Angier, Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald.  Might Sebald be the only semi-recent writer who can hold a candle to Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houllebecq?  This book is sprawling, and suffers somewhat from lack of access to the author’s family, but it is a true labor of love.  And Angier has a deep understanding of Sebald, and also brings out the Jewish-related themes in his work (though he was not Jewish himself).  It attempts to be a Sebaldian work itself, and even if it does not always succeed it is the kind of passionate book we need more of.  Recommended, but you have to read Sebald first, if need be start with Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants].

2. Arthur Herman, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World.  Ignore the subtitle!  There have been a number of good books on the Vikings lately, and this is perhaps the most “popular” and big picture of the lot.  The early Vikings swept through Europe in a matter of decades, mixing conquest and trade.  King Canute was pretty impressive it seems.  Specialists may pick nits, but it is very readable and seems to me to give a good overview of the role of the Vikings in European history.  This would be the one to start with.

3. Lawrence Rothfield, The Measure of Man: Liberty, Virtue, and Beauty in the Florentine Republic.  An excellent introduction to Florence, with some focus on issues of liberty and also civic leaderhip.  One should never tire of reading about this particular topic.

4. Howard W. French, Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World 1471 to the Second World War.  Think of this book as a retelling of some standard historical episodes, but with Africa at the center rather than as a recipient of European advances.  This is a useful reframing, and I enjoyed the read.  But perhaps by the end it was the New World that in my mind was upgraded as a more central spot for the rise of modernity?  Too frequently the relevance of Africa has to be rescued by invoking Portugal, as Sweden, Russia, and Turkey simply will not do the trick there.

New out is Diane Coyle, Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be; she is typically wise.

I am happy to see the publication of Calvin Duke’s Entrepreneurial Communities: An Alternative to the State, The Theories of Spencer Heath and Spencer MacCallum.

There is also Kyle Harper, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, long and comprehensive.

What I’ve been reading

1. Anne Enright, The Green Road.  Could Enright be the least heralded, English-language novelist in the United States today?  I also was a big fan of her last book Actress.  Her short pieces are wonderful as well.  Having won a Booker, she is hardly obscure, and yet I have never had anyone tell me that I absolutely must read Anne Enright?  Even after the very recent burst of interest in Irish writers…I will read more of her!

2. Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Traveller’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands.  My favorite Fermor book, the best sections were on Trinidad and Haiti, but you might have known I would think that.

3. Nadia Durbach, Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907.  Back then vaccines were quite often dangerous: “Victorian public vaccinators used a lancet (a surgical instrument) to cut lines into the flesh in a scored pattern.  This was usually done in at least four different places on the arm.  Vaccine matter, also called lymph, would then be smeared into the cuts…[often] vaccinators required infants to return eight days after the procedure to allow lymph to be harvested from their blisters, or “vesicles.”  This matter was then inserted directly into the arms of waiting infants…After 1871, a fine of up to 20 shillings could be imposed on parents who refused to allow lymph to be taken from their children for use in public vaccination.”  Oddly, or perhaps not, the arguments against vaccines haven’t changed much since that time.

4. Andrew G. Farrand, The Algerian Dream: Youth and the Quest for Dignity.  There should be more books like this!  Imagine a whole book directed at…not getting someone tenure, but rather helping you understand what it is actually like to be in Algeria.  Sadly I have never been, but this is the next best thing.  As I say repeatedly, there should be more country-specific books, simply flat out “about that country” in an explanatory sense.  As for Algeria, talk about a nation in decline…

Eswar S. Prasad, The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution is Transforming Currencies and Finance is a useful overview of its source material.

Anna Della Subin, Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, starts with the question of how Emperor Haile Selassie became a god to Rastafarians in Jamaica, and then broadens the question accordingly, moving on to General Douglas MacArthur, Annie Besant, and much more.  I expect we will be hearing more from this author.  At the very least she knows stuff that other people do not.

You can learn the policy views of Thomas Piketty if you read his Time for Socialism: Dispatches from a World on Fire, 2016-2021.  Oddly, or perhaps not, his socialism doesn’t seem to involve government spending any more than fifty percent of gdp, which would be a comedown for many European nations.

Kathleen Harward and Gabriella Sulbarán, The Shared Dog, for young children, teaching the economics of property rights through the tale of a dog.  From BrandyPie Books.

What I’ve been reading on Ireland

1. Susan McKay, Northern Protestants on Shifting Ground, and also Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People.  These two books straddle a journalistic and anthropological approach to what the titles indicate.  As one Protestant in the text remarked, Irish reunification would work just fine, it is the ten years getting there that everyone is afraid of.  It seems increasingly muddled what actually the Northern Irish Unionist is supposed to stand for — passionate attachment to union with an unwilling or indifferent partner, namely England?

2. David Dickson, The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation.  One of the best books on cities in recent years, and more general than the title might indicate.  I had not known that Waterford was once a rival for Dublin, or fully realized that Ireland has no significant city which is not right next to the coast.  Readable throughout, and gives you an excellent sense of how the Irish pecking order for cities evolved.  Recommended.

3. Fintan O’Toole, Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks.  Most educated outsiders approach Ireland through the lens of its rather prominent literary history (Joyce, Yeats, etc.).  That’s fine, but also somewhat misleading.  This book gives you an alternate tour — focused on modernism and the 20th century — through the visual arts, design, television, theatre, and more.  It should prove eyeopening to many people, and is also a wonderful book for browsing or as a guide to further study.  Harry Clarke’s stained glass “Eve of St. Agnes” work, located in Dublin and produced in the 1920s, is much more central to the Irish narrative than many people realize.

What I’ve been reading

1. Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, The Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus.  Self-recommending (they were leaders on the team), most of all it is striking how much time they spend covering and complaining about problems in the science funding network.  Let’s improve that.  In any case I enjoyed the book.

2. Harald Jähner, Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-55.  A quite interesting book which considers how German women were disappointed in German men, how eastern German women dealt with Soviet soldier rape, how the Soviets resumed classical orchestral concerts within weeks (for their own pleasure), currency conversion, and more: “But Beate Uhse fell foul of the law for the first time, not because of violation of the moral code of corrupting the young, but for breach of price regluations.”

3. Jeevan Vasagar, Lion City: Singapore and the Invention of Modern Asia.  Selective rather than comprehensive, but entertaining and balanced and insightful.  Those interested in Singapore should read this book, and even Singapore experts will learn some new nuggets.  The author was the FT correspondent in Singapore from 2015 to 2017.

4. Mathilde Fasting and Øystein Sørensen, The Norwegian Exception: Norway’s Liberal Democracy Since 1814.  “This book started as an idea to explain Norwegian society to a broader public.”  I am not sure they quite succeed, but still it is the best single Norway book I know.  I hadn’t known for instance that Norway has two different official written languages.  In general there should be more books trying to explain highly successful countries!  This is a move in the right direction, and I am happy to see that the authors do not try to deny or run away from Norway’s first-rate performance.

5. James Hawes, The Shortest History of England.  One can pick nits with books such as these, but I found this one useful.  It stresses the role of the French in English history, and also the ongoing clash between the South and the North over who will rule whom.

There is also Robert Wuthnow’s Why Religion is Good for American Democracy (true), and Michael Taylor’s The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery, which dashed my hopes when I learnt that Alexander McDonnell, the Belfast-born 19th century chess player who famously sparred with Louis de la Bourdonnais, also was a strongly pro-slavery and pro-imperialism economist in his time.

What I’ve been reading

1. Anne Serre, The Beginners.  What is it like for a woman to go from loving one man to another?  This newly translated French novel was fun enough, insightful enough, and direct and short enough for me to finish.

2. Lachlan Goudie, The Story of Scottish Art.  Even if you don’t care about art, this is a wonderful way to learn the history of Scotland.  My takeaway favorite painters were Allan Ramsey (friends with Smith and Hume), Henry Raeburn, David Wilkie, and John Duncan, more or less consistent with my earlier views but now they are better informed.  A good book with a nice blue and yellow cover.

3. Frank Herbert, Dune.  For me a reread, I loved it when I was twelve, but how does it stand up?  I am struck by how excellent and pathbreaking the best chapters are, including the introductory chapter.  The influence on Star Wars is obvious, as is the role of Islam in the story.  It strikes me as remarkably cinematic, with the right kinds of transitions to boot — how was this never put successfully on the big screen?  I am about two-thirds through it right now, and maybe it 2/3 holds up?  But would you want all of the slow pacing of the detail removed?

Carole Hooven, T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us.  Recommended.

Aubrey Clayton, Bernoulli’s Fallacy: Statistical Illogic and the Crisis of Modern Science.  I found this most interesting as a history of probability theory, and with more coverage of Quetelet than one usually finds.

What I’ve been reading

1. M.J. Ryan and Nicholas Higham, The Anglo-Saxon World.  I’ve been reading more books in this area, even though data limitations make it difficult to form an accurate picture of what was happening.  Here is Wikipedia on King Alfred, plenty of facts, broader context often difficult to recreate.  (What exactly would they have debated on Twitter, and why?)  I would put this as one of the two or three best Anglo-Saxon books I have seen, and with excellent visuals and photos.

2. John B. Thompson, Book Wars: The Digital Revolution.  Thompson’s Merchants of Culture was surprisingly excellent, now the quality is no longer a surprise.  This book covers the Kindle revolution (now dominated by romances), Google books, how electronic publishing rights evolved, crowdfunding books, the ascent of Amazon, and much more.  In all or most of these areas he offers you more substance and more inside scoops than the other discussions you might have read, thus recommended.

3. Max Siollun, What Britain did to Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule.  It is hard to find good books on Nigeria that are easy to follow and not just for specialists.  This new one is maybe the best overall treatment I know?  The British conquest of Nigeria took seventy-seven years to accomplish.  Siollun also stresses the role of missionaries in bringing literacy to Nigeria, noting that what you might call Nigerian literacy skills, for instance in native scripts, were longstanding in many regions.  Before the British arrived, the north of Nigeria was much more advanced economically than the south, though colonialism inverted this relationship.  I found this sentence interesting: “Perhaps no question makes Nigerians disagree as much as why Britain created their country.”

4. Matthew Affron, et.al. Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art.  Clustered discoveries are one of the best areas to read about, whether they be scientific or artistic.  There will be many overlapping treatments, biographies, and so on.  And the people who write about these areas may do so with a certain amount of passion.  The rise of abstract art early in the twentieth century is one of the most remarkable of such clusters, as in so many countries top-rate artists made major breakthroughs in similar directions.  This book shows you how better than any other I know, with excellent color plates as well.

5. Trevor Rowley, The Normans: A History of Conquest.  As I understand the author, he presents the Normans as an essential part of what fed into the creation of modern Europe, also serving to spread those practices and norms.  I hadn’t known that Tocqueville was in part originally a Scandinavian name, deriving from “Toki’s ville,” the Scand name tacked onto the Norman suffix.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard Zenith, Pessoa: A Biography.  942 pp. of text, yet interesting throughout.  Brings you into Pessoa’s mind and learning to a remarkable degree.  (Have I mentioned that the world is slowly realizing that Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is one of the great works of the century?)  His favorite book was Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, and he very much liked Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus.  This biography is also interesting about non-Pessoa topics, such as Durban, South Africa in 1900 (Pessoa did live there for a while).  I am pleased to see Pessoa finally receiving the attention he deserves — definitely one of the books of this year.  Here is a good review of the book.  For a man who never had sex, this book covers his sex life a great deal!  And what a short and lovely title, no long subtitle thank goodness.

2. Nicholas Wapshott, Samuelson Friedman: The Battle over the Free Market.  Quite a good book, though it is interior to my current knowledge set and thus better for others reader than myself.  Contrary to what I have read elsewhere, Wapshott points out that Samuelson did not support Nixon’s wage and price controls, but this LA Times link seems to suggest Samuelson thought they were a good idea?

3. Jamie Mackay, The Invention of Sicily: A Mediterranean History.  While it was less conceptual than I might have preferred, this is perhaps the single best general history of Sicily I know of.  Short and to the point in a good way.

4. N.J. Higham, The Death of Anglo-Saxon England.  In 1066, five different individuals were recognized as de facto King of England — how did that come to pass?  Why was Aethelred the Unready not ready?  (He was only 12 when he assumed the throne, though much of the actual criticism concerned the later part of his reign.)  I find this one of the most intelligible and conceptual treatments of Anglo-Saxon England out there.  I don’t care what the Heritage Foundation says, beware Danish involvement in your politics!

Peter Kinzler, Highway Robbery: The Two-Decade Battle to Reform America’s Automobile Insurance System is a useful look at where that debate stands and how it ended up there.  Here is a good summary of the book.

It does not make sense for me to read Emily Oster’s The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision-Making in the Early School Years, but it is very likely more reliable information than you are likely to get from other sources.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard Lapper, Beef, Bible, and Bullets: Brazil in the Age of Bolsonaro.  A very good country-specific book, it takes you from “Brazil is the country of the future and always will be” to “Brazil was the country of the future and maybe never will be again.”  Did you know that the Pentecostals and Evangelicals have five times the number of radio stations as does the Roman Catholic Church?

2. Graham Johnson, Poulenc: The Life in the Songs.  An A+ book if…you give a damn.  Here is one song by Poulenc.  Compare it to this also beautiful recording.  And this one.  The book also serves as an excellent biography of the composer, the songs making up for the fact that his life did not see amazing amounts of action and dramatic tension.

2. Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz, Leading: Learning from Life and My Years at Manchester United.  Short, but nonetheless one of the very best books on leadership and also talent search.  You also don’t have to know anything about soccer, or care about soccer.  Recommended, and this one supports my view that the best management books are about sports and music, not “business management” in the mainstream sense of that term.

Adrian Woolridge’s The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World is absolutely correct.  It is remarkable how many deeply wrong books the world has been generating about this topic.

Andrew W. Lo and Stephen R. Foerster’s In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio: The Stories, Voices, and Key Insights of the Pioneers Who Shaped the Way We Invest is a good look at the development of portfolio theory, starting with Markowitz.

There is William L. Silber, The Power of Nothing to Lose: The Hail Mary Effect in Politics, War, and Business.

I found rewarding Lily Collison and Kara Buckley, Pure Grit: Stories of Remarkable People Living with Physical Disability.

I have not had a chance to read Masaaki Shirawaka, Tumultuous Times: Central Banking in an Era of Crisis; he was Governor of the Bank of Japan from 2008 to 2013.

What I’ve been reading

1. Russ Banham, The Fight for Fairfax: Private Citizens and Public Policymaking.  A well-informed story of the great men and women who built up Fairfax County, Virginia, including Til Hazel, Sid Dewberry, Earle Williams, Jack Herrity, George Johnson, Dwight Schar, and others.  WWNN: “We were never NIMBY!”  It is striking how much the key builders were not born as elites.

2. Dan Levy, Maxims for Thinking Analytically: The wisdom of legendary Harvard professor Richard Zeckhauser.  How many of us will end up getting books such as this in our honor?  If you are curious, Zeckhauser’s three maxims for personal life are: “There are some things you just don’t want to know,” “If you focus on people’s shortcomings, you’ll always be disappointed,” and “Practice asynchronous reciprocity.”  Zeckhauser, by the way, was on my dissertation committee.

3. Adeeb Khalid, Central Asia: A New History from the Imperial Conquests to the Present.  Could this be the best history of Central Asia?  The author takes special care to tie the region to the histories of Russia and China, the author seeming to have a specialization in Russian history, and for me that makes the entire enterprise far more intelligible.  Useful for Xinjiang history as well, here is one useful review of the book.

4. Paul Greenhalgh, Ceramic: Art and Civilisation.  Picture book!  Need I say more?  And a big one.

Edward J. Watts, The Eternal Decline and Fall of Rome: The History of a Dangerous Idea.  How has the decline of Rome been discussed and analyzed throughout the ages, including by the Romans themselves?

Loyd Grossman, The Artist and the Eternal City: Bernini, Pope Alexander VII, and the Making of Rome.  Has all the virtues of a picture book, but the price of a regular book.  With the common educated public, Bernini is still probably underrated.

Michael S. Malone, The Big Score: The billion dollar story of Silicon Valley is the new Stripe Press reprint.

Seth David Radwell, American Schism: How the Two Enlightenments Hold the Secrets to Healing Our Nation.  This is not a book written for me, but it is nonetheless good to see someone putting forward Enlightenment ideals as a solution to our problems.

What I’ve been reading

1. Barnaby Phillips, Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes.  Among its other virtues, this book is an excellent “in passing” way to learn about British imperialism and also West African economic collapse.  One thing I learned from this book is that Nigeria already has one of the very best collection of these bronzes in the world.  It does not seem they are being stolen or ruined, but they are not deployed very effectively either.  Recommended.

2. Paul Atkinson, A Design History of the Electric Guitar. “Why is it that so many guitars produced today, not only by Gibson and Fender, but by competing companies, still hark back to the classic designs of the 1950s?  Why do so many manufacturers produce designs that are very clearly derivative forms of the Les Paul, the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, the Flying V and the Explorer?”  There is now a book on this question, and quite a good one.

3. Cass Sunstein, Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It.  More people should write books about the most important topics.  Have you and your institution done a “sludge audit” lately?

4. Andras Schiff, Music Comes Out of Silence: A Memoir. A well-written and in fact gripping treatment of what makes classical music so wonderful, life as a touring concert pianist, and defecting from Hungary and later being disillusioned by a resurgent European populism.  Zoltan Kocsis was at first the more brilliant pianist, but Schiff was more persistent and ended up with a more successful career.

Alex Millmow’s The Gypsy Economist: The Life and Times of Colin Clark covers the now-neglected Australian pioneer of development economics and relative historical optimist.

There is also Kathleen Stock, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, controversial.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ivo Maes, Robert Triffin: A Life.  There should be more biographies of economists, and while this one does not succeed in making Triffin exciting, it is thorough and informative and shows there was more to the man than his famous dilemma.  I hadn’t even known Triffin was from Belgium.

2. Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September.  A wonderfully subtle Irish novel about the Anglo-Irish elite in south Ireland right after WWI, how they self-deceive about the impending doom of their rule and way of life, and the diverse forms those self-deceptions take.  An underrated modernist classic.

3. Cynthia Saltzman, Plunder: Napoleon’s Theft of Veronese’s Feast.  Among other things, this book shows how clearly Napoleon understood the role of art in both reflecting and cementing power.  Nor had I known that Canova, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Napoleon all had a single intersecting story, revolving around the theft and return of art.

4. Mircea Raianu, Tata: The Global Corporation that Built Indian Capitalism.  No, this book does not “read like a novel,” and it could use more economics rather than plain history, but it is an entire book of full of content, meeting mainstream standards, on the still understudied topic of Indian business, one very major Indian business in particular.

There is Emily J. Levine, Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University, on yet another understudied topic.

Paul Strathern’s The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo: The Transformation of Western Civilization is probably the best current, general interest book on its (very important) topic.

What I’ve been reading

1. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805 edition.  Many people who read “the Great Books” never touch this one, because it is a poem, and a long one at that (about 200 pp. in my Oxford edition).  Nonetheless a) it is one of the best poems, and b) the experience of reading it is more like reading “a great book” than like reading a poem.  I am very happy to be rereading it.  Highly recommended, and it is also important for understanding John Stuart Mill, the decline and transformation of classical economics, and how German romanticism shaped British intellectual history.

2. Julian Hoppit, The Dreadful Monster and its Poor Relations: Taxation, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707-2021.  A highly useful fiscal history, the book also has plenty on Ireland and those are often the most interesting sections.  There had been a formal union in 1801, but during the Great Famine there was no fiscal risk-sharing with Ireland.  At the time, the national government in London also much preferred spending in England to spending to Scotland.  At 223 pp. of text it feels short, but is still a nice illustration of how fiscal policy really does show a government’s priorities and throughout history always has.

3. Seamus Deane, Small World: Ireland 1798-2018.  Deane passed away only last month, might he have been Ireland’s greatest modern critic?  Covering Burke, Swift, Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Heaney, Anna Burns and much more, these essays are especially good at tying together “old Ireland” with “current Ireland.”

4. Robert B. Brandom, A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology.  I’ve only read the first forty or so pages in this one, and I will read them again.  I am not sure it makes sense for me to study this book further, given my priorities.  Yet it seems worth the $50 I spent on it.  If you wish to imbibe a truly impressive, line-for-line smart and insightful take from a contemporary philosopher, this 2019 book is exhibit A, noting that it serves up 757 pp. of text.  I’ll let you know how far I get.

Gene Slater’s Freedom to Discriminate: How Realtors Conspired to Segregate Housing and Divide America is a very good and useful book about the role of realtors and covenants in shaping residential discrimination.

Michael Albertus, Property Without Rights: Origins and Consequences of the Property Rights Gap.  I have only pawed through this one, but it appears to be a highly useful extension of de Soto themes with better data and a more systematic approach.

Edward Slingerland, Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization is an argument that our capacity for getting drunk, and indeed the act of getting drunk, enhances creativity, trust building, and stress alleviation.  I mostly agree, but…

What I’ve been reading

1. Marc Morris, The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England 400-1066.  A pretty good book.  It has been criticized for focusing on “dead white males,” but isn’t this a history of dead white males in large part?  The photos are quite good.  My main problem is simply that I find the whole era inscrutable.  Still, if you wish to learn whether Aethelred the Unready was in fact…unready…this is one good place to go.

2. Andrew Steele, Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old.  I haven’t read all of the popular “anti-aging” books, but perhaps this is the best one?  It presents the diversity of problems involved, and the difficulty of solving them, while remaining ultimately hopeful about the possibility of progress.  Most of the meat of the book is in the middle chapters, which are also good for explaining how aging research relates to broader biological and disease-linked issues.

3. Kara Walker, A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs To Be.  Mostly images of her drawings, no text to speak of (though many of the drawings themselves have text).  These 600 or so drawings will be on exhibit in a show in Basel that I hope to visit this summer, Covid conditions permitting.  I find her work a better introduction to “current race issues” than most of the recent well-known books on race issues.  Smarter and more powerful.

Steven Johnson, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, is a very good history of exactly what its title promises.

Matt Grossman’s How Social Science Got Better: Overcoming Bias with More Evidence, Diversity, and Self Reflection is both substantive and honest.

What I’ve been reading

1. Allen Lowe, “Turn Me Loose White Man”, two volumes and 30 accompanying compact discs.  “Personally I accept the assumption that a great deal, if not all, of American music is rooted in forms that derive in some way from Minstrelsy.”  Would you like to see that documented over the course of 30 CDs and almost 800 pp.?  Would you like to know how early blues, country, gospel, jazz, bluegrass (and more) all fit together?  Then this is the package for you.  It is in fact of one of the greatest achievements of all time in cataloguing and presenting American culture.  Here is a WSJ review.

2. Luke Burgis, Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.  This book is the best introduction to this key Girardian concept.

3. Blake Bailey, Philip Roth: The Biography.  I only read slivers and won’t finish it, because I just don’t need 800 pp. on Philip Roth.  But…it’s really good.  I like Picasso too, and Caravaggio (a murderer).  I’ve heard, by the way, that this book will be picked up by Simon and Schuster and put back into print.

4. Martha C. Nussbaum, Citadels of Pride: Sexual Assault, Accountability, and Reconciliation.  There are so many recent books on these topics, you might feel a bit weary of them all, but this is one of the best.  It is rationally and reasonably argued, from first principles, and focuses on the better arguments for its conclusions.  It nicely situates the legal within the philosophical, it is wise on power vs. sex, rooted in the idea of objectification, and it has at least one page on alcohol.

5. Kenneth Whyte, The Sack of Detroit: General Motors and the End of American Enterprise.  How the consumer and auto safety movement helped to bring down GM.

6. Fabrice Midal, Trungpa and Vision, a biography of Chögyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist leader.  I enjoyed this passage: “He never hesitated to tell the truth, even if this meant provoking the audience.  At a talk in San Francisco in the fall of 1970, he began by saying: “It’s a pity you came here.  You’re so aggressive.””

And this passage: “Chögyam Trungpa might have appeared, at first, sight, to be very modern and up-to-date in his approach to the teachings.  He had abandoned the external signs of the Tibetan monastic tradition.  He drank whiskey, smoked cigarettes, and wore Western clothes.  He had a frank often provocative way with words and ignored the normal conventions of a guru.”  In fact he died from complications resulting from heavy alcohol abuse.