What I’ve Been Reading

1. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States, by Stephen Mihm.  This book offers interesting tales of 19th century counterfeiters — an understudied topic — but it is too quick to slush together counterfeiters, capitalists, and Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man.  I read about 80 pages, some of you will wish to read more.

2. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang.  This is a less subtle version of the "free trade isn’t always best" arguments made by Dani Rodrik.  Reread my post The New Attack on Free Trade.

3. Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.  Should we resent that this book is essentially a campaign prop for Hillary?  Still, it was better than expected.  It’s not deep but it does stress the virtues of commercialization and the profit motive.  Less surprisingly, globalization and micro-finance are portrayed as positive forces as well.

4. Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke.  The NYT gave it a rave, lead review, as did The Washington Post and other sources.  So far it is being framed as the major American novel of the year.  It’s an almost anachronistically modernist in its structure and seriousness.  And is there really anything more to say about the Vietnam War?  First I was bored but then I reread the first 150 pages and now I love it. 

5. Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life, by Mark Francis.  It’s the best intellectual history I’ve read since McCraw’s Schumpeter book, and did you know that he and George Eliot had a non-consummated fling?  It’s a highly specialized topic, so I can’t recommend this book to everyone but I loved it and no you don’t need to care about Spencer the libertarian.


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