What I’ve been reading

I've been trying not to read too much during my stay in Berlin, as an experiment in information processing and to see how it changes my thoughts.  Still, I've been reading a bit and here are a few of the books:

1. Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, by Eric D. Weitz.  A bit stolid, but a good general overview of an era I very much would like to be able to visit.  That said, deflation and fascist political movements make for an obviously nasty combination.

2. My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic, an interview with Charles Saatchi.  Entertaining throughout, plus you can read it in a few minutes time.  This is the sort of book Felix Salmon would blog.  Saatchi claims that Pollock, Warhol, Judd, and Hirst are the four artists from recent times who will pass into history as the immortals.  The others will be swept away.

3. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, by William Rosen.  This is a popular treatment of some of the themes in Jack Goldstone's excellent work on engineering culture in England.  I don't think this book has anything fundamentally new, but about half of it I found to be worthwhile reading.  The other half is OK summaries of various economic theories.

4. William Voegeli, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State.  Voegeli has a good basic point, namely that a) the welfare state is here to stay, and b) we need to set limits to it.  At some point the book runs into diminishing returns.  Arnold Kling wrote a good review of the book, plus he had lunch with the author.

5. Herta Müller, assorted.  When she won the Nobel Prize last year, I was skeptical.  In Berlin I've been reading her work, much of which is set in Berlin, and I like it.  It helps if you have a connection to those who have left formerly communist countries.  In English, I suggest The Land of Green Plums as a starting point.

6. Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses.  This one is a re-read, as I will teach it next spring in Law and Literature and I am studying it well in advance.  This is Rushdie's most significant achievement and one of the truly excellent novels of the last thirty years.  It's not an easy read, but worth the commitment if you haven't already done so.  Sadly, this book seems to have fallen into a commercial black hole; you can't even get it on Kindle.


"deflation and fascist political movements make for an obviously nasty combination"

Pr. Cowen,

What is meant here by "deflation"? A look at the book gives a hint: "to follow the deflationary path that he believed would lead Germany out of the Depression. He sharply curtailed government spending"

In France, too, the year 1935 is often called the "Laval deflation" because of the over the board cuts in public wages. As it turned out, prices were falling faster than wages in the public sector, so real wages were rising.

But when the government increases its spending and public wages, would anyone call this "inflation"?

'Sadly, this book seems to have fallen into a commercial black hole; you can't even get it on Kindle.'

I'm not sure the phrase 'fallen into a commercial black hole' is actually correct -
'n the mean time there were several attacks on those involved in the publishing of the book and who "were aware" of its "contents." Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the book The Satanic Verses, was stabbed to death on July 11, 1991. Two other translators of the book survived attempted assassinations.[54]

Ettore Capriolo, the Italian language translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing the same month as his Japanese counterpart.

Aziz Nesin, the Turkish language translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre in July 1993, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people.

William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, barely survived an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993.

One planned attack on Rushdie failed when the would-be bomber, Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh, blew himself up along with two floors of a central London hotel.'

And it is reasonable to point out that the religious fervor which seems to have been a major cause of those attacks has not abated since then. Commercially, there just doesn't seem to be enough money involved to make it worth the risk.

Thanks to not_ScottBot for the informative reminder of why Rushdie's book has fallen into a commercial black hole.

How exactly has Satanic Verses fallen into a commercial black hole? In the U.S. at least it does not appear to be out of print. Both paperback and hardcover are in stock at Amazon (US and UK) and at Borders.com. I regularly see copies at both the chain and used bookstores I frequent.

'How exactly has Satanic Verses fallen into a commercial black hole?'

I'm quite certain, though without having any personal knowledge, that Rushdie is extremely unlikely to do anything which even begins to appear like further distribution of his book beyond the unsettling boundaries where it currently exists - which is a book with a cultural/religious reference or two aimed straight at the heart of a faith not noted for moderation when having its prophet insulted, especially when the insults arise from among those considered part of the umma.

Of course, if Rushdie had been publishing a roughly equivalent work within the broad framework of an extremely secular society, say 70 years ago, it is quite possible he would have 'earned' the same treatment that Trostky received.

Some people play with fire - Rushdie did, and a lot of people around him were burnt. And since most people don't treat their commercial activities at a job as being a life or death issue, the fact that this book can actually result in death is an effective form of censorship.

The broader debate remains - some people are interested in ensuring that only their view of reality is spread. Like the Texas Board of Education, who managed to place the writer of the Declaration of Independence, the founder of a major American university, the man whose library formed the foundation of the Library of Congress (including a Koran used recently in a historic moment in the history of religious freedom in the U.S.), a president at the beginning of the Republic, into a sort of 'commercial black hole' due to their appraisal of Jefferson's religious beliefs. Or at least attempting to, to the best of their abilities.

After the publication of "Satanic Verses" and the Khomeni fatwa
Salman Rushdie could not for years appear in public and had to be guarded
by the British police in a succession of anoymous locations. It
is one of the books whose extra-literary history became more
important then the work itself.

Satanic Verses was the first book I read by Rushdie. I have since read four others, and all of them were better than S.V., IMHO.

Is there anything about Corporate Welfare in Voegeli's book? The table of contents indicated not.

How exactly has Satanic Verses fallen into a commercial black hole? In the U.S. at least it does not appear to be out of print. Both paperback and hardcover are in stock at Amazon (US and UK) and at Borders.com. I regularly see copies at both the chain and used bookstores I frequent.

this is correct:


The top link through google is to an out of print edition, but this is pretty common for links through google.

I didn't like the book that much. There was a boatload of magical realism wanna-be books published in the 1985-1995 timeframe and most of them including "the satanic verses" don't hold up very well. I have heard that "midnight's children" is better.

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