What I’ve been reading

1. The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720, edited by William N. Goetzmann, Catherine Labio, K. Geert Rouwenhorst, and Timothy G. Young, with a foreword by Robert J. Shiller.  A beautiful full-size book with amazing plates as well as text.  Think of this as a book about a book, focusing on a Dutch publication around the time of the bubble called The Great Mirror of Folly, “a unique and splendid record of the financial crisis and its cultural dimensions.”  Recommended to anyone with an interest in the economic history of bubbles.

2. Catherine Hall, Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain.  An engaging and well written book about Thomas Macaulay’s father Zachary and then Thomas himself, focusing on themes of slavery, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and empire, not to mention the education of children.  A good read on why some strands of liberalism hit such a dead end when confronted with the realities of the British empire.

3. Iain MacDaniel, Adam Ferguson in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Roman Past and Europe’s Future.  A clear and conceptually argued account of Ferguson’s thought, which will convince you he is not the lightweight of the Scottish Enlightenment.  Starting with a comparison with Montesquieu, MacDaniel emphasizes Ferguson as a critic of the idea of progress and a historical pessimist, focusing on issues of war and martial virtue.  This book is also useful for understanding the subtleties of Smith on the ancients vs. the moderns and why he was more sanguine about Britain than about the Romans (no slavery, for one thing).

4. John Eliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.  One of the world’s greatest Bach conductors is also one of the greatest Bach writers, with an emphasis on the vocal music and also what we know about Bach’s life.  Especially noteworthy is the lengthy case for the John Passion and the discussion of the B Minor Mass.  Definitely worthy of the “best books of the year” list and perhaps in the top tier too.  I’m not going to liberate this volume, I am going to keep it.


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