What I’ve been Reading

1. Gendun Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler, introduction by Thupte Jimpa and Donald S. Lopez Jr.  A very learned Tibetan scholar travels to India and records his hyper-structured impressions of what is obviously a more modern and economically developed land.  Yet India is also the original homeland of Buddhism and as such a source of obsession about the distant past.  Brilliantly rendered, the manuscript reads like a source that would have inspired Borges.  Every now and then the narrative comes to a full stop and we get a chapter like “How the Lands Were Given Their Names.”  Later the manuscript was shipped back by yak, and Chopel was sent to jail in Tibet for having written it.  This volume has one of the best introductions of any book I have read.  A fantastic look at the culture that was Tibet, or for that matter India or Sri Lanka.  Chopel is trying to incorporate modernity into the traditional Tibetan worldview, and yet throughout cannot avoid a sense of the tragic and of decay, which only the book itself is contradicting.

2. Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, graphic edition, the illustrations work very well.  I have only paged through it.

3. John Sutherland, How to be Well Read: A Guide to 500 Great Novels and a Handful of Literary Curiosities.  It is great fun to browse through this work.  It is out only in the UK, I found it in Daunt Books, there is always reason to travel to London.

4. Ralph Nader, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.  I am supposed to interview Nader soon, and so I am reading up on his history, he has become an oddly undervalued figure, remembered mainly for his spoiler role in Gore vs. Bush.  Here is a piece on Nader’s ostensible “turn to the right,” that is not how I would describe it, as with Krugman I see continuity from a person who is basically a moralizing conservative with a crusading zeal.  And who would have thought Nader is a fan of Wilhem Roepke?

5. Alex Wright, Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age.  An excellent study of a Belgian, Paul Otlet, who in the late nineteenth century began “a vast intellectual enterprise that attempted to organize and code everything ever published.”  He started by expanding the potential of the card catalog and then wished to build a mechanical collective brain known as the Mundaneum, a “Steampunk version of hypertext.”  Relevant of course to the origins of the web, Wikipedia, and current sites such as Vox.com.  You can read more about Otlet and his infovore tendencies here.


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