What I’ve been reading

1. David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: on Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy.  Don’t judge Graeber by his mistakes or by how he responds (doesn’t respond) to criticism.  This one is still more interesting to read than most books.  In fact, most of us quite like bureaucracy.

2. John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom.  The usual dose of pessimism, with a choppier argument and a slightly larger typeface than usual.  It induced me to order Mr. Weston’s Good Wine.  In any case, I’ll still buy the next one, engaging with John Gray if nothing else has become a ritual.  I once predicted to Jim Buchanan that John would end up converting to Catholicism, but I still am waiting.

3. Juan Goytisolo.  I’ve tried to read a bunch of his books, so far they all bore me, in both Spanish and English, the fault is probably mine.  Various sophisticates suggest he is great, should I keep on trying?

4. Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.  He is one of the best non-fiction essay writers, and he remains oddly underrated in the United States.  It is no mistake to simply buy his books sight unseen.  I think of this book as “happiness for grumps.”

5. Harry G. Gelber, The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 B.C. to the Present.  No, this isn’t the best Chinese history book.  But it is the one most written in a way that you will remember its contents, and in this context that is worth a lot.

Comments

Why no comments yet? First.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, go away.

Yes, only serious discussion please. ;)

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"most of us quite like bureaucracy."

So I'm in the minority? As a libertarian, I'm shocked.

My bet would be that you actually quite like bureaucracy, you just don't have a clear understanding of what it means.

Bureaucracy means that state power is exercised through a system with a hierarchical organisation, fixed rules (i.e. rule of law) and merit-based promotion.

You probably want the state to exercise less power, but you want whatever power there is to be exercised bureaucratically.

Ah, semantics. Yes, in the most simple definition, bureaucracy is fine. Unfortunately, bureaucracy combined with time results in what most people associate with bureaucracy- inefficiency, impossible to navigate rules systems and indifferent (or tyrannical) bureaucrats.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of clarity.

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Tyler, if willing to read great literature in Spanish, try Vargas Llosa, he is the very best today. His "Conversación en la catedral" or "La guerra del fin del mundo" are master pieces. I assume there must also be good translations in English

Never tell Cowen what to read because he has already read it. http://marginalrevolution.com/?s=vargas+llosa

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Most of us quite like bureaucracy.

Speak for yourself. The only bureaucracy that is worth dealing with or working within is one that is threatened with extinction. Seems to sharpen things up a little bit. Otherwise they become self perpetuating pits of despair.

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I don't understand "don't judge Graeber by his mistakes". Does that mean the absurd moralizing in Debt shouldn't inform my opinion of the dude? Because, come on, that was terrible.

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"Various sophisticates suggest he is great, should I keep on trying?"

Of course not. If you're in lockstep with sophisticates, you yourself are not sophisticated.

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RE: Goytisolo. I have read nothing of his, but Harold Bloom recommends Space in Motion, a short essay collection rather than one of the novels. But perhaps you already looked at SiM.

The excerpts from SiM I just read on Amazon seem well written and interesting enough, though he seems like a bit of an unpleasantly angry left winger.

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I thought the essay on science and spaceflight was interesting, although I didn't buy the argument.

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The Goytisolo story in the dual-language Bantam/Dover Angel Flores anthology is very memorable. "La guardia" -- starts with a boy sitting deliberately on an anthill and goes from there. The book set in eastern Europe was very boring.

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