What I’ve been reading

1. William Skidelsky, Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession.  An excellent short book on how tennis has changed through technology, the nature of excellence in human performance, and why fans are interested in sports and sports stars at all.  There is no great tennis stagnation.

2. Bill Hayton, The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia.  If you wish to be convinced that no one has much of a good claim to the Spratlys, this is the place to go.  The best guide to current disputes.

3. Padraig O’Malley, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine — A Tale of Two Narratives.  This “substance on every page” book can be read profitably no matter what your point of view on this conflict.  It has lots of economics too, most of all a good discussion of what it would take for a Palestinian state to be economically viable.  Definitely recommended.

4. Barry Allen, Vanishing into Things: Knowledge in Chinese Tradition, is a consistently interesting take on the history of ideas in China, including Daoism, Chan Buddhism, and much more.  It is unusual for a book to both make scholarly contributions and engage the common educated reader, most of all on these sometimes arcane topics.

I don’t currently have time to read it, but Robin Lane Fox’s forthcoming Augustine: Conversions to Confessions looks quite good.

Patrick Modiano’s newly translated Pedigree: A Memoir is perhaps excellent in the original French, but I found very little in it to hold my attention.

Jeremiah D. Lambert’s The Power Brokers: The Struggle to Shape and Control the Electric Power Industry is full of useful and interesting facts, organized by the stories of various personalities, including Paul Joskow and Kenneth Lay.  Cintra Wilson’s Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling American Style is written in exactly the opposite manner, breezy and fun but at times could use more facts.


2. First ban imports of electricity and petroleum from Israel, and then of food and fertilizer. With the youth bulge busy as organic farmers, which is the traditional Palestinian way of life, a state would be economically viable and ecologically sustainable.

Federer is one of the rare great athletes of our time who doesn't look like a science project. (Maybe he still is, but with his shirt off he looks like a 1970s athlete.)

He's either a genetic freak or has some super-advanced training regimen given how rarely he gets injured. I'd guess the former.

He is probably a science experiment in quickness, agility and eyesight.

I think he is a lot like Wayne Gretzky. His brain is clocked slightly faster than other athletes and that fundamentally changes the way in which he plays the game.

There certainly seems to be a great tennis stagnation in terms of popular interest. Tennis in the US is a shadow of what it was in the 1970s. Interestingly, in Germany tennis has also faded from the popularity it enjoyed when Becker and Graf were at the top of their game.

I made myself read a few books by Modiano (in French), I figured that if he won a Nobel there must be some there there and maybe the next book will reveal it. To be honest I haven't figured out what the fuss is about. All the books seem basically to be about his father - whom he barely knew.

1. Actually, tennis in the U.S. is stagnate, with the number of people playing within the past 12 months stagnating at about 12 million.

I play tennis, but I think there is a Great Stagnation. I also think (ironically) it's caused by technological progress in rackets, which increased their power. That's made the game less interesting, as you see a smaller variety of shots. No one plays like McEnroe, AFAIK.

Are you conflating playing tennis with watching tennis? The new rackets have made watching tennis less interesting (serve and volley, serve and volley, serve and volley) but playing tennis more fun for the average player. Compare tech advancements in golf, which also have made watching golf less interesting (driver, wedge, and putt, driver, wedge, and putt, driver, wedge, and putt) but playing golf more fun for the average golfer. If the number of people playing tennis or golf is a function of the number watching tennis and golf (i.e., if the latter adds to the former), then the great stagnation has arrived in both sports.

This is why MLB doesn't allow aluminum bats.

"serve and volley, serve and volley, serve and volley"

Seriously? Federer's net rushing has been a recent thing and has drawn comment because of how unusual it is. He just started rushing second serves (a gimmick maybe, but he won an important point in the final of an important tournament against Djokovic on Sunday)

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are all historically great players and have played each other a combined 118 times. They consistently play each other in finals and there have been a huge number of close fought, dramatic finals.

Djokovic may have a boring style, but Nadal and Federer have very distinctive styles and David Foster Wallace wrote a famous article called Roger Federer as Religious Experience.

There may be a great stagnation in public interest, but I the quality and entertainment at the top is really a lot better than it was in the 90s. Would you rather watch Sampras play Courier? Was that more varied and interesting?

The rackets increased power which led to the boring tennis of the nineties but they have tweaked the surfaces to slow the balls down. The new type of strings allow alot more spin to be imparted to the ball. This has allowed all kinds of shots which were not possible before. The tennis of Federer is the most beautiful the game has ever seen. What has hurt the game in the US is dearth of successful men's tennis players at the highest level.

Not to mention that the top US player of the last few years, John Isner, is pretty boring to watch.

Agree re dearth of US male tennis stars, but you'd think having the best ever female tennis star being American and still at the top of her game would count for something...

You would think. I don't know much about the public in general, but my perception of tennis fans is that a lot of them are stodgy and don't like Serena for a variety of reasons (playing style, body type, personality). They don't like to reflect on the privilege that they are watching the greatest female tennis player ever.

Agreed. Not uncommon in sports when the best player is of a new type, or hard to embrace, but once they start to fade and then retire then they get a lot more accolades and love. The prickliness or differences are forgotten and the legend is celebrated, all too late.

> The tennis of Federer is the most beautiful the game has ever seen.

Got to agree with that. His variety of shots, his court coverage and agility are just amazing to behold. Not to mention his demeanor on the court. He has been great for the sport. No greater champion in history, perhaps in any sport.

The "Book Corner" part of this blog is one of the most enjoyable parts. Comments tend to be closed on a post by the time I read the book, but I wanted to mention having recently finished "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking," and "Who Gets What and Why." Both gets very high marks from me. The first delves into Stoicism (I'm a very big fan and beginning to delve into serious reading about) and Buddhism (not a fan), and is not the snarky work that its subtitle might suggest. The latter was extremely readable, kind of surprisingly so; about untraditional markets, by Nobel winning economist Alvin Roth. Learn all about kidney donation exchanges and school choice. Thank you so much Tyler. I don't know how you do it, even though you've painstakingly explained it many times. :) I try now to immediately put aside any book that I'm not fascinated with, I try! It does end up making you able to read more overall, and certainly have a better time at it.

"If you wish to be convinced that no one has much of a good claim to the Spratlys": then I suggest that the US give everyone a month's notice to vamoose and then nuke the bloody islands. Problem solved.


Dick Cheney.

"Patrick Modiano’s newly translated Pedigree: A Memoir is perhaps excellent in the original French": then why not read it in French?

This isn't the first time Barry Allen has vanished.

The virtue of the O'Malley, as Tyler says, is the Econ-incline approach at the heart of the books "narrative about narratives." The problem is that it's also riddled with lots of basic errors that could have easily been fact-checked by an editor. That they weren't really detracts from enjoyment of the book. It also renders questionable the book's central conceit - that an outsider to the conflict can clinically, and without emotion, diagnose the conflict. That's not an unreasonable approach - Tyler has employed it in the past with success (can't find the link at the moment). But I don't know if it works here.

This review points out some of the very basic errors. Read the whole thing, as they say. http://www.wsj.com/articles/with-his-head-in-the-sand-1439157579

"More work should have gone into ensuring accuracy. The author asserts, for example, that Israel’s military victory in 1967 resulted from “massive U.S. assistance,” when there wasn’t massive U.S. military assistance before 1967. (France was then the main arms supplier; the planes that won the war were Mirages and Mystères.) We learn that Ariel Sharon was an agriculture minister in 1971 and that this has something to do with the genesis of the settlements; he wasn’t, and it doesn’t. The author describes Israeli soldiers carrying their Uzis “nonchalantly,” which is a nice touch. But no Israeli soldiers carry the Uzi, which was deemed obsolete after the 1973 war and removed from frontline service after that. The word “homeland” is quoted pointedly from the Balfour Declaration of 1917, where that word doesn’t appear. Would it have been too much trouble to check the text? It’s a single sentence."

(Pardon the spelling errors - typed on a smartphone! Speaking of easily checked errors... Anyway I'll wipe the egg off my face later)

Marginal Revolution is attractive because it assumes that, with wide reading and a good lunch, an individual can still get a take on the world we live in. Such optimism is not possible in Patrick Modiano's world. Too much information has been lost. Though I enjoy MR, I find Modiano's attitude reflects a deeper truth about our condition. Please do not dismiss him.

Lucky Tyler. The Federer book isn't out for 8 more months.

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