1. C.E. Cubitt, A Life of Friedrich August von Hayek. How come you don’t hear of this book more often? It is an extensive, rambling meditation on Hayek’s last years, full of anecdotes about Hayek’s medical ailments, arguments with his wife, and which groups he did not like. It is also short on any kind of formal documentation. But what could be more of a document than this book itself? Self-published by Hayek’s last private secretary, it seems too detailed and too strange to be entirely made up. You can pull out a random sentence and get something like “He [Hayek] liked women, he told me, providing they were not hirsute and did not offend his sensitive nose, and on one occasion even told me that he was “a little in love” with one of the waitresses in the Colombi Hotel.” Or we read that Hayek was obsessed with euthanasia, and in his last years carried around a razor blade in case it might be needed on short notice. It’s like absorbing a Thomas Bernhardt novel without the literary skill but with real stakes in the history of ideas. Ultimately I found this one unreadable, though it is consistent with my view that intellectual history is first and foremost a matter of biography. And what about the biography of Charlotte Cubitt herself? That is the real mystery here.
2. Jim Baker, Crossroads: A Popular History of Malaysia and Singapore. I loved this book and found every page gripping, it is hard to see how it could be better than it is. One of the best books of last year, it turns out.
The new novels by Orhan Pamuk and David Mitchell appear to be serious efforts, but so far neither one is grabbing me.