What I’ve been reading

1. Mark Zupan, Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest.  This is now the very best book on how special interest groups subvert the quality of public policy.

2. Historically Inevitable: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution, edited by Tony Brenton, contributors include Dominic Lieven, Orlando Figes, and Richard Pipes.  I, for one, often find it easier to learn history through counterfactual reasoning.  “What if they hadn’t put Lenin into that train?, and so on, and so this is my favorite from the recent spate of books on 1917 in Russia.

More generally, there are people who very much like counterfactual reasoning (say Derek Parfit), and people who don’t care for it much (say Jim Buchanan).  The two types often don’t communicate well.  The counterfactual deployer seems like a kind of smart aleck, caught up in irrelevancies and neglecting “the real issues.”  In turn, the non-poser of counterfactuals seems stodgy and unable to understand the limitations of principles, how one might handle the tough cases, and what might cause one to change one’s mind.  Being able to bridge this gap, and learn from both kinds of thinkers, is both difficult and yields high returns.

3. Mary Gaitskill, Somebody with a Little Hammer, Essays.  Short pieces, never too long, strong throughout, mostly on literature (Nicholson Baker, Peter Pan, Norman Mailer, Bleak House) with some essays on movies too.  This will make my best of the year list, and she remains an underrated author more generally.

4. Jace Clayton, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.  An original and consistently interesting extended essay on how “World Music” is evolving in digital times.  A must-read for me, at least.

5. Johan Chistensen, The Power of Economists Within the State.  I haven’t read this one, but it appears to be a very interesting look at the role of economists within government, for the case studies of New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and other cases (in less detail).  “Economists in government” remains an underappreciated topic, so I expect this book is a real contribution.

6. Julie Schumacher, Doodling for Academics: A Coloring and Activity Book.  It’s funny, for instance one panel has the heading “Find and color the many readers who will enjoy your dissertation.”  The images include a rat and a snake in the grass, but there aren’t even so many of those.


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