What I’ve been reading

Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends who Shaped an Age.  The same 18th century British club had as members Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Burke, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and David Garrick (often considered the greatest actor of the time).  I never tire of reading about them.

Andrew Arsan, Lebanon: A Country in Fragments.  At first this book feels like a kind of running splat, but with a bit of patience it becomes a remarkably compelling portrait of a society on the brink, most of all a desperate love letter to Beirut.  If you can get through the squirrelly early political material, this is one of the best “country books” and also “city books” of the last few years.

James Simpson, Permanent Revolution: The Reformation and the Illiberal Roots of Liberalism, feels throughout as if it is an important book.  And anyone interested in religion and development should read this one.  Yet I had trouble following the actual arguments.  It is probably good.

Marixa Lasso, Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal, stresses just how interesting a place was pre-canal Panama, contrary to what I had thought.

Vernon Smith, The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Reflections on Faith, Science, and Economics.  Published by the Acton Institute, this is Vernon on his conversion to Christianity, Kahlil Gibran, and why science and religion are compatible.  Short, of interest to those looking to understand the man.

Joel Waldfogel, Digital Renaissance: What Data and Economics Tell Us about the Future of Popular Culture.  My blurb is: “Digital Renaissance makes a real contribution to the economics of the Internet and the economics of art and culture.”


Lebanon: An interesting title, Fragments, which could describe the religious diversity of the population. Lebanon's population is estimated to be 52% Muslim (split almost evenly 26% Shia, 26% Sunni), 4% Druze, who are also Muslims, 44% Christian (23% Maronite, 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Melkite, 1% Protestant and 5.4% other Christian). This diversity is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because it forces different groups to cooperate, a curse because of the ever-present tension that results from diversity. Politically, the diversity led to what is known as the National Pact, pursuant to which the president of the country must be a Maronite, the Prime Minister must be a Sunnite, and the Speaker of Parliament must be a Shiite. As for the non-religious, they don't exist in Lebanon, at least not officially: non-religion is not recognized by the state. Fragmented, indeed.

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What's a running splat?

I'm glad I'm not the only one who wondered about that.


Vernon Smith's 'The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Reflections on Faith, Science, and Economics' was published by the Acton Institute.

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