1. Robert W. Poole, Jr. Rethinking America’s Highways: A 21st Vision for Better Infrastructure. Highways can and will get much better, largely through greater private sector involvement. He is probably right, and there is much substance in this book.
2. Aysha Akhtar, Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. An unusual mix of memoir, animal compassion, and childhood horrors, I found this very moving.
3. Ethan Mordden, On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide. Should there not be a fanboy book like this about every person of some renown? Insightful and witty throughout, for instance: “…we comprehend Streisand from what she does — yet a few personal bits have jumped out at us through her wall of privacy. One is the “Streisand Effect”…which we can restate as “When famous people complain about something, they tend to make it famous, too.”
4. Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness, Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education. Hard-hitting and courageous, and I can attest that much of it is absolutely on the mark. Still, I did wish for a bit more of a comparative perspective. Are universities more hypocritical than other institutions? Might the non-signaling, learning rate of return on higher education still be positive and indeed considerable? I am not nearly as negative as the authors are, while nonetheless feeling much of their disillusion on the micro level. Furthermore, American higher education does pass a massive market test at the global level — foreign students really do wish to come and study here. What are we to make of that? Which virtues of the current system are we all failing to understand properly?
5. Kirk Goldsberry, Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA. A highly analytical but also entertaining look at the rise of the three point shot, the history of Steph Curry, how LeBron James turned into such a good player, and much more, with wonderful visuals and graphics.
6. Paul Rabinow, Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. PCR is the polymerase chain reaction, and this is a genuinely good anthropological study of how scientific progress comes about, noting there is plenty of lunacy in this story, including love, LSD, and much more. There should be more books like this, this one dates from the 1990s but I am still hoping more people copy it. Via Ray Lopez.
Charles King, Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, covers Boas, Mead, Benedict, and others. Not enough of the material was new to me, though I expect for many readers this is quite a useful book.
I enjoyed Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.
Daniel Markovits, The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite. Remember how I used to say “The only thing worse than the Very Serious People are the Not Very Serious People?” Well, you should have listened. I have the same fear with the current critiques of meritocracy. That said, this is the book that does the most to pile on, against meritocracy, noting that much less space is devoted to possible solutions. There are arguments in their own right for wage subsidies and more low-income college admissions, but will those changes reverse the fundamental underlying dynamic of knowing just about everybody’s marginal product?
John Quiggin, Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly. The third lesson, however, is government failure, and you won’t find much about that here. Still, I found this to be a well-done book rather than a polemic. Here is the introduction on-line.