What I’ve been reading

1. Jonathan Paine’s Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola combines several interests of mine in an effective fashion.  This book is most useful for seeing economic themes in some of the classic authors, above and beyond their citations of monetary values and payments.

2. The Bretton Woods Agreements, Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents, edited by Naomi Lamoreaux and Ian Shapiro.  Virtually all edited collections are sleep-inducing, but this one is consistently interesting, at least if you are the kind of person who might possibly be drawn in by the title.  Doug Irwin, Barry Eichengreen, Kurt Schuler, and Michael Bordo are among the contributors.

3. Ken Ochieng’ Opalo, Legislative Development in Africa: Politics and Postcolonial Legacies.  The book also is more exciting than the title and subtitle indicate.  It covers the determinants of cross-national African legislative successes, and argues that often the best and strongest legislatures emerge from a context of previously effective autocracy.

4. Roger Faligot, Chinese Spies: From Chairman Mao to Xi JinPing.  A sobering account of how much spying — indeed spying on a mass level — has been central to Chinese history since the advent of communism.  I found some parts of this book too detailed for me to read the entire thing, but arguably that ought to scare you all the more.  Note that the narrative essentially ends around 2008.

5. Mario Bertolotti, The History of the Laser.  Only about half of this book, at most, covers the laser.  Those parts seemed fine enough, but what I really enjoyed was the coverage of the development of electromagnetic theory leading up to the laser.  The book is also good for showing that the “transistor revolution” starting in 1948 was not really so distinct from the earlier industrial and electromagnetic revolution of the late 19th century.

Comments

#5 - laser is good stuff, I recall (from memory) Gould's Laser followed Townsend's Mazer, Gould's inventors notebook is suspiciously backdated to just beat Townsend, and Gould only got a patent on the trigger (pump) not the cavity (or vice versa) and further, the US Patent Office fetish with "priority" means Gould got a submarine patent that perversely enabled him to sue the entire industry many decades after the laser was perfected, which increased Gould's royalties tremendously. A "success" for a worthy invention by "mistake".

Bons trivia: the US Patent Office traditionally does not award patents if the invention is "found in nature". Technically, the atmosphere of Mars acts as a laser with light, amplifying certain wavelengths, so technically the laser is "found in nature" (like a form of aspirin and willow bark) and theoretically "not patentable" (at least in the broadest claim form, as a theoretical construct). Truth!

That's a stretch. (the emission is from the transition from an asymmetric to symmetric stretching, in the mid-IR)

#3 Any mention of Hume's History?

I'm reading 'Cuckoldry, Impotence and Adultery in Europe' by Sara F. Matthews-Grieco. An absolutely scintillating read about the true roots of Western civilization, self-recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Cuckoldry-Impotence-Adultery-15th-17th-Modernity/dp/1138548162

4. 'spying on a mass level — has been central to Chinese history since the advent of' the Legalists. https://www.ancient.eu/Legalism/

With our unchecked immigration policies how many Chinese spies do you think live amongst us? Our foolish immigration policies is a suicide pact we have all unwittingly signed on to.

2. Timely given the interest in bringing back gold. An argument (the argument?) for a gold standard (or any standard pegging currencies) is that it promotes/provides greater stability in the value of currencies, thereby facilitating trade. The delegates at Bretton Woods no doubt were influenced by the trade wars and beggar thy neighbor policies that contributed to the great depression. Would it be inconsistent, stupid even, to simultaneously support a gold standard and a trade war? Is the obsession with stability a fetish? Our host prefers disruption: disruption triggers innovation, and innovation is the root of progress. Does Cowen support a gold standard, or does he have his sights on bigger game, namely cryptocurrency (which, like gold, would be limited in supply, though not (necessarily) pegged to gold). Do we need a Bretton Woods Conference for cryptocurrency?

I’m not falling for your book recommendations ever again Tyler. That Crusades book was horrendous.

The commenters sometimes let me down with theirs: "Mechanization Takes Command." How I looked forward to it. How turgid. How badly organized. How very much of the first 50 pages is spent discussing itself. Now my husband picked the behemoth up after I fell asleep over it, spent some time drilling into it to size up what was worthwhile, and then read that. Conclusion: about 5%. The table of contents is no help. Unfortunately I don't have his and T.C.'s super-scanning ability.

Scott Alexander - a candidate for one of your excellent write-ups, perhaps?

Examples of African legislative successes?

What are the best edited volumes you've read in the last year?

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