What I’ve been reading and browsing

1. Camilla Townsend, Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.  I read this one straight through, it does more to bring the Aztecs (a misnomer, by the way, as it is technically the name of the military alliance…a bit like referring to “NATO people”) to life than any other book I know.

2. Daniel M. Russell, The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going Beyond the Basics.  I don’t need this, but I suspect useful for many.

3. Thomas O. McGarity, Pollution, Politics, and Power: The Struggle for Sustainable Electricity.  A very useful of the last four decades of transformation in the electricity industry.

4. Norman Lebrecht, Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World 1847-1947.  An informative and engaging account of what the title promises (you can learn more about Heine and Alkan and Moholy-Nagy).  Nonetheless the author never really addresses the question of why that period was quite so remarkable for Jewish achievement, relative to the rest of world history.

5. Edmund Morris, Edison.  Lots of impressive research, but this book didn’t have the emphasis on innovation and institutions that I was looking for.

There is also Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.


"There is also Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism" presented without comment. No celebratory Average is Over" comment?

Average is definitely over. They overdosed on opioids. Mediocrity is the new death penalty says our libertarian overlords.

Marx is wrong about religion being the opium of the masses. Religion in the developed world is disappearing and opioids become the true opiate of the masses.

Fentanyl is the religion of the masses.

It's time somebody wrote "The Death of Capitalism and the Future of Despair".

That book is being written now during the Trump administration. Trump is most anti-capitalist President of our time.

LOL ! Yes comrade, you must be right.

Seriously? Do you ever sleep? Are there multiple versions of you as per multiple universes?

Sleep is for the weak.

Phantom #6, Despair of Capitalism: Look, it's all very difficult to understand, I know. But just look at the migration flows!

Any recent fiction you have enjoyed?

None are self-recommended this time. Got a bad bunch?

Very little written in the past half century is self-recommending. I imagine Camilla Townsend was able to present the "Aztecs" in a less prejudicial and more objective light, something someone needs to do for the Nazis.

No. 1, the Aztecs: What happened to the story of their empire? Forty Spanish thieves weren't going to conquer the place without local allies who were being exploited by the Aztecs, were they?

The allied Meso-American warriors s likely numbered 15 to 20,000, armed, like the Aztecs with stone weapons and flint arrows and fabric armor, hide shields. Many of the allies became petty nobility along side the conquistadores. An interesting/thought-provoking book is "When Montezuma Met Cortez" by Matthew Restall.

There were more like 400 Spaniards Tercios and some cavalry - all heavily armed with steel armor and weapons, some firearms. There would pike men, sword/dagger men, musketeers fighting in unison in tight formations. On picked ground, 400 such resolute, well-trained organized iron men could stand up to large numbers of stone age warriors. Leonidas with 300 Spartans and 1,000 allied Greeks held off for three days well over a hundred thousand Persians and allies at Thermopylae.


But the Great Man has already said he sometimes skims books rather than thoroughly speed reading them, so your characterization is redundant.

Redundant...like the job you had at GMU...wish we could lern the back story on that one, from your numerous rants you've never told us exactly why you were made redundant but we can guess.

Just curious: Why the unrelenting anti-Tyler-ism? Your comments seem rather personal at times. Why not forgive and forget? Just "move on", as the Americans say. Living well is the best revenge.

This just in!

Malcontent doesn’t answer question.

Nonetheless the author never really addresses the question of why that period was quite so remarkable for Jewish achievement

How much explanation do you really need? Line up the dates of Jewish emancipation on the one end, and the Holocaust on the other. When Jews were finally allowed to be part of society, they achieved, right up until they were slaughtered.

Though the population size went down, achoevement did not stop. The prizes and such have still flowed through quite nicely post WWII. Achievement may be less in relative terms, but we all know (I hope) the German and Austro-Hungarian Jews as an established upper-middle group (financially, then after "emancipation", increasingly socially) received higher education well before many others were able to access it. So the natural and quite explanatory interpretation is a little boost to their natural talents from early access to education. Once a wider swathe of society was included, that may not hold quite as strong.

"Jewish emancipation" is really talking about opportunity to participate in science and culture getting past all those theocrats that ran their communities (with rather less interest in and openness to science than the Catholic Church, on the whole, and secular culture too).

1. Camilla Townsend, "Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs". Oh Christ, more slaughter and gore.

2. Daniel M. Russell, "The Joy of Search: A ..." Another ruddy colon title.

3. Thomas O. McGarity, "Pollution ..." A third colon title, and more bloody Greenery I suppose.

4. Norman Lebrecht, "Genius & Anxiety: How Jews ..." Enough already!

5. Edmund Morris, "Edison". Hurray, a non-colonic book. But isn't Edison overrated? If he'd been a German working in Germany there would be far less fuss about him. Except in Germany I suppose.

Are there any recent nonfiction books that you recommend instead? My recommendation is for “Lost in Math” by Sabine Hossenfelder.

I have been looking at books of some age, either presents never opened, or things picked up in second hand bookshops. I recommend Greene on Superstrings (The Elegant Universe), Tudge on Trees (The Secret Life of Trees), Massie's "Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War" - very good even though colonised - and, the biggest surprise for me, Adam Zamoyski's "Warsaw 1920", an account of how newly formed Poland defeated Lenin's attempt to conquer Western Europe.

So that's the second of two great victories for which Westerners ought to thank the Poles for successfully defending them from despotism.

Wild guess: Other things being equal, people who grow up in families that stay intact and value and support education, in places where and at times when education is available, tend to accomplish more of the things that education makes possible to accomplish.

3. My guess is I will disagree with much in Pollution, ....

From the TOC,I cant see the story starting with Milton Friedman's war of workers intersecting with the war on everything nuclear such that Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and many others left and fight would greatly expand coal power generation while Carter was president to cut demand for natural gas use generating electricity and burning "bunker oil".

The key legislation was PURPA which crippled any coherent electric power grid design. Since, electric power has careened from crisis to crisis to bandaid to grasping on products that have been at the right place and time.

Ironically, conservatives rejected utility deregulation out of Chicago, Friedman, et al, so we have the Texas central planning by its PUC and the southeast PUC approving four new nuclear reactors with rate payers paying higher rates to help pay for their construction long before they generate any power.

There has been an ineffective "war on coal". However the "war on costs" has made coal, and its jobs, the second victim, the first being all the nuclear industry jobs.

Friedman was clear he wanted to kill jobs tied to electric industry from the start. As well as kill building electric industry capital, by getting rid of utility regulators. The only way to maximize profits is to have too little capital to meet peak demand so rationing by price generates high profits.

Coal has been hurt by coal opponents using Friedman's arguments for cutting costs to block expanded or continued burning of coal. Energy efficiency costs have consistently been lower than replacing or repairing obsolete coal plants.

Blocking investment, however is not a means of setting an ongoing plan for the future. Obama officials laid out a strategy for planning. Trump has no energy plan other than blocking planning as laid out by Obama.

Thus the planning is driven by Texas, California, China, all trying to create the most jobs now and in the future. Trump can't save coal because Friedman in the 70s won on getting rid of the central planners Trump needs to centrally plan the return of coal.

How much effort goes into explaining the benefits of low particulate and CO2 emissions (or even "energy independence") with the odd public aversion to nuclear power. It's one of our era's great mysteries.

3. Florida Power & Light is investing heavily in solar power, and intends to install at least 30 million solar panels by 2030. This is not a publicity stunt but a real strategy for sustainable electricity. No, I don't work for FP&L but through my work I am familiar with their solar strategy. https://www.fpl.com/energy-my-way/solar/energy-centers.html

Replacing orange groves?

How do solar farms do in a hurricane?

30 million panels x 300 watts / panel = 9 GigaWatts

That’s max power at noon, i.e. nameplate power.

Capacity factor (actual 24/365 vs nameplate) for solar is about 20%.

So you get about 2 GW average power from this effort.

Nuke plant typical nameplate is about 1 GW, capacity factor is about 90%. So over their 10 year plan, they can retire 2 nukes - plus you are going to need a LOT of batteries, to make it through the night.

For scale, the US grid provides about 1000 GW.

In grid terms, solar panels just don’t provide much power. People often don’t recognize this.

6. Death and Despair? Fault of capitalism? You know better, and posted so. As always, the causality goes the other way


5. Morris died in May. It could be that declining health limited his ability to write a more interesting book; he had the time to do the research (as Cowen indicates) but perhaps not to write a good story. Morris wrote a highly acclaimed biography of Teddy Roosevelt, but is best known for writing a biography of Reagan in which Morris inserted himself as a fictional narrator, a literary device for which he was criticized by historians.

I've enjoyed your recommendations, especially as mediated by the commenters; as well as theirs - but I've just discovered the free Libby app for the phone. I'm very taken by its easy interface and will henceforth be limited to "reading" popular treatments of popular subjects. Which is fine. Right now I'm hearing the gripping tale of the USS Indianapolis, suitably read by a narrator who sounds like the straight arrow character in a period war movie.

I think I'm more than halfway through - whereas with y'all's "Pakistan: A Hard Country," taken from the library at the same time, and which I really like too - but you know, you can't read and chop vegetables at the same time, plus it seems like it might have taken a little paring itself - I'm only 50 pages in.


The best computer books are by O'Reilly. They have woodcuts of animals on the cover. Usually they focus on the needs of programmers and sysadmins, but when it comes to google-searching those groups' needs are the same as everyone else's.

This book covers the same territory as The Joy of Search but is written for people who expect to get the most out of their computers. A much better learning opportunity.

I like the O'Reilly books.

I suspect these would be good for anyone. Even if you are an old hand at boolean search, the search engines are developing their own vernacular. "Ramen near me" etc.

A good compendium of embedded features here.

#1: She sounds like a legitimate historian, and the blurbs come from people who also sound like legit historians. But this description of the book is puzzling:

"the Native Americans were intrigued by the Roman alphabet and, unbeknownst to the newcomers, they used it to write detailed histories in their own language of Nahuatl. Until recently, these sources remained obscure, only partially translated, and rarely consulted by scholars"

Okay, I can readily believe that historians ignored those documents for at least 400 years after the conquest. But in the last century or so? Those documents were just sitting there are nobody bothered to look at them?

Even Clint Eastwood thought to look at the writings of the Japanese soldiers and was inspired to make the movie "Letters from Iwo Jima". Finding and utilizing primary documents written from the "other side" has been a prime activity for decades now.

Almost every thing that I've read about the history of the Axtecs bemoans the lack of native-written documents (because the Spanish, conquistadors and missionaries alike, were usually not interested in what the Aztecs had to write). There's a whole wikipedia article about Aztec codices, small enough in number that the article takes a stab at listing them, though acknowledging that it's a short list, not the complete list.

That article does link to another one, about the New Philology, which says that scholars started looking deeply into these Nauhuatl documents starting in the 1970s, and even has a list of works written under the New Philology.

That makes more sense. So scholars have been plumbing these materials to see what the Aztecs had to say. Townsend's book isn't listed, maybe it's too new, but I can imagine that it's the latest in this line of scholarship.

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