What I’ve been reading
My local public library has reopened! From the library and from elsewhere, I have been enjoying:
1. Orlando Figes, The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture. The three lives are Turgenev, his mistress Pauline Viardot, and the husband of his mistress, Louis Viardot, a noted financier and activist. Consistently interesting, even if you are not looking to read about those three particular figures.
2. John Dickie, The Craft: How the Freemasons Made the Modern World. Although it has a stereotypically bad subtitle, this is an excellent book. It clarifies exactly where the Freemasons came from (dissident thought connected to James II), its connection to actual masons, how the movement got routed through Scotland, its prominence to the Enlightenment, its African-American component (Martin Delany), how it influenced Joseph Smith and Mormonism, why Castro tolerated it and the Shah of Iran encouraged it, and much more. Not in the book, but did you know that the Freemasons claim Shaquille O’Neal? Shaq confirms.
3. Callum Williams, The Classical School: The Turbulent Birth of Economics in Twenty Extraordinary Lives. A clear, well-written, and useful introduction to the lives and thought of some of the leading classical economists. The “unusual picks,” by the way, are Harriet Martineau, Rosa Luxemburg, and Dadabhai Naoroji. The author is a senior economics writer for The Economist.
4. Michael Hunter, The Decline of Magic: Britain in the Enlightenment. “Though it is often thought that the scientists of the early Royal Society tested magic and found it wanting, this is a misconception. In fact, the society avoided the issue because its members’ views on the subject were so divided, and it was only in retrospect that this silence was interpreted as judgmental.”
Forthcoming from Marc Levinson, the author of The Box, is a new book Outside the Box: How Globalization Changed from Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas, a more general history of globalization.