1. Stephen Hough, Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More. Scattered tidbits, about half of them very interesting, most of the rest at least decently good, mostly for fans of classical music and piano music. Should you develop the habit of warming up? Why don’t they always have a piano in the “green room”? How many recordings should you sample before trying to play a piece? What kinds of relationships do pianists develop with their page turners? That sort of thing. I read the whole thing.
2. Jeremy England, Every Life is on Fire: How Thermodynamics Explains the Origins of Living Things. A fun and readable popular science book on why life may be likely to evolve from inanimate matter: “Living things…make copies of themselves, harvest and consume fuel, and accurately predict the surrounding environment.” Who could be against that?
3. Dov H. Levin, Meddling in the Ballot Box: The Causes and Effects of Partisan Electoral Interventions. “A fifth significant way in which the U.S. aided Adenauer’s reelection was achieved by Dulles publicly threatening, in an American press conference which took place two days before the elections, “disastrous effects” for Germany if Adenauer was not reelected.” A non-partisan, academic work, “This study is the first book-length study of partisan electoral interventions as a discrete, stand-alone phenomenon.” From 1946-2000, there were 81 discrete U.S. interventions in foreign elections, and 36 by the USSR/Russia, noting that outright conquest did not count in that data base.
4. John Kampfner, Why the Germans Do it Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country (UK Amazon link, not yet in the USA). You should dismiss the title altogether, which is intended to provoke British people. In fact the author spends plenty of time on what is wrong with Germany, ranging from an incoherent foreign policy to the weaknesses of Frankfurt as a financial center. In any case, this is an excellent book trying to lay out and explain recent German politics and economics. It is more conventional wisdom than daring hypothesis, but the conventional wisdom is very often correct and how many people really know the conventional wisdom about Naomi Seibt anyway? Recommended, the best recent look at what is still one of the world’s most important countries.
5. David Carpenter, Henry III: 1207-1258. “No King of England came to the throne in a more desperate situation than Henry III.” The Magna Carta had just been instituted, Henry was just nine years old, and England was ruled by a triumvirate, with a very real chance that the French throne would swallow up England. This is one of those “has a lot of unfamiliar names that are hard to keep track of” books, but don’t blame Carpenter for that. In terms of scholarly contribution it stands amongst the very top books of the year. And yes there was already a Wales back then. They also started building Westminster Abbey under Henry’s reign. Here are some of the origins of state capacity libertarianism, volume II is yet to come.
6. Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults. The last quarter of the book closes strong, so my final assessment is enthusiastic, even if it isn’t in the exalted league of her Neapolitan quadrology. It will probably be better upon a rereading, which I will do.