What I’ve been reading

1. Darmon Richter, Chernobyl: A Stalker’s Guide.  This year’s best travel book?  And do you get the joke in the subtitle?  It has an unusual flair, excellent photos, and will make the updated “best of the year” list.

2. Martin J. Sherwin, Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  a very well-done book about mankind’s biggest problem and risk — what more could you want?  I didn’t find much shocking new in here, but a very good overview for most readers.

3. Stephen Baxter, Ages in Chaos: James Hutton and the Discovery of Deep Time.  Yes that is Baxter the excellent science fiction author and here is his excellent book on both the history of geology and the Scottish Enlightenment.  What more could you ask for?

4. Diana Darke, Stealing from the Saracens: How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe.  Among its other virtues, this book makes it clear just how much valuable architectural the world lost in Syria.  I had not known that the Strasbourg Münster was the tallest medieval structure still standing in the world.  Good photos too.

5. John Darwin, Unlocking the World: Port Cities and Globalization in the Age of Steam 1830-1930 (UK link only, I paid the shipping costs).  I felt I knew a good bit of this material already, still this is a well-researched and very solid take on one of the most important factors behind the rise of globalization and international trade, namely the fast steamship and how it enabled so much urban growth for ports.

6. Charles Koch, with Brian Hooks.  Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World.  The best of the three Charles Koch books, interesting throughout, and much more personal and revealing than the generic title would imply.  I read the whole thing.

There is Deirdre Nansen McCloskey and Alberto Mingardi, The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State, a book-length reply to Mariana Mazzucato.  For me it was too polemical, though I agree many of Mazzucato’s claims are overstated.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Think, Write, Speak:Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews, and Letters to the Editor is an entertaining read.  It is good to see him call out Pasternak’s Zhivago for being a crashing bore. And to call Lolita a poem, repeatedly.

Kevin Vallier, Trust in a Polarized Age, I agree with the argument, and it is a good example of a philosopher using social science empirical work.

And Simon Baron-Cohen, The Pattern Seekers: How Autism Drives Human Invention.  OK enough, but underargued relative to what I was expecting.

I have only browsed them, but two very good books on Roman history are:

Anthony A. Barrett, Rome is Burning: Nero and the Fire that Ended a Dynasty.

Michael Kulikowski, The Tragedy of Empire: From Constantinople to the Destruction of Roman Italy.


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