What I’ve been reading
1. Danielle Dreilinger, The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live. A pathbreaking book that unearths and presents part of the “hidden” history of economics, in this case as practiced largely by women, and often black women at that. Think of it as the science and craft of Beckerian household production but with a managerial emphasis. If you like books on paths not taken, this one is for you.
2. David M. Carballo, Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain. I never tire of books on this topic, but that should tell you something about the topic, right? This one is written by an archaeologist, and you can think of it as unearthing the different layers of Aztec culture more effectively than most competitor books.
3. Avi Loeb, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. The Oumuamua book, by the former chair of the Harvard astronomy department. I am not able to judge the scientific claims about comets, light refraction, travel spin, and the like, but too much of the book felt like “argument from elimination” to me. “Well it can’t be this, and can’t be that, and thus it is likely to be…” That works well for phenomena we understand! But it can lead you into dangerous traps when you apply it to mysteries. I get nervous when I read sentences like “Shmuel and I went down a logical path.” The book is well-written and plenty clear, and can be usefully supplemented with this podcast with the author. In any case, I find alien origin unlikely, but still see a one percent chance as more than sufficient to justify this entire line of inquiry.
4. Bryn Rosenfeld, The Autocratic Middle Class: How State Dependency Reduces the Demand for Democracy. When is it the middle class that contributes to the resilience of autocracy, rather than its breakdown? A very interesting book, highly relevant to China among other places.