What I’ve been reading

1. Dan Werb, The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronavirus and the Search for a Cure.  An excellent book on the history of coronaviruses more generally, with much of the strongest material coming on how earlier coronavirus investigations fed into the progress we have made on Covid-19.  Recommended, not just what all the other Covid books are telling you.

2. James Poskett, Horizons: The Global Origins of Modern Science.  A useful account of what the title promises, with a look at contributions from pre-conquest Mexico, China, and other non-Western locales.  Maybe the book pushes the non-Western theme a little too much at points, but this is basically a sane and readable account, and most of the cross-cultural connections are valid rather than strained.

3. Evan Lieberman, Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa After Apartheid.  An interesting book, and one which contains a lot of useful information.  Yet the author works too hard to avoid recognizing just how badly matters have gone.  Overall, incomes are down and the racial wealth gap has not improved…and that is after getting rid of one of the most inefficient economic systems of all time, namely apartheid.  For sources try this and this, among others.  The income gains you can find are focused in a super-small group.

4. Paul Mango, Warp Speed: Inside the Operation that Beat Covid, the Critics, and the Odds.  Written by an HHS insider and participant, this is kind of cheesy and fanboyish.  But probably it should be!  For one thing, the book gives you a sense of just how much talent was involved in OWS, an under-discussed lesson.  On p.69, you can learn that they repeatedly considered human challenge trials and learn their question-begging reasons for refusing to do them.

5. David Hackett Fischer, African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals.  An extended history of U.S. slavery, focusing on regional differences, for instance Carolina Gullahs vs. New Orleans vs. Mississippi.  As you might expect, the broader story is integrated with that of the particular African origins of the slaves as well.  A strong book, recommended.

Michael Magoon’s From Poverty to Progress: Understanding Humanity’s Greatest Achievement is a very good introduction to the importance of progress and material wealth in history.

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