What I’ve been reading
1. Judith A. Green, The Normans: Power, Conquest & Culture in 11th-Century Europe. A very clear and to the point book on a complex topic. This is a good one to read with GPT-4 accompaniment for your queries. In Sicily, near Palermo, the Normans produced one of my favorite sites in all of Europe.
2. John A. Mackenzie, A Cultural History of the British Empire. “A vital characteristic of polo was that since it lacked immediate physical contact it could be jointly played by British and Indians, which of course meant elite Indians, inevitably associated with the princely states.” A very good book on both a) early globalization, and b) actually understanding the British empire. I hadn’t known that during the 1930s and 40s, maximum years of resistance to the British empire, cricket tournaments largely were abandoned.
3. Carmela Ciuraru, Lives of the Wives: Five Literary Marriages. I hadn’t even known Patricia Neal was married to Roald Dahl. Overall I enjoy intellectual/romance gossip books, and this is a good one. Full of actual facts about the writings, not just the affairs and the marriages and divorces. Moravia/Morante was my favorite chapter. Here is a Guardian review, superficially you might think there is no real message in this book, but then again…
4. Lucy Wooding, Tudor England: A History. A good book, but most of all a very good book to read with GPT-4 as your companion.
Jeanna Smialek, Limitless: The Federal Reserve Takes on a New Age of Crisis, is a good, readable, non-technical introduction to the Fed, focusing on personalities and internal mechanics, rather than macroeconomic theories.
Rainer Zitelmann, In Defense of Capitalism: Debunking the Myths. A very good pro-capitalism book, broadly in the Milton Friedman tradition.
Peter Frankopan, The Earth Transformed: An Untold History. Long, full of information, and well written, but somehow lacks a central organizing thesis to hold it all together.
Murray Pittock, Enlightenment in a Smart City: Edinburgh’s Civic Development 1660-1750 is an excellent book on how the built environment of Edinburgh, and its building reforms and improvements, shaped the Scottish Enlightenment. Gives a better sense of the Edinburgh of the time than any other book I know. I don’t mean the thinkers in the city, I mean the city itself.
Charles Dunst, Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strongman. Full of true claims, common sense, and a needed dose of optimism.
I have not yet read Mark Calabria’s Shelter from the Storm: How a Covid Mortgage Meltdown was Averted, Cato Institute book.