Category: Books

*The Origins of Woke*

That is the new Richard Hanania book, with the subtitle Civil Rights Law, Corporate America, and the Triumph of Identity Politics, and it is coming out next week.  There are complex “Pierre Menard-like” issues surrounding the work at this point, and at the moment I don’t have the time or energy to sort through them.  I can tell you however that I liked the book.

*How to Know a Person*

The author is David Brooks, and the subtitle is The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.  I think of it as a book on how to appreciate others, even if you do not necessarily deeply know them, which is slightly different from David’s subtitle.  (Am I too skeptically Freudian when it comes to “knowing people”?)  An excellent book, I read it straight through, and I view it as a milestone in David’s career.  Does that mean I appreciate him?  Know him even?  Maybe just the former!

Due out October 24, you can pre-order here.

As I wrote to a friend: “If those who needed it would heed it, it would be one of the most useful books.”  The rest is up to you.

Korea Japan (China) fact of the day

…the most significant destruction on the Korean Peninsula was wrought by the Japanese invasions of the late sixteenth century.  Nearly two million Koreans, a staggering 20 percent of the population, perished during the Imjin Wars, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s campaigns of 1592-1598 to subjugate the Korean Peninsula.  Hideyoshi’s object was the conquest of Ming China (1368-1644) but the result was to turn Korea into a ruined land.

That is from the new and interesting The Other Great Game: The Opening of Korea and the Birth of Modern East Asia, by Sheila Miyoshi Jager.

What should I ask Rebecca F. Kuang?

I am a big fan of her latest book Yellowface, which I read straight through (and it’s much more double-edged and subversive than you might be expecting).  Here is a partial bio:

Rebecca F. Kuang is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy and Babel: An Arcane History, as well as the forthcoming Yellowface. [TC: no longer forthcoming] She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

Here is her Twitter.  Here is her full of facts, but somehow a bit convoluted Wikipedia page.  So what should I ask her?

My Conversation with the excellent Jerusalem Demsas

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the episode summary:

In this special episode, Tyler sat down with Jerusalem Demsas, staff writer at The Atlantic, to discuss three books: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, and Of Boys and Men by Richard V. Reeves.

Spanning centuries and genres and yet provoking similar questions, these books prompted Tyler and Jerusalem to wrestle with enduring questions about human nature, gender dynamics, the purpose of travel, and moral progress, including debating whether Le Guin prefers the anarchist utopia she depicts, dissecting Swift’s stance on science and slavery, questioning if travel makes us happier or helps us understand ourselves, comparing Gulliver and Shevek’s alienation and restlessness, considering Swift’s views on the difficulty of moral progress, reflecting on how feminism links to moral progress and gender equality, contemplating whether imaginative fiction or policy analysis is more likely to spur social change, and more.

An actual conversation!  This one is difficult to excerpt, and unlike many I suspect it is better to listen than to read the transcript.  Nonetheless here is one short excerpt:

DEMSAS: Yes. The only walls on the anarchist planet [in The Dispossessed] are the ones that surround the space travel, the launching pad or whatever it is. That’s something that’s said very early on, but then you discover throughout the book how much there are all of these other “invisible walls” that he’s discovering. That’s made very explicit at times, sometimes maybe too explicit. [laughs] But I think it’s also a lesson in how much you have to have an other to compare yourself to in order to even understand yourself.

He’s alone for a really long time, and when he’s doing his studies at the beginning or in the middle of the book, and he can’t get these scientific breakthroughs that he inevitably does get to — it’s when he starts interacting with other people and rebuilding those bonds with other humans that you do actually get these breakthroughs. I think that’s also another point in favor of Le Guin pointing out that communitarianism is important.


That was then, this is now, Budapest edition

Trains between the two cities [Budapest and Vienna] were fast — four and a quarter hours in 1896.  In 2022 it was three hours and thirty-five minutes.


Budapest finance caught up and surpassed the growth of agricultural and industrial production.  By 1900 Budapest became the bankming centre of Central and Eastern Europe.  Between 1867, the date of the ‘Compromise’ which created the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, and 1914 the number of Hungarian banks grew from eleven to 160 and their capitalization increased fivefold.  A few of them — the First Hungarian Commercial Bank and the Hungarian Credit Bank — rivalled the biggest Viennese and German banks in size and prestige, as their palatial headquarter buildings in downtown Budapest, designed by the most renowned European and Hungarian architects, showed.  Their owners, such as the Wolianders, the Wahrmanns, Hatvany-Deutsch and Chorins, joined the European super-rich.

That is all from Victor Sebestyen’s interesting new book, Budapest: Portrait of a City Between East and West.

*All the Kingdoms of the World*

The author is Kevin Vallier, and the subtitle is On Radical Religious Alternatives to Liberalism.  This is an excellent and important book, starting with its defense of classical liberalism over Catholic integralism and indeed illiberalism more generally.  But do note that Kevin, although a professional philosopher is also a Christian (Eastern Orthodox), and he is writing from a Christian perspective.  This is also an excellent book simply for learning what integralism is.  Overall, perhaps this is analytic political theology!?

In the final chapter, Kevin considers illiberal strands within Chinese Confucianism and Sunni Islam as well.

To be clear, if you are interested in neither religion nor political philosophy, this is not for you.  But it is likely to be one of this year’s books that turns out really to matter.

What I’ve been reading

R.C. Zaehner, Concordant Discord: The Interdependence of Faiths Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at St. Andrews in 1967-1969.  Half of this volume is amazing, the other half meandering.  The best parts are on Hinduism and Buddhism, and how they can best be understood in relation to Western religions.  Zaehner has an amazing Wikipeda page, and I have ordered other books by him, the ultimate act of literary flattery.

James Stafford, The Case of Ireland: Commerce, Empire and the European Order, 1750-1848.  An excellent and well-researched books, most interesting on the Irish Union of 1800-1801 and how and why so many classical liberals favored it.  What did they get wrong?  Or did they?  Consistently instructive on earlier Irish thought on trade as well.

Victoria Houseman, American Classicist: The Life and Loves of Edith Hamilton.  A good and fun book.  I hadn’t known that she was very likely bisexual, or that she was good friends with Felix Morley and Robert Taft.  Interesting throughout, and drives home the point about just how early Hamilton did her most important work on mythology.  It remains widely read today.

Harvey Sachs, Schoenberg: Why He Matters.  A very good introduction to a composer who truly matters.  Also a good (short) portrait of Vienna at that time.  Maybe it won’t “sell you” on Schoenberg, but it will make his advocates (I am one of them) seem far less crazy.  It also admits that a lot of his work wasn’t that good, and helps you separate the better from the worse.

Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman, Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy.  This book in preprint form was well ahead of its time, and now it is coming out in a super-timely fashion.

Lorraine Byrne Bodley, Schubert: A Musical Wayfarer.  Super-thorough, everything about Schubert and most of all his music.

I have not read the new novel by Bradley Tusk, namely Obvious in Hindsight, about the attempted introduction of flying cars and the regulatory obstacles that arose (among other dramatic events).

Lunana, A Yak in the Classroom is the only and also the best Bhutanese movie I have seen, ever.  Recommended, gives you a real look at the country, both rural and urban [sic].

What should I ask Jacob Mikanowski?

Yes I will be doing a Conversation with him, here is Jacob’s self-description from his home page:

I’m a freelance journalist and writer based in Portland, OR. My academic training is in the history of Eastern Europe, but for over a decade, I worked as a critic and a science journalist. I write about art, books, movies, ancient history, anthropology, and – occasionally – food. I especially like to work on stories about the intersection of science and the humanities, photography, and people who are helplessly obsessed with whatever they’re doing.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on single project which combines all my interests: Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land – a book-length history of Eastern Europe, covering culture, politics, religion and ideology (essentially, everything which made Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe over the past 2000 years)…

I loved the book, and that led me to Jacob.  Here are some of his articles.  Here is Jacob on Twitter.  Here is a good WSJ review of Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land.

That was then, this is now, concentration of notables edition

[John] Napier’s continental sojourn had embraced the years 1564 to 1571, the year of the Ridolfi Plot.  During his absence Galileo, Shakespeare, Caravaggio and Kepler had been born, Michelangelo, Calvin, Nostradamus and Stifel had died, Pope Pius V had excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots, had been forced to abdicate and was under comfortable house arrest in England, her infant son, James VI, had been made king, Edinburgh had suffered a terrible plague, his father had remarried, and Scotland had been thrown into civil war, with Merchiston playing a pivotal role.

A lot happened in the 1770s as well.  That above paragraph is from Julian Havil’s quite good John Napier: Life, Logarithms, and Legacy.  Napier of course also was obsessed with the Book of Revelation, in addition to being one of the discoverers of logarithms.

Twenty Years of Marginal Revolution!

Who would have guessed that after twenty years Tyler and I would still be writing Marginal Revolution! Thanks especially to Tyler, we have had multiple new posts every single day for twenty years! Incredible.

We had some idea when starting Marginal Revolution that it would provide the foundation for our eventual textbook, Modern Principles of Economics, but we didn’t imagine that it would also become the foundation for our online platform for economics education, Marginal Revolution University and Conversations with Tyler, Emergent Ventures and various other projects of Tyler and myself.

We never imagined that Marginal Revolution would one day be archived by the Library of Congress or become one of the world’s nexus points for debating and understanding events like the Financial Crisis and the Covid Pandemic. It was a shock when the first undergrad told us that they had been reading MR since the age of 12. Today, there are multiple PhD economists who grew up reading Marginal Revolution.  

In this conversation, with David Perell, we reflect on 20 years and talk about our process of writing and working together. Tyler is very funny. Tyrone makes an appearance or two, albeit never announced. (Apple podcast, Spotify).

We also thank our many readers and the commentators. You all make MR better (ok, most of you make MR better).

We are still excited to write about economics every day and we don’t think we have peaked! Let’s see what happens over the next 20 years. Thank you all.

*Travels with Tocqueville Beyond America*

Again, that is the new book by Jeremy Jennings, here is another excerpt:

These grave misgivings [about travel] have persisted.  “I have been reading books of travels all my life,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “but I have never found two that gave me the same idea of the same nation.”  Those who “travel best,” he added, “travel least,” and, in Rousseau’s opinion, they travelled not by coach but on foot.  Others have agreed.  Writing at the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre (brother to the more famous Joseph) resolved only to journey for forty-two days around his own room, “safe from the restless jealousy of men.”  “We will travel slowly,” he wrote, “laughing as we go at those travellers who have visited Rome and Paris.”  Heading north, Maistre discovered his bed.  On this view, one travelled best by moving hardly at all.  In the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill displayed a similarly dismissive attitude.  “In travelling,” he wrote, “men usually see only what they already had in their own minds.”

From another segment of the book:

Gustave de Beaumont not only travelled to America with Tocqueville but accompanied him on trips to England and Ireland and to Algeria.  No one was better able to assess how Tocqueville travelled.  Tocqueville’s way of travelling, Beaumont wrote, was “peculiar.”  Everything was “a matter for observation.”  Each day Tocqueville framed in his head the questions he wanted to ask and resolve.  Every idea that came into his mind was noted down, without delay, and regardless of where he was.  For Tocqueville, Beaumont continued, travelling was never just a form of bodily exercise or simply an agreeable way to pass the time.  “Rest,” Beaumont wrote, “was foreign to his nature.”  Whether or not his body was actively employed, Tocqueville’s mind was always working.  Never could he undertake a walk as a simple distraction or engage in conversation as a form of relaxation.  The “most agreeable” discussion was the “most useful” discussion.  The worst day was “the day lost or ill-spent.”  Any loss of time was an inconvenience.  Consequently, Tocqueville travelled in a “constant state of tension,” never arriving in a place without knowing that he would be able to leave it.

Recommended, buy it here.

Don’t Doubt: Saint Thomas in India

Christianity in India has roots at least as old as in Italy. Millions of Christians in Kerala today believe that their tradition traces back directly to Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, who traveled to India in the first century AD. According to the Acts of Thomas, the apostles divided the world and drew lots to decide their respective regions for spreading the gospel. Thomas, drew India but, ever the doubter, he demurred. “It’s too hot and the food isn’t kosher”, he said, more or less. Jesus appeared to Thomas, however, and bade him “go to India!” Amazingly, he still demurred–what a doubter!–but by a minor miracle just as this was happening an Indian merchant arrived in Jerusalem calling for a master architect and builder to return with him to India. Finally, with this sign, Thomas’s doubts were allayed and his India adventures began.

For a long time, The Acts of Thomas were considered to be more of an unreliable fantasy novel than a historical account and of course the Acts does contain fantastical stories. Nevertheless, the Acts of Thomas have gained credence over time as certain names and places mentioned in the Acts and once thought to be purely imaginary, turned out to be accurate historical references. As William Dalrymple writes in an excellent piece:

…a series of remarkable discoveries have gone a long way to prove that the story contained in the Acts seems to be built on surprisingly solid historical foundations. First, British archaeologists working in late 19th-century India began to find hoards of coins belonging to a previously unknown Indian king: the Rajah Gondophares, who ruled from AD19 to AD45. If St Thomas had ever been summoned to India, it would have been Rajah Gondophares who would have done it, just as the Acts had always maintained.

The fact that the Acts had accurately preserved the name of an obscure Indian rajah, whose name and lineage had disappeared, implied that it must contain at least a nucleus of genuine historical information. Archaeological discoveries have since confirmed many other details of the story, revealing that maritime contacts between the Roman world and India were much more extensive than anyone had realised.

Aside from the Acts, a considerable amount of oral history and circumstantial evidence suggests that by AD 50-52, Thomas arrived on the Malabar coast of what is today Kerala and he began converting an older Jewish population as well as Hindus to Christianity. Indeed, the evidence is strong that the followers of Thomas in India have preserved one of the oldest versions of Christianity. Dalrymple again:

If St Thomas had carried Christianity to India, it is likely that he would have taken a distinctly more Jewish form than the Gentile-friendly version developed for the Greeks of Antioch by St Paul and later exported to Europe. Hence the importance of the fact that some of the St Thomas Christian churches to this day retain Judeo-Christian practices long dropped in the west – such as the celebration of the solemn Passover feast.

Hence also the significance of the St Thomas Christians still using the two earliest Christian liturgies in existence: the Mass of Addai and Mari, and the Liturgy of St James, once used by the early Church of Jerusalem. More remarkable still, these ancient services are still partly sung in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and St Thomas.

The more you investigate the evidence, the more irresistible is the conclusion that whether or not St Thomas himself came to India, he certainly could have. And if he didn’t make the journey, it seems certain that some other very early Christian missionary did, for there is certainly evidence for a substantial Christian population in India by at least the third century.

Not only is there is a substantial presence of Christians in India from at least the third century, many early Western and Eastern Christian sources attest that it was Thomas who was sent to India. Kurikilamkatt writes:

From the third century onwards it had become an undeniable and incontrovertible tradition and belief in the Christian world that Thomas preached in India. And these Fathers and early writers had no doubt that the Thomas they speak about was the apostle who declared for the first time in history that his master was the Lord and God.

Historians tend not to trust oral history but to me it’s the oral histories, the genealogies of Indians who trace their lineage back to someone who was personally converted by Saint Thomas, and the songs that are most convincing. Indians have orally preserved the vedas for some four thousand years so I trust them on Saint Thomas. In the 4th or early 5th century, Saint Jerome wrote that “Christ lives everywhere. With Thomas in India and Peter in Rome.” And of the two, I’d put more money on Thomas.

After founding seven churches in Kerala, Thomas journeyed to the eastern region of the Indian peninsula, near present-day Chennai. Here Thomas’s mission was ended when he refused to bow down to Kali and was killed. Even so he was held in such reverence that his place of death was marked and his body kept and entombed. Fifteen hundred years later the Portuguese built a cathedral over his tomb, both of which you can still visit today as I did recently. Even for those not of Christian faith or any religious affiliation, connecting with 2,000 years of history and considering the distances Thomas traveled is quite moving, especially when it happens in a place which stills seems far from the Christian world.