Results for “What I've Been Reading”
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What I’ve been reading

1. Marcel Proust, The Mysterious Correspondent: New Stories.  Yes they read like fragments, but Proust’s fragments are still better than almost anything else.

2. Michele Alacevich, Albert O. Hirschman: An Intellectual Biography.  There can never be enough books on Albert Hirschman, noting this one focuses on his ideas rather than his life.

3. Jennifer Ackerman, The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think.  A good and entertaining overview of some of the most interesting questions about birds, including bird intelligence.  “Extreme behavior in birds is more likely in Australia than anywhere else.”

4. Paul Betts, Ruin and Renewal: Civilizing Europe After World War II.  The immediate aftermath of WWII was the last time the Western world was truly chaotic, and this book captures that time well, including its intellectual milieu.  Are you interested in how West and East German books of manners differed in the late 1940s and 1950s?  If so, this is your go-to book.

5. Tim Birkhead, The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology.  As I tweeted: “I am coming to the conclusion that the quality of books about birds is higher than about almost any other subject.”  Simple question: have you read a better book about the history of ornithology than this one?

Tom Standage, A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next is a very good history of what it promises.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, is indeed…a defense of truth.

There is Niall Ferguson, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, lots of bad news yes, but is he short the market?

What I’ve been reading

1. Susan Bernofsky, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser.  I believe you need to have read Walser first, but if so this is a far better biography than what you might have expected the English-speaking world to have produced.  It is also an implicit portrait of where pre-WWI Europe went wrong, the history of micro-writing, and a paean to general weirdness, noting that Walser in both his life and writing is inexplicable to this day.

2. Andy Grundberg, How Photography Became Contemporary Art.  How does a whole genre rise from also-ran status to a major (the major?) form of contemporary art?  This is an excellent history with nice color plates and it is also a causal account.  I liked this sentence, among others: “Surprisingly, the acceptance of color photography had happened earlier in the art world than in the so-called art photography world.”  Polaroid had a significant role as well.

3. Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Amazon.  A truly good and very substantive management book (I hear your jaw hitting the floor).  Just that statement makes it one of the best management books ever.  Really.

4. Tom Jones, George Berkeley: A Philosophical Life.  A thorough biography of an 18th century Irish philosopher who is still worth reading.  Berkeley also wrote on monetary theory and pioneered the idea of an abstract unit of account.

5. Ryan Bourne, Economics in One Virus: An Introduction to Economic Reasoning through Covid-19.  This book came out yesterday, I read it earlier, and here is my blurb: “A truly excellent book that explains where our pandemic response went wrong, and how we can understand those failings using the tools of economics.”  It is published by Cato, a libertarian think tank, and it is a much better and more integrated and science-based account than what you might find from other groups, whether libertarian or non-libertarian.

How should you feel if you attentively finish Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey, Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment?

Cameron Blevis, Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West, is a good book and on a more important topic than you might think.

What I’ve been reading

1. Devaki Jain, The Brass Notebook.  What is it like to grow up in a Tamil Brahmin family, be molested by relatives and Nobel Prize winners, and go on to be an economist?  Short and extremely readable.  The personal tale is very charming, the politics (Nyerere and Castro, never repudiated) are not.

2. Walter Isaacson, The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race.  This excellent book is exactly as you think it is going to be.

3. S.M. Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician.  Memoir involving many of the 20th century’s top mathematicians and physics types, including von Neumann, Gamow, Banach, Edward Teller, and Ulam himself, among others.  Scintillating on every page, as a historical chronicle, as biography, and as a look into how a brilliant mathematician thinks.

4. Eric Berger, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX.  A fun and informative treatment of what the title promises.  I hadn’t know that Musk met personally with the first three thousand employees of SpaceX, to make sure the company was hiring the right kind of people.  He thought he could detect a good hire within fifteen minutes of conversation.

5. Matthew E. Kahn, Adapting to Climate Change: Markets and the Management of an Uncertain Future.  I read this some time ago, it is just published, here is my blurb: “Are you looking for an approach that recognizes the costs of climate change, and approaches the entire question with an economic and political sanity?  Matthew E. Kahn’s new book is then essential reading.”

The new Peter Boettke book is The Struggle for a Better World, which is his best statement of classical liberalism to date.

What I’ve been reading

1. Cat Jarman, River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads.  An excellent history of what the title claims, starting from an archaeological point of view and incorporating many of the latest discoveries.  The book is especially good at telling the reader how we know what we know about the Vikings: “Sweden has the highest quantity of Islamic dirhams in the whole of Europe after Russia.”

2. Jesse Singal, The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills.  An overdue and very well-executed look at how many of the problems in social psychology run deeper than just the replication crisis.  It covers topics of self-help books, posing and power, superpredators, bias tests, and much more.  It seems the core problem is that if the general public cares about an area, it is much harder to get accurate information about those same questions — I have noticed the same tendencies in economics.

3. Eric Herschthal, The Science of Abolition: How Slaveholders Became the Enemies of Progress.  A good survey of the scientific arguments against slavery, covering Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, the Lunar Society, and the technologists, among others.  The 2021 gloss would be “the Progress Studies people were especially anti-slavery.”  But why so little about the economists such as Smith, Malthus, and Mill, among others, all strongly opposed to slavery?

4. Christine Perkell, editor, Reading Vergil’s Aeneid: An Interpretative Guide, and David Quint, Virgil’s Double Cross: Design and Meaning in the Aeneid. Two books, excellent in their own right, and an antidote to the common view that everything in the humanities is bankrupt these days, or just “French theory,” or whatever.  Of course you have to read them at the same time you are studying The Aeneid.

5. Natsume Soseki, Kokoro.  From 1914, very retro in its aesthetic, it deals with modernization, the nature of friendship, and yes “the meaning of life.”  Simple and charming in a way that contemporary authors find difficult to match.  From 1984 to 2004 the author appeared on the Japanese one thousand yen note.

What I’ve been reading

1. Kevin Donnelly, Adolphe Quetelet, Social Physics, & the Average Men of Science, 1796-1874.  The Belgian Quetelet was one of the pioneers of applying statistics to the social sciences, and he had a long-running and fascinating career obsessed with astronomy, crime, opera, jokes, and short essays, among many other things.  He developed the notion of an “average man” in a statistical distribution, the error curve as a distribution formula, and much more.  The concept and measurement of BMI comes from him as well.  Somehow he has become oddly underrated.

2. Ruth Goodman, The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything.  Most books of this ilk are good either on the super-micro or super-macro scale, but this volume succeeds on both levels.  Under Queen Elizabeth I, London became the first place to move away from burning peat, wood, and dung in homes to burning coal.  How did that supercharge the later Industrial Revolution?  How did it matter for household chores and for that matter recipes?  Recommended.

3. Michel Foucault, Confessions of the Flesh, The History of Sexuality, Volume 4, published posthumously just now.  I only pawed through this one a bit, but it really didn’t seem so interesting.  I still think of The Order of Things, Discipline and Punish, and The Birth of the Clinic as Foucault’s best and most enduring books.

4. Jason L. Riley, Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell.  I liked this book OK enough, and certainly read it with interest, but somehow it never brought Sowell to life for me (I have never met him), nor did it illuminate the work enough (what did Sowell claim about Say’s Law anyway?  And why?  Why is his book on late-talking children important for understanding his broader body of work?  Why was he so hawkish on foreign policy?  What might he have gotten wrong?).  The most interesting parts are about Sowell writing rebuttals to Arthur Jensen.

5. Ian Leslie, Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes.  A good popular science book on exactly what the title promises: “In this book, we’ll learn from experts who are highly skilled at getting the most out of highly charged encounters: interrogators, cops, divorce mediators, therapists, diplomats, psychologists. These professionals know how to get something valuable – information, insight, ideas—from the toughest, most antagonistic conversations.”

What I’ve been reading

1. Honor Moore, Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury.  An excellent book on “what it was like back then.”  Plus the daughter-mother memoir often is neglected by male readers, and this is one place to start.  The mother ends up diagnosed with cancer at age fifty, and furthermore her war hero and Bishop husband turns out to be actively bisexual.

2. Zachary Karabell, Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power.  A very useful treatment of an undercovered institution, and one spanning many different eras of American history.  Lots about early 20th century Nicaragua, plus this is the private investment firm that stayed private.

3. Marie Favereau, The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World.  The subtitle is maybe misleading, because this is the book that corrects all the other books with subtitles like “How the Mongols Changed the World.”  Yes they were somewhat globalized and also religiously tolerant, but Favereau fills in the rest of the details, and furthermore outlines the concept of “the horde” as a mode of governance.  I am hardly an expert in this area, but this seems to be the recommendable book on the Mongols that is both conceptual but at the same time not overly simplified.

4. Margarette Lincoln, London and the 17th Century: The Making of the World’s Greatest City.  Is it so terrible to read another book about the world’s greatest city?  The emphasis is on London as a city of war, turmoil, and crime, rather than triumphalism.  It will be a shame when the English language of that era is no longer intelligible to us without a translation, because currently it is our very closest connection with a fundamentally different worldview.

Claire Lehmann of Quillette fame and others have edited the new Panics and Persecutions: 20 Tales of Excommunication in the Digital Age.

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.

What I’ve been reading

1. Jan Golinski, Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820.  One of the best books on the history of Enlightenment science, in addition to the core material it focuses on how the leading researchers went about creating public audiences for their investigations and for the scientific questions that interested them.  Indirectly, it is also a good book for understanding the importance of social media today.  And unlike many books of science, it properly places the “could you actually make a career out of doing this?” question in the forefront.

2. The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 1: 1898-1922.  It is striking how quickly in his life Eliot is corresponding with very famous people, including Bertrand Russell, Ezra Pound, Conrad Aiken, Julian Huxley, Herbert Read, Wyndham Lewis, and others, all before Eliot himself is renowned.  I also enjoy the 23 March 1917 letter to Graham Wallas where Eliot boasts about his new job at Lloyds, praises the extraordinary nature of banking work, and roots for a salary boost.  Later Hermann Hesse and James Joyce and Virginia Woolf are added to the mix, and this is only volume one (out of eight).  I have ordered more.  Simply reading the short bios of the letter writers, at the end of the book, is better than most other books.

3. Lara Lee, Coconut and Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen.  Yes, I have been learning how to cook Indonesian food, a natural extension of my previous interest in cuisines from India, Malaysia, and Singapore.  This is an excellent book for several reasons, and a better book yet for a pandemic.  First, you can fold it open easily on the kitchen counter.  Second, the pages can take some wear and tear.  Third, the key ingredients are readily storable.  Galangal, turmeric, and narrow red chiles all freeze very well.  Refrigerated lemon grass stays good for at least a few weeks.  Shallots and garlic and coconut milk and cream are easy enough to buy and store.  This is actually the #1 issue for a cookbook, if like me you cannot so often plan your cooking in advance.  The Thai grocery in Falls Church has all the “marginal’ ingredients as well.  On top of everything, the resulting food product is yummy!

What I’ve been reading

1. David M. Friedman, The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrell, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.  This book doesn’t seem so well known, but it should be essential reading for those obsessed with life extension.  It helps explain why the idea has not been historically popular for some time, and why it might stand in tension with certain liberal values.

2. Jonathan Cohn, The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage.  This is the book by the person who should have written this book.  Whether you will choose to read a book on this topic, at this point, is perhaps the question. But if you do…

3.Allan Chapman, England’s Leonardo: Robert Hooke and the Seventeenth-Century Scientific Revolution. Of all the books on Hooke, this one seems to be best (most of what I’m reading I never cover on MR), most of all for showing the unity of his contributions and situating them within the 17th century English milieu.  Microscopes and air pumps and chemistry and barometers and the motion of bodies and helping to rebuild London, and more!

4. Chinmay Tumbe, The Age of Pandemics: 1817-1920, How They Shaped India and the World.  Across 1817-1920, India lost an estimated eight million lives to cholera.  In 1907 alone, India lost an estimated one million lives to the plague.  So there should be many more books on this topic. In the meantime,this is a good introduction to the basic outlines of what happened.

5. Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin, and Simon Bunel, The Power of Creative Destruction: Economic Upheaval and the Wealth of Nations. A good and clearly written look at that approach to growth and macroeconomics.

6. Emmanuel Kreike, Scorched Earth: Environmental Warfare as a Crime Against Humanity and Nature.  Might this be the most important topic that most smart, very well educated people have never read a book on? And this treatment is excellent and engaging, covering the attacks on Dutch water systems in the 17th century, various Spanish attacks on indigenous American environments, the late 19th century conquest of Aceh, Indonesia, the colonial conquests of Angola and Namibia, and more.  Recommended.

You will note that I have been watching YouTube videos to accompany the science books I have been reading.

What I’ve been reading

1. Tim Lee, Jamie Lee, and Kevin Coldiron, The Rise of Carry: The Dangerous Consequences of Volatility Suppression and the New Financial Order of Decaying Growth and Recurring Crisis.  If you are looking for the most current version of Austrian Business Cycle theory, this is it.  Doesn’t mean it is right.

2. Abigail Tucker, Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct.  These days this science has an inevitably politically incorrect feel, in any case this is a good book for anyone contemplating or experiencing motherhood, or otherwise tied up in that whole set of issues.  That includes social scientists, too.

3. Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.  A better book than it subtitle indicates, it has very good treatments of the role of Humphry Davy in British chemistry, William and Caroline Herschel, and the overall import of Joseph Banks for many decades, among other related topics.

4. Ritchie Robertson, The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness 1680-1790.  This tome offers 780 pp. about the Enlightenment, how unhappy can you be?  This book is a well-done introduction, yet perhaps for my knowledge level it spends too much time regurgitating general truths.  I am happy to recommend it to people less interested than I am in reading the primary sources.

I have read the first one hundred pages of Louis Menand, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, a lengthy book due out in April, and my physical review copy just arrived.

I have not had time to read Sean McMeekin’s Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II, but it is of possible interest.

I have not had time to read Rachel Holmes’s Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel, about the suffragette movement and one of its leaders, but its 840 pp. would appear to be a major achievement with no comparable competitor.

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.

What I’ve been reading

1. Gregory M. Collins, Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy.  Burke is underrated as an economist, and also more generally.  This very thorough and thoughtful book goes a long way toward setting the record straight.  In the meantime, it is not sufficiently well known just how much Keynes was influenced by Burke.

2. Terryl Givens, Mormonism: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Perhaps if one needs to read this book, one is also under-qualified to comment on it.  Still it seemed very good to me and providing one of the better introductions.  I hadn’t know for instance that Abraham and even Adam to some extent were “in on” the covenant all along.

3. R.F. Foster, On Seamus Heaney.  A very good “short book essay” on one of my favorite poets.  That is a UK link, here is what you get when you search U.S. Amazon.  How can that be?  These days you can search Amazon better using Google than using Amazon itself.

4. Charles Camic, Veblen: The Making of an Economist Who Unmade Economics.  It makes sense that a biography of Veblen should be…somewhat verbose.  Nonetheless this is a valuable contribution for anyone interested in the topic.  To me the main question is why the libertarian right takes Veblen more seriously these days than does the Left, perhaps it is because they read Veblen and immediately think of Wokeism?

5. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology.  From the 1830s, this remains one of the great scientific classics.  I had never known how well-reasoned or beautifully written it was, a big positive surprise for me.  Not just a bunch of crusty old rocks, though it is also about…a bunch of crusty old rocks.

There is Judith Flanders, A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order.

John Fabian Witt, American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to Covid-19 is a short but useful treatment of what its title promises.  I had not known that both Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X were opposed to compulsory vaccination.

What I’ve been reading

1. Bruno Latour, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climactic Regime.  Mostly not about climate per se, rather how we are failing at being true materialists: “In a sense, Trump’s election confirms, for the rest of the world, the end of a politics oriented toward an identifiable goal.  Trumpian politics is not “post-truth,” it is post-politics — that is, literally, a politics with no object, since it rejects the world that it claims to inhabit.”  Mostly interesting, as one expects from Latour, but not exactly in the Anglo-American style either.  It also shows a kind of convergence with the ideas of Bruno Macaes, reviewed here by John Gray.

2. Robert Townsend, Distributed Ledgers: Design and Regulation of Financial Infrastructure and Payment Systems. Bitcoin and crypto yes, but the more fundamental concept in this book is…distributed ledgers, which include Thai rice allocation schemes and Mesopotamia circa 4000 B.C.  It is highly intelligent and well done, but somehow I think books like this work better when they are more speculative and future-oriented.

3. Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life.  So many pages, and perhaps this will not be surpassed soon.  Yet it never quite tells you how he got to be so smart, or how his intellectual development proceeded, or even what his smartness consists of.  So I can’t say I liked it.  By the way, for those of you who don’t know, it seems to me that Stoppard is one of the smartest people and also the most important living playwright, most of all for anyone interested in intellectual history.

4. Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy, Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know.  Lovely visuals, blurb from Pinker, the curves slope upward, get the picture?  Let’s hope they’re right!  Ultimately I find this kind of exercise less convincing than I used to, instead preferring a broader theory that also accounts for what I perceive to be a growing disorientation.  Which brings us to the next title…

5. Slavoj Žižek, Hegel in a Wired Brain.  How do transhumanism, Elon Musk/Neuralink, the Singularity, Book of Genesis, and Hegel all fit together?  There is only one person who could pull off such a book, noting this version is dense and not for the uninitiated.  Here is one squib: “Police is closer to civil society than state; it is a kind of representative of state in civil society, but for this very reason it has to be experienced as an external force, not an inner ethical power.”  If you take away all the people who quite overrate him, Žižek is in fact remarkably underrated.

What I’ve been reading

1. Martin Amis, Inside Story: A Novel.  Except it is a memoir rather than a novel, definitely fun, and has received excellent reviews in Britain, less so in the U.S.  Does not require that you know or like the novels of Amis.  Christopher Hitchens plays a critical role in the narrative.  Idea-rich, but somehow I don’t quite care, and this one feels like it would have been a much better book twenty years ago.

2. Tobias S. Harris, The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan (UK Amazon listing, I paid the shipping charge, here is the U.S. listing). Yes a good biography of Abe, but most of all a book to make Japanese politics seem normal, rather than something connected to a country with a Kakuhidou movement.

3. Donald W. Braben, Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization, Stripe Press reprint.  Here is the book’s home page.

4. Les Payne and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: the Life of Malcolm X.  I pawed through this book, and it gave off signals of being high quality.  But somehow reading it didn’t hold my interest.  I then googled to a few reviews, but I rapidly realized (again) that such reviews are these days untrustworthy.  Try this NYT review, starting with this sentence: “Les Payne’s “The Dead Are Arising” arrives in late 2020, bequeathed to an America choked by racism and lawlessness.”  The reviewer makes a bunch of intelligent observations, interspersed with gushing about Malcolm X (“It is hard not to want Malcolm back, because his charisma is undeniable”), but I am never told why I should read the book.  At the end I learn the reviewer is “…the dean of academic affairs and a professor of American studies at Wellesley College.”  Signal extraction problem, anyone?  I call the current regime a tax on my willingness to put more time into the book.

Adam Thierer, Evasive Entrepreneurs & the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments, extends the important idea of permissionless innovation.

Jason Brennan, Good Work If You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia.  My blurb said “The one book to read about trying to become a professor.”

What I’ve been reading

1. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears).  A fun look at the Free Town project as applied to Grafton, New Hampshire: “During a television interview, a Grafton resident accused the Free Towners of “trying to cram freedom down our throats.””

2. Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeulen, Law & Leviathan: Redeeming the Administrative State.  Self-recommending from the pairing alone, there is a great deal of interesting content in the 145 pp. of text.  It is furthermore an interesting feature of this book that it was written at all on the chosen topic.  Perhaps the administrative state is under more fire than I realize.  And might you consider this book a centrist version of…maybe call it “state capacity not quite libertarianism”?

3. Michael D. Gordin, The Pseudo-Science Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe.  A somewhat forgotten but still fascinating episode in the history of science, extra-interesting for those interested in Venus.  I had not known that Velikovsky pushed a weird version of a eugenicist theory stating that Israel was too hot for its own long-term good, and that its inhabitants needed to find ways of cooling it down.

4. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, edited by Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll.  I love Blumenberg, but the selection here didn’t quite sell me.  Better to start with his The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, noting that book is a tough climb for just about anyone and it requires your full attention for some number of weeks.  Might Blumenberg be the best 20th thinker who isn’t discussed much in the Anglo-American world?  And yes it is Progress Studies too.

5. Laura Tunbridge, Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces.  Smart books on Beethoven are like potato chips, plus you can listen to his music while reading (heard Op.33 Bagatelles lately?).  In addition to some of the classics, this book covers some lesser known pieces such as the Septet, An die Ferne Geliebte, and the Choral Fantasy, and how they fit into Beethoven’s broader life and career.  Intelligent throughout.

6. Sean Scully, The Shape of Ideas, edited and written by Timothy Rub and Amanda Sroka.  Is Scully Ireland’s greatest living artist?  He has been remarkably consistent over more than five decades of creation.  This is likely the best Scully picture book available, and the text is useful too.  Since it is abstract color and texture painting, he is harder than most to cancel — will we see the visual arts shift in that direction?

Jonathan E. Hillman, The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century, is a good introduction to its chosen topic.

Robert Litan, Resolved: Debate Can Revolutionize Education and Help Save Our Democracy: “…incorporate debate or evidence-based argumentation in school as early as the late elementary grades, clearly in high school, and even in college.”

I am closer to the economics than the politics of Casey B. Mulligan, You’re Hired! Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President, but nonetheless it is an interesting and contrarian book, again here is the excellent John Cochrane review.

There is also Harriet Pattison, Our Days are Like Full Years: A Memoir with Letters from Louis Kahn, a lovely romance with nice photos, sketches, and images as well, very nice integration of text and visuals.