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

1. Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic Capitalism.  A very smart, well-written, well-argued book, and an argued book indeed it is.  As the title suggests, Kenworthy tries to persuade the reader to embrace social democratic capitalism, but with an emphasis on what government can do, not the market.  One rebuttal: responding to the Swiss experience requires far more than the two short paragraphs on pp.105-106, and furthermore Switzerland has done very well in many sectors above and beyond being a financial safe haven (which in some regards hurts those other sectors through exchange rate effects).

Laurence Louër, Sunnis and Shi’a: A Political History of Discord.  Captures the complexities, and in fact pulls the reader away from the usual tired dichotomy.

Neil Price, A History of the Vikings: Children of Ash and Elm.  I have only browsed this book, yet it appears to have much more information about the Vikings than other books I know, yet without getting squirrelly.  That said, I find it difficult to connect books on the Vikings with the broader conceptual narratives I know, and thus I do not retain their content very well.  So I am never sure if I should read another book on the Vikings.

John Took’s Dante is the book to read on Dante after you’ve read all the other books (an interesting designation, by the way, I wonder how many areas have such books?  In most cases, if you’ve read all the other books you shouldn’t bother with the next one!).

Fred Kaplan, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, is not a secret history, but it is a good general overall introduction to its chosen topic.

Dietrich Vollrath, Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy is a Sign of Success is now out, my previous review is at that link, an excellent book on economic growth and it will make my best of the year list.

What I’ve been reading

Randy Shaw, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.  A YIMBY book, with good historical material on San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other locales involved in the struggle to build more.

Conor Daugherty, Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America.  Coming out in February, this is a very good book about the YIMBY movement and its struggles, with a focus on contemporary California, written by a NYT correspondent.

Jennifer Delton, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism.  Why don’t more books fit this model: take one topic and explain it well?

Economists, Photographs by Mariana Cook, edited with an introduction by Robert M. Solow.  Self-recommending.  Interestingly, I recall an old University of Chicago calendar of economist photographs, still buried in my office somewhere, with pictures of Frank Hyneman Knight, Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, and others.  At least in terms of personality types, as might be revealed through photographs, the older collection seems to me far more diverse.  Or is the homogenization instead only in terms of photograph poses?

Michael E. O’Hanlon, The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes.  A very useful practical book about what options a U.S. government would have — short of full war — to deal with international grabs by China or Russia.  There should be thirty more books on this topic (#ProgressStudies).

Christopher Caldwell, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties.  This is both a very old thesis, but these days quite new, namely the claim that 1965 and the Civil Rights movement created a “new constitution” for America, at variance with the old, and the two constitutions have been at war with each other ever since.  It will be one of the influential books “on the Right” this year, I already linked to this Park MacDougald review of the book.

Robert H. Frank, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work.  From the Princeton University Press catalog: “Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street—our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. It reveals how our environments encourage smoking, bullying, tax cheating, sexual predation, problem drinking, and wasteful energy use. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet—mainly because that’s what friends and neighbors do.”

What I’ve been reading

Chris W. Surprenant and Jason Brennan, Injustice For All: How Financial Incentives Corrupted and Can Fix the US Criminal Justice System.  A good and clear introduction to exactly what the title promises.  Possible reforms are “End Policing for Profit,” “Stop Electing Prosecutors and Judges,” “Required Rotation of Public Defenders and Prosecutors,” and others.

Laurence B. Siegel, Fewer, Richer, Greener: Prospects for Humanity in an Age of Abundance.  A Julian Simon-esque take on the nature and benefits of economic growth and progress.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution traces how Washington created a cabinet more than two years into his first term, and modeled after the military councils of the Continental army.

Maxine Eichner, The Free-Market Family: How the Market Crushed the American Dream (and How It Can Be Restored). There are so many anti-market books floating around these days, but this one is more likely to be true than most (the book is not as exaggerated as the subtitle).  The author takes too much of a “kitchen sink” approach for my taste, and doesn’t carefully enough consider trade-offs (U.S. as Finland is not actually a dream), but still I would rather spend time with this book than most of what is coming out these days.

Peter Andreas, Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs, does a good job of restoring drugs and alcohol to their rightful place in the history of war.

What I’ve been reading

1. Ben Cohen, The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks.  An intelligent popular social science book covering everything from Stephen Curry to Shakespeare to The Princess Bride, David Booth, Eugene Fama, and more.  I am not sure the book is actually about “the hot hand” as a unified phenomenon, as opposed to mere talent persistence, but still I will take intelligence over the alternative.

2. Richard J. Lazarus, The Rule of Five: Making Climate History at the Supreme Court.  A genuinely interesting and well-presented history of how climate change became a partisan issue in the United States, somewhat broader than its title may indicate.

3. Ryan H. Murphy, Markets Against Modernity: Ecological Irrationality, Public and Private.  The book has blurbs from Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner, and I think of it as an ecological, historically reconstructed account of the demand for irrationality as it relates to the environment, interest in “do-it-yourself,” and the love for small scale enterprise.  Interesting, but overpriced.

4. Juan Du, The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City.  An actual history, as opposed to the usual blah-blah-blah you find in so many China books.  The author has a background in architecture and urban planning, and stresses the import of the Pearl River Delta before Deng’s reforms (Shenzhen wasn’t just a run-down fishing village), decentralization in Chinese reforms, and fits and starts in the city’s post-reform history.  Anyone who reads books on China should consider this one.

Gordon Teskey, Spenserian Moments, The Master is finally receiving his poetic due.

Toby Ord’s forthcoming The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity is a comprehensive look at existential risk, written by an Oxford philosopher and student of Derek Parfit.

What I’ve been reading

Roderick Floud, An Economic History of the English Garden.  Every page of this book does indeed have economics.  It just does not have interesting economics.  Which may mean that gardens are not so interesting from an economic point of view.  Which in turn would make this a good book.  But not an interesting book.

Ajantha Subramanian, The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India.  A critique of casteism and growing inequality, this book also doubles as a fascinating history of IIT.  Best read in Straussian fashion as a sympathetic story of origins.

Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion & The Future of Clothes.  Some parts of this book have bad economics and extreme mood affiliation, but in general it has more actual information than other books on the same topic and at times the author makes decent external cost arguments against the current system of clothes production.  So a qualified recommendation, at least I am glad I read it, even though some parts are obviously too sloppy.

Razeen Sally, Return to Sri Lanka: Travels in a Paradoxical Island.  People do not think enough about Sri Lanka, including in the social sciences!  It is a richer and nicer country than what most people are expecting, and it is good for studying both conflict and ethnic tensions.  This memoir — information rich rather than just blather — is one good place to get you started.

David Goldblatt, The Age of Football: The Global Game in the Twenty-First Century.  Football meaning soccer of course, this book covers how soccer interacts with politics in many particular countries, including Africa, and just how much the game has grown in global markets.  Mostly informative, good if you wish to read a book about this topic (I don’t).

Conversations with Zizek.  Maybe the best introduction to why Žižek is a richer thinker than his critics allege?  The book serves up insights on a consistent basis, and there is a minimum of jargon.  Marcus Pound had a good blurb: “Audacious and vertiginous, this book is everything one expects from him, a heady mix of psychoanalysis, politics, theology, philosophy, and cultural studies that will leave the reader both exhausted and exhilarated.”

What I’ve been reading

Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner, and Henry M. Paulson, editors, with Nellie Liang.  First Responders: Inside the U.S. Strategy For Fighting the 2007-2009 Global Financial Crisis.  Too many people will judge this volume by its editors, for better or worse.  In reality, almost everything here is by other people, and well-informed ones too.  This is one of the best comprehensive books on the crisis, and it is usefully organized by topic (“Crisis-Era Housing Programs,” or say Jason Furman on fiscal policy).  I haven’t read through the whole thing, but there is a good chance this is the best overall volume on the response to the crisis, though again I suspect opinions on the book will follow whatever opinions the reviewers have of the editors.

Justin Marozzi, Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities that Define a Civilization.  Did the Islamic Middle East invent the notion of a truly splendid city?  This book makes the case for yes, starting with 7th century Mecca, moving to Damascus, Baghdad, and Cordoba, and finishing in 21st century Doha, “City of Pearls.”

Todd S. Purdum, Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution.  Of course the music is worth learning about, but this volume is also a splendid take on managerial teamwork in a duo.

Greta Thunberg, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. Some of her speeches, transcribed.  Call me crazy, but I think of her and Donald Trump as the two great orators of our generation, regardless of what you think of their content.

Vicky Pryce, Women vs. Capitalism: Why We Can’t Have It All in a Free Market Economy.  Compared to what, I am inclined to ask?  Still, if you are looking for a readable book on how and why capitalism does not lead to gender equality, this is now the place to go.

Matthew D. Adler’s Measuring Social Welfare: An Introduction is a very good take on its chosen topic.

What I’ve been reading and browsing

1. Camilla Townsend, Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.  I read this one straight through, it does more to bring the Aztecs (a misnomer, by the way, as it is technically the name of the military alliance…a bit like referring to “NATO people”) to life than any other book I know.

2. Daniel M. Russell, The Joy of Search: A Google Insider’s Guide to Going Beyond the Basics.  I don’t need this, but I suspect useful for many.

3. Thomas O. McGarity, Pollution, Politics, and Power: The Struggle for Sustainable Electricity.  A very useful of the last four decades of transformation in the electricity industry.

4. Norman Lebrecht, Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World 1847-1947.  An informative and engaging account of what the title promises (you can learn more about Heine and Alkan and Moholy-Nagy).  Nonetheless the author never really addresses the question of why that period was quite so remarkable for Jewish achievement, relative to the rest of world history.

5. Edmund Morris, Edison.  Lots of impressive research, but this book didn’t have the emphasis on innovation and institutions that I was looking for.

There is also Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.

What I’ve been reading

C. Bradley Thompson’s America’s Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It, is a beautifully written history of exactly what the title and subtitle claim.

Also noteworthy is Richard Brookhiser, Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Essays, a kind of companion volume.  Can you beat the title, especially given world trends today?

Eric Schwitzgebel, A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures.  Collected essays, interesting throughout, and among other points Schwitzgebel shows that ethicists do not in fact behave better than other human beings, higher rates of vegetarianism aside.

I do not have time to read David Abulafia’s The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans, but based on a browse it is 918 pp. of substance on everything from the Polynesians to the monsoon to sailing across the Atlantic, and then some.

I am a big fan of Yuval Levin, and now he has a new forthcoming book A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream.

What I’ve been reading

Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe: How Migration Reshaped a Continent.  A very nice history of earlier post-war European migration, such as Turks and Greeks moving to West Germany, Cape Verdeans settling in Portugal, and so on.  Excellent background for the current debates.

Cristiano Bianchi and Kristina Drapić, Model City Pyongyang.  An excellent picture book, mostly of architecture, presenting Pyongyang as yet another installment in the 20th century series of deeply weird cities.

Jason Lyall, Divided Armies: Inequality and Battlefield Performance in Modern War.  Perhaps the most thorough look at how cohesion has made some armies and fighting forces stronger than others.  For instance there is a chapter “African World Wars: Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the Modern Battlefield.”  I view this more as a cohesion story than an “inequality” story (current U.S. forces seem pretty sharp), in any case a good integration of military history with modern social science.

Paul Blustein, Schism: China, America and the Fracturing of the Global Trading System.  Given the import and timing on the topic, I am surprised this book has not received more attention.  It is “more boring” than Blustein’s earlier works, such as on Argentina, but full of facts and substance on every page.  For now it is the go-to book on this topic.

Four very good books!

What I’ve been reading

Thomas J. Campanella, Brooklyn: The Once and Future City. More detailed than what I am looking for on this topic at 552 pp., but some of you will find this an interesting resource.

Nicholas Lemann, Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream.  Lots of mood affiliation in this one, but the chapter on finance economist Michael Jensen and his longstanding connection with “guru” Werner Erhard is excellent material you cannot find elsewhere.

Tom Segev, A State At Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion.  I read about one-third of this one.  A fine book, beautifully written, but somehow too much of the material felt familiar given other accounts I had consumed.

Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh, Innovation and Equality: How to Create a Future That is More Star Trek and Less Terminator.  A very useful 131 pp. introduction to those issues, most of all arguing that a future full of innovation does not have to push inequality to untenable levels.

Matthew Gale and Natalia Sidlina, Natalia Goncharova.  The images in this book I found mind-blowing, claiming a place for Goncharova as one of the very best artists of her time (and what a time for the visual arts it was).

Edward Snowden, Permanent Record.  Starts slow, but an interesting read no matter what you think of him, most of all of how one can step by step be led to actions one did not originally intend.  I thought his own case for what he did was weaker than I had been expecting.  Embedding it in an “the internet used to be so much better” narrative doesn’t help.  Nonetheless, I read through to the end eagerly.

What I’ve been reading and browsing

Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse. The title says it all, noting that without the banya I for one would not perish.

George Weigel, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself & Challenged the Modern World to Reform.  Always fascinating to see there is a whole ‘nother world of politics you hardly know (or care) about.

Eric D. Weitz, A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States, is indeed a history of human rights in theory but most of all in practice.

Katrina Forrester, In the Shadow of Justice: Postwar Liberalism and the Remaking of Political Philosophy covers how liberalism took egalitarian and Rawlsian turns in the 20th century.  The author makes this seem more natural than I would take it to be.

David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation, argues that from a Christian point of view all will be saved and none damned to eternal torment.  Not my framework, but I am not going to push back against what I take to be a Pareto improvement.

I am an admirer of Yancey Strickler, of Kickstarter fame, he has a new book coming out This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard J. Williams, Why Cities Look the Way They Do.  Mostly interesting, think of this as a humanities-laden approach to cities, but without too much mumbo-jumbo.  Excerpt: “As long ago as 1968, a British art critic, Lawrence Alloway, grasped something of this.  Writing about the Biennial, he argued that Venice wasn’t a city, but should be better understood as a cultural medium, like an exhibition or a newspaper, ‘compounded of famous architecture, recurrent festivals, and tourist industries’.  Venice, he wrote was ‘ a communicative pattern, a geo-temporal work of art’.”

2. Evan Thompson, Why I am Not a Buddhist.  For every view, there should be a book “Why I am not X.”  This gets us part of the way there.  That said, I have simpler reasons for not being a Buddhist, namely I do not think it is true.

3. Jonathan Eig, Ali: A Life.  Definitely recommended, this is an excellent boxing book, race relations book, 1960s and 70s book, and much more.

4. Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel.  Readable, with a clear and propulsive plot, but somehow it stopped being of interest to me about halfway through.  It is the recent Hugo and also Nebula Award winner for best novel.

5. Manjit Kumar, Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality.  A very good study of the developments of early 20th century physics, the parts about Rutherford and Planck being most novel to me.

6. Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, with essays by A. Roy, Mishra, and others.  You may or may not agree with the pro-Kashmiri take of this book, but some issues you learn best by reading the partisans on each side, who offer clarity if nothing else, and then drawing your own conclusions.  I suspect the Kashmir crisis falls into that bucket.  (Learning when to apply this trick is one good way to make your reading more productive.)

Richard M. Eaton, India in the Persianate Age 1000-1765 is a useful, non-partisan, and coherent take on exactly what the title suggests.

Daniel Markovits, The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, has gotten good press on Twitter, but it reminds me of Churchill on democracy.

I started two very long novels — Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School and Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, but neither clicked with me.  The former seems too simple/brutal/masculine for its 1300 pp. length, and the latter is a mix of American and obscure I don’t care about this kind of stuff.  Still, I will try them each again.

The new Stripe Press book is Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto, Get Together: How to build a community with your people, a how-to guide.

What I’ve been reading

1. Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World.  A good, short “give it to your high school kid” book on why socialism is not an entirely ideal way to arrange society.

2. Ben Lewis, The Last Leonardo: The Secret Lives of the World’s Most Expensive Painting.  I felt I knew this story already, but nonetheless found interesting information and conceptual analysis on virtually every page.  And while the author is agnostic and balanced, the text upped my opinion of the “likely Leonardo weighted expected value” component from about 0.1 to maybe 0.25?  Yet so much fuss about a painting that resurfaced in 1907 — model that…  And don’t forget: “None of the great art historians and connoisseurs who saw it before 1958 identified it as a Leonardo.”  Recommended.

3. Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Björkman, The Nordic Secret: A European story of beauty and freedom.  There should be many more books about why the Nordics are special, and this is one of them.  The central notion here is “secular Bildung” as a means of elevating society and cooperative relations.  Uneven in its structure of exposition, but definitely interesting in parts and the importance of the question makes this better than most of the other books you might be likely to read.  Just don’t expect 100% polish.

4. David Cahan, Helmholtz: A Life in Science.  At 768 pp., I only read about half of this one.  Nonetheless I read the better half, and it is one of the more useful treatments of 19th century German science.  I hadn’t realized the strong connections with Siemens and Roentgen, for instance, and one clear lesson is that German science of that time had some pretty healthy institutions outside of the formal university system.

What I’ve been reading

1. Jonathan Paine’s Selling the Story: Transaction and Narrative Value in Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Zola combines several interests of mine in an effective fashion.  This book is most useful for seeing economic themes in some of the classic authors, above and beyond their citations of monetary values and payments.

2. The Bretton Woods Agreements, Together with Scholarly Commentaries and Essential Historical Documents, edited by Naomi Lamoreaux and Ian Shapiro.  Virtually all edited collections are sleep-inducing, but this one is consistently interesting, at least if you are the kind of person who might possibly be drawn in by the title.  Doug Irwin, Barry Eichengreen, Kurt Schuler, and Michael Bordo are among the contributors.

3. Ken Ochieng’ Opalo, Legislative Development in Africa: Politics and Postcolonial Legacies.  The book also is more exciting than the title and subtitle indicate.  It covers the determinants of cross-national African legislative successes, and argues that often the best and strongest legislatures emerge from a context of previously effective autocracy.

4. Roger Faligot, Chinese Spies: From Chairman Mao to Xi JinPing.  A sobering account of how much spying — indeed spying on a mass level — has been central to Chinese history since the advent of communism.  I found some parts of this book too detailed for me to read the entire thing, but arguably that ought to scare you all the more.  Note that the narrative essentially ends around 2008.

5. Mario Bertolotti, The History of the Laser.  Only about half of this book, at most, covers the laser.  Those parts seemed fine enough, but what I really enjoyed was the coverage of the development of electromagnetic theory leading up to the laser.  The book is also good for showing that the “transistor revolution” starting in 1948 was not really so distinct from the earlier industrial and electromagnetic revolution of the late 19th century.

What I’ve been reading

1. Christopher Tyerman, The World of the Crusades: An Illustrated History.  The best and most engrossing history of the crusades I have read.  By the way, the “children’s crusade” probably didn’t have that much to do with children.  The periodic topic-specific two-page interludes are especially good.

2. Tobias Straumann, 1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler covers a critical episode in European history, and one which has not entirely faded into irrelevance.  The author is a financial historian rather than an economist, so think of this book as scratching your history itch, in any case recommended.

3. Jim Auchmutey, Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America is the most current of the best histories of barbecue and it is more bullish on the barbecue future than most treatments.

4. Chris Miller, The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Economy.  One of the best books on the beginnings of the reform era, with a special focus on whether the Soviets could have chosen a Chinese path (no, too many embedded interest groups, so does that mean Mao is underrated?).

5. Katherine Eban, Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom.  A “worth reading” look at what the title promises, but all the best parts are about how the FDA tries to regulate generic drug production in India.

6. Roger L. Geiger, American Higher Education Since World War II.  Not as sprightly as I might have wished for, nor does it cover the controversial issues in the conceptual fashion I was hoping to find, but nonetheless an extremely useful resources for teaching you the basic facts of how the sector has evolved.

New out from Princeton University Press is Robert J. Shiller, Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral & Drive Major Economic Events.

There is Heather Boushey’s new How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It.

Yale has published a new translation of Book of Job, translated by Edward L. Greenstein, very likely worth a read.