Results for “What I've Been Reading” 384 found
Vaclav Smil, Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities. This book was too much a pile of facts for my taste — and facts I already know — but it is about the most important topic, namely growth and economic growth, so some of you should read it. When you get right down to it, there are worse things than a pile of facts!
Swapan Dasgupta, Awakening Bharat Mata: The Political Beliefs of the Indian Right. What do those people actually believe and why? A summary and also a collection of original texts, strongly recommended for insight into one of the world’s most important nations and thus one of the world’s most important intellectual movements.
Gabriel García Marquez, The Scandal of the Century, and Other Writings. His early journalistic pieces are a revelation, both for their connections to a Borges-Cortázar style, and for how they show the roots of his later more literary productions. His best-known work is perhaps overrated, but his body of work as a whole is still considerably underrated, and this volume will add to your appreciation of him.
I’ve only browsed Owen Matthews, An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent, but it seems to be based on a remarkable amount of original research. I do not care so much about the history of spying, but for some of you this should be a very good book.
Sarah L. Quinn, American Bonds: How Credit Markets Shaped a Nation. Less broad than the title suggests, this is still a clear and useful history of some parts of American securitization, starting with such (important) oddities as the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916.
Adam Minter, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale delivers exactly what readers of Adam’s previous work would and should expect. I am a big Adam Minter fan.
Here is what Ben Casnocha has been reading.
Eric Nelson, The Theology of Liberalism: Political Philosophy and the Justice of God is an interesting look at Pelagianism and related free will ideas as the possible origin for classical liberal ideas. But is free will so important? Isn’t there a Hayekian/Calvinist/Straussian case for the limits of political power? Do the Pelagian roots of liberalism collapse more into current progressivism? In any case I found this book both readable and stimulating, the discussion of the early theology of Rawls was interesting too.
1. Graeme D. Ruxton, Nature’s Giants: The Biology and Evolution of the World’s Largest Lifeforms. Picture books are underrated! They are like a better version of Wikipedia, and with glossy paper at that.
2. Neil Irwin, How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers, is another excellent book by Neil Irwin, and it is both subtler and broader than the title alone would indicate.
3. Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan, Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI. Everything you wanted to know about AlphaZero and already have been asking, lots of games and illustrations but also lots of plain text. Definitely recommended, if you care that is. AlphaZero, by the way, never plays 1. e4, mostly because it sees 1…e5 in response as giving Black nearly equal chances.
4. John Brockman, editor, The Last Unknowns: Deep, Elegant, Profound UNANSWERED QUESTIONS About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life. My nominated question was: “How far are we from wishing to return to the technologies of the year 1900?” NB: you get only the questions, not the answers.
Leah A. Plunkett, Sharenthood: Why We Should Think Before We Talk About Our Kids Online, high time there has been a book with this message, and this is it.
Chris Sagers, United States v. Apple: Competition in America, is a useful look at the antitrust case over eBook pricing, though the actual book does not start until p.79 or so.
1. Michael H. Kater, Culture in Nazi Germany. The best general introduction to this still-important topic.
2. Alev Scott, Ottoman Odyssey: Travels Through a Lost Empire. Imagine setting off to write a book about Turkey, finding your access shut down, and then coming up with what is probably an even better travelogue about the former fringes of the Ottoman Empire. I will buy the author’s next book.
3. James Walvin, Freedom: The Overthrow of the Slave Empires. Perhaps not original, but a highly readable and very much conceptual overview of how the slave trade developed and was then overthrown. Recommended.
4. Chester Himes, If He Hollers, Let Him Go. Pretty brutal actually, a kind of pre-integration African-American noir, dating from 1945. People should still read this one.
5. John Steinbeck, East of Eden. At first I enjoyed this one, but after a while I grew bored. If it came out today, by John Anonymous, how many people would think it was a great book? (“Most of those who wrote the Amazon reviews” you might reply. Maybe, but what other current books do they like? Barbara Kingsolver?) If Sally Rooney’s Normal People, or some time-synched version thereof, came out in the 1920s or 30s, how many today would claim it is an absolute masterpiece? I am happy to recommend that one.
Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism is a good introduction to what the title and subtitle promise.
Gareth Williams, Unraveling the Double Helix: The Lost Heroes of DNA. A good, detailed look at thought on DNA-related issues, before Crick and Watson published the solution.
I will not have time to read Anthony Atkinson’s Measuring Poverty Around the World, his final book, but as you might expect it appears to be a very serious contribution.
Linda Yueh’s What Would the Great Economists Do? How Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today’s Biggest Problems, now out in paperback, is the closest we have come to producing a modern-day version of Robert Heilbroner’s book. As with Heilbroner, it is from a somewhat “left” perspective.
1. Robert W. Poole, Jr. Rethinking America’s Highways: A 21st Vision for Better Infrastructure. Highways can and will get much better, largely through greater private sector involvement. He is probably right, and there is much substance in this book.
2. Aysha Akhtar, Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. An unusual mix of memoir, animal compassion, and childhood horrors, I found this very moving.
3. Ethan Mordden, On Streisand: An Opinionated Guide. Should there not be a fanboy book like this about every person of some renown? Insightful and witty throughout, for instance: “…we comprehend Streisand from what she does — yet a few personal bits have jumped out at us through her wall of privacy. One is the “Streisand Effect”…which we can restate as “When famous people complain about something, they tend to make it famous, too.”
4. Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness, Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education. Hard-hitting and courageous, and I can attest that much of it is absolutely on the mark. Still, I did wish for a bit more of a comparative perspective. Are universities more hypocritical than other institutions? Might the non-signaling, learning rate of return on higher education still be positive and indeed considerable? I am not nearly as negative as the authors are, while nonetheless feeling much of their disillusion on the micro level. Furthermore, American higher education does pass a massive market test at the global level — foreign students really do wish to come and study here. What are we to make of that? Which virtues of the current system are we all failing to understand properly?
5. Kirk Goldsberry, Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA. A highly analytical but also entertaining look at the rise of the three point shot, the history of Steph Curry, how LeBron James turned into such a good player, and much more, with wonderful visuals and graphics.
6. Paul Rabinow, Making PCR: A Story of Biotechnology. PCR is the polymerase chain reaction, and this is a genuinely good anthropological study of how scientific progress comes about, noting there is plenty of lunacy in this story, including love, LSD, and much more. There should be more books like this, this one dates from the 1990s but I am still hoping more people copy it. Via Ray Lopez.
Charles King, Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century, covers Boas, Mead, Benedict, and others. Not enough of the material was new to me, though I expect for many readers this is quite a useful book.
I enjoyed Eric Foner, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.
Daniel Markovits, The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite. Remember how I used to say “The only thing worse than the Very Serious People are the Not Very Serious People?” Well, you should have listened. I have the same fear with the current critiques of meritocracy. That said, this is the book that does the most to pile on, against meritocracy, noting that much less space is devoted to possible solutions. There are arguments in their own right for wage subsidies and more low-income college admissions, but will those changes reverse the fundamental underlying dynamic of knowing just about everybody’s marginal product?
John Quiggin, Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly. The third lesson, however, is government failure, and you won’t find much about that here. Still, I found this to be a well-done book rather than a polemic. Here is the introduction on-line.
1. Patrick Bergemann, Judge Thy Neighbor: Denunciations in the Spanish Inquisition, Romanov Russia, and Nazi Germany. A very specific, useful, and interesting account of actual denunciation practices during the above-mentioned episodes. During the Inquisition, there was general immunity given to most denouncers, you can imagine the resulting incentives. This book is becoming more relevant than it ought to be.
2. John L. Rudolph, How We Teach Science: What’s Changed, and Why It Matters. I found this book boring, but it is the kind of book people should be writing and I suspect some readers and researchers will find it very useful. A fact-rich, reference-laden history of American science education, still by the end I still was looking for more organizational principles.
3. Samme Chittum, Last Days of the Concorde: The Crash of Flight 4590 and the End of Supersonic Passenger Travel. An excellent book on why the Concorde was in fact abandoned. I hadn’t realized it was never so safe in the first place: “They soon learned that Concordes operated by British Airways and Air France had been involved in a range of tire failures over the years. No fewer than 57 such incidents had taken place since Concordes began flying in 1976, 47 were either burst or inflated tires, and 10 were instances in which tires lost tread.”
4. Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, translated and edited by Ken Liu. I found the “hit rate” in this collection to be slightly over fifty percent, which is rare for a science fiction anthology, plus even the lesser stories give one some insight into China, so definitely recommended, at least if you think you might like it. But don’t read this before The Three-Body Problem.
Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, delivers what it promises. The coup against Gorbachev was plotted in a banya, I learned.
Joshua Specht, Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America. A good economic history of the “cattle-beef complex”: “Abilene, Kansas was the first major cattle town.”
Emily Oster, Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth to Preschool is in my pile, it may someday be revised to cover older children.
Also in my pile is Julius Caesar, The War for Gaul, a new translation by James J. O’Donnell. I can’t speak to this translation, but the book is a winner.
1. Peter Doggett, CSNY: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. A good management study of a creative foursome doomed to split and splinter pretty much from the beginning. Oddly, their best work still sounds good to me, even though I never hear much new in it with repeated listenings. That is a rare combination.
2. David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. David’s best book this century, it has many subtle points. It is a “wisdom book,” noting that not everyone likes wisdom books.
3. Harold Bloom, Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism. Bloom is now 89 I believe, but unlike in some of his recent shorter books this one seems as thoughtful as much of his best later work. Yes, it is a bunch of largely separate, short, multi-page essays on topics of Bloom’s choosing, but at this point that is optimal. It won’t convince the skeptic, but if you are on the fence I say yes, though try The Western Canon first.
4. Fuchsia Dunlop, The Food of Sichuan. A much-expanded version of her earlier Land of Plenty. No, I haven’t touched this one yet, but if the word self-recommending ever applied, it is here. If you don’t already know it, here is my earlier CWT with Fuchsia Dunlop.
5. John Barton, A History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths. Anglican, British, highly reasonable, full of useful information, I read it all the way through. Barton teaches you the Bible is not always easy to understand and why that is. Already out for ordering on UK Amazon.
Daniel S. Milo, Good Enough: The Tolerance for Mediocrity in Nature and Society, on a quick browse seemed to have interesting points.
1. Ruby Warrington, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Concentration Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. Both the title and content make it self-recommending.
2. Jonathan Bate, How the Classics Made Shakespeare. “One key argument is that Shakespeare’s form of classical fabling was profoundly antiheroic because it was constantly attuned to the force of sexual desire.” Bate is very smart and this book shows it.
3. Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman, Of Privacy and Power: The Transatlantic Struggle over Freedom and Security. An important contribution to political science, expanding on their concept of “weaponized interdependence,” namely how the U.S. (and sometimes other political actors) uses access to international networks, such as SWIFT, to push other nations around. See #weaponizedinterdependence on Twitter for an introduction.
4. Andrew Lambert, Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires and the Conflict that Made the Modern World. Covers the Phoenicians, Venice, the Dutch Golden Age, the rise of the British empire, and more. Interesting throughout, but I most liked the final section on why there are no seapowers today, and why China and Russia never will be seapowers. Overall a nice integration of geopolitics and culture.
5. Rucker C. Johnson and Alexander Nazaryan, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works. A good summary of what the subtitle promises, though I was hoping for more attention on the costs and losers from those arrangements.
6. Guzel Yakhina, Zukeikha. Translated from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden, a Tatar woman is sent into exile in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. This is one of the novels I enjoyed this year, several others I know concur.
1. Sarah A. Seo, Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. “The revolution in automotive freedom coincided with an equally unprecedented expansion in the police’s discretionary power.”
2. Allison Schrager, An Economist Walks into a Brothel, and Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk. My blurb: “Allison Schrager’s An Economist Walks Into a Brothel is the best, most readable, most informative, most adventurous, and most entertaining take on risk you will find.”
3. Marlon James, Black Leopard Red Wolf. While the author of this new budding fictional series seems quite talented, this is more a book to admire than to enjoy. I can’t imagine that people will read it fifteen years from now. I’ve also read a bunch of reviews which try to praise it, without every telling the reader it will hold their interest.
4. Rachel M. McCleary and Robert J. Barro, The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging. A good overview of their work together on economics and religion, and also more generally a take on what the social sciences know empirically about the causes and effects of religion (not always so much, I should add).
5. The Bitter Script Reader, Michael F-ing Bay: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay’s Films. There aren’t enough enthusiastic, intelligent fanboy books, but this is one of them.
For prep for my Conversation with Knausgaard, I read a good deal of Ivo de Figueiredo, Henrik Ibsen: The Man & the Mask, and was impressed by how much new material he had uncovered.
Ben S. Bernanke, Timothy F. Geithner, and Henry M. Paulson, Firefighting: The Financial crisis and its Lessons: your model of this book is what this book is.
Arrived in my pile are:
Thomas Milan Konda, Conspiracies of Conspiracies: How Delusions Have Overrun America.
Uwe E. Reinhardt, Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care. Uwe is gone but not forgotten.
Marion Turner, Chaucer: A European Life. This one may not please the Brexiteers.
Marie-Janine Galic, The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe seems impressive, though I have not had time to read much of it.
1. Aladdin, a new translation by Yasmine Seale. A wonderful, lively small volume, a good reintroduction to the Arabian Nights, recommended.
2. Shalini Shankar, Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success. Not as analytical as I was wanting, but more analytical than I had been expecting.
3. Rowan Ricardo Phillips, The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey. Provides a good look at the interior world of tennis competition, with emphasis on very recent times. A good look at how to think about the game, not only in the abstract, but as it plays out through the logic of particular events and tournaments.
4. Tim Smedley, Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution. Perhaps the best extant introduction to the air pollution issue, one of the world’s most important and underrated crises, and no I am not talking about carbon.
5. Gordon Peake, Beloved Land: Stories, Struggles, and Secrets from Timor-Leste. Mostly analytical, with real information blended with travelogue. I can’t judge the content, but I was never tempted to put this one down and throw it away.
6. Roderick Beaton, Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation. Excellent survey and overview, makes the late 19th century intelligible, among other achievements. “For Greeks, unlike the concept of the nation, the state had always been an object of popular derision.”
Arvind Panagariya, Free Trade and Prosperity: How Openness Helps the Developing Countries Grow Richer and Combat Poverty. Self-recommending. The book has plenty of evidence, not just the usual hand-waving.
Knut Hamsun, On Overgrown Paths. Hamsun’s memoir, last creation, and maybe most interesting work? But few like to talk about it, for it is 1945 and the Norwegian government has just come to place him under house arrest and in turn bring him to an institution, for having wholeheartedly supported the Nazis. The story of course is told from his rather matter of fact point of view…
Jenny Davidson, Reading Jane Austen. I hardly know any books about Jane Austen, and indeed I don’t much enjoy reading her novels. Still, this is the best book on Austen I have seen, take that for what it is worth. It is very much to the point and furthermore the author writes: “I also hold a degree of suspicion toward those who love Austen, though, myself included.”
James Grant, Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian is a good treatment of someone who was not the greatest Victorian.
Richard J. Evans, Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History, I had high hopes but it bored me.
Mercatus has republished The Market Process: Advanced Studies in Political Economy, a series of Austrian-like essays from the 1980s, edited by Peter J. Boettke and David L. Prychitko.
Joel S. Baden, The Book of Exodus: A Biography is forthcoming, a good general introduction.
David C. Rose, Why Culture Matters Most, is from the perspective of a Douglass North-type economist.
The Story of Silver, by um…William Silber, probably is the best book on silver, as I suppose it should be. How many other books have this same property of coincidence of name and topic? Did James Igel ever write a book on hedgehogs?
Adrian Tinniswood, The Royal Society & the Invention of Modern Science is the best short introduction to its stated topic.
Linn Ullmann, Unquiet: A Novel. A novel, yes, but also a not so thinly veiled memoir of life with her two very famous parents Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Fantastic if you already know the back story, but at the very least readable if you don’t.
Kenneth M. Pollack, Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness. Pollack takes a look at the systematic dysfunctionalities behind Arab militaries, arguing most of them have been worse than the North Korean or Somalian fighting forces. Jordan in 1948, Hizbullah, and early ISIS are the main exceptions here, British training in the former case being a factor and morale a factor in the latter two cases.
Andrew S. Curran, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely. A good filling-in of what were to me many blanks in the life of Diderot, a figure whom I never can decide whether he is underrated or overrated.
1. Josh Rosenblatt, Why We Fight: One Man’s Search for Meaning Inside the Ring. An actual conceptual phenomenology of fighting, there should be more books like this about more different topics. Think of the model “X is actually like this.” Recommended.
2. Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States — and the Nation. A serious and scholarly book, rather than the kind of hysterical falsehoods we’ve come to expect on such topics.
3. Peter Doggett, Are You Ready for the Country? Elvis, Dylan, Parsons and the roots of country rock. Five hundred pages of text, and consistently interesting throughout, at least if you care about the topic. Otherwise not. I have pre-ordered the author’s forthcoming biography of CSNY.
4. Tony Spawforth, The Story of Greece and Rome. Highly readable and useful, not comprehensive on say the economics side but a fresh look and what we know and do not know and how the various pieces fit together.
1. Jackie Chan, with Zhu Mo, Never Grow Up. “My ankle joint pops out of its socket all the time, even when I’m just walking around, and I’ll have to pop it back in. My leg sometimes gets dislocated when I’m showering. For that one, I need my assistant to help me click it back in…I can’t lift heavy objects.” He needed brain surgery after filming Armour of God, and he sustained permanent hearing loss in his left ear. Recommended, if you like the movies. And: “That was how I pursued girls, I overwhelmed them.”
2. John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. “…the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can only be understood if it is placed in the context of the hermetic tradition. The distinctive doctrines of the church — preexistent spirits, material spirit, human divinization, celestial marriage — are opaque unless we explore their relationship to the evolving fusion of hermetic perfectionism and radical sectarianism occupying the extreme edge of the Christian tradition from the late Middle Ages into the early modern age.”
3. Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History: 1945-2015, second edition. It is hard to image that a 1077 pp. doorstop kind of a book on “Africa” might be very good, but in fact this one is. It is the best book on contemporary Africa and its (recent) historical roots that I know. I am reading this book all the way through.
4. Cass Sunstein, How Change Happens. How does social change happen, organized around Cass’s favorite topics, such as nudge and polarization and cascades. This book doesn’t cover everything, but it is one of the essential introductions to a topic that is very difficult to handle. And I am happy there is no subtitle.
Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist, A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, is a good and correct “green” take on the case for nuclear energy.
The Cato Institute has put out Michael D. Tanner, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor, and Randal O’Toole Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love are Not the Transportation We Need.
1. Elaine Dundy, Life Itself. She as a teen taught Mondrian how to jitterbug, married Kenneth Tynan and moved into London high society, became an important writer in her own right, and got tired of him wanting to whip her. I was never inclined to stop reading.
2. Amina M. Derbi, The Storyteller and the Terrorist in Our Newsfeeds. In this novella a Muslim girl in Northern Virginia posts stories of murders on-line and those murders start coming true. I finished this one too. Unusual in its approach.
3. Timothy Larsen, The Slain God: Anthropologists and the Christian Faith. On the surface this is an account of various famous British anthropologists and their views toward Christianity. At a deeper level it contrasts the anthropological and religious approaches to understanding society. Why do so many anthropologists have more tolerant attitudes toward the religions they study than to Christianity? Do the Christian beliefs of an anthropologist help or hurt that individual’s understanding of other religions in the field? Once you’ve seen another religion “from the outside” as an anthropologist, and observed its apparently arbitrary features, can you still be religious yourself? Definitely recommended, here is my previous review of Larsen on John Start Mill.
4. Colin M. Waugh, Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front. This is perhaps the most conceptual book I know on the Rwandan genocide, most of all because it ties the killings to both prior and posterior events very well. Recommended, but (for better or worse) note the author is relatively sympathetic to Kagame in the post-conflict period. I did just buy Waugh’s book on Charles Taylor and Liberia, which you can take as a credible endorsement of this one.
Noteworthy is Kieran Healy, Data Visualization: A Practical Introduction. I have not read it, but had positive impressions from my paw-through.
Leo Damrosch, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends who Shaped an Age. The same 18th century British club had as members Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Burke, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and David Garrick (often considered the greatest actor of the time). I never tire of reading about them.
Andrew Arsan, Lebanon: A Country in Fragments. At first this book feels like a kind of running splat, but with a bit of patience it becomes a remarkably compelling portrait of a society on the brink, most of all a desperate love letter to Beirut. If you can get through the squirrelly early political material, this is one of the best “country books” and also “city books” of the last few years.
James Simpson, Permanent Revolution: The Reformation and the Illiberal Roots of Liberalism, feels throughout as if it is an important book. And anyone interested in religion and development should read this one. Yet I had trouble following the actual arguments. It is probably good.
Marixa Lasso, Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal, stresses just how interesting a place was pre-canal Panama, contrary to what I had thought.
Vernon Smith, The Evidence of Things Not Seen: Reflections on Faith, Science, and Economics. Published by the Acton Institute, this is Vernon on his conversion to Christianity, Kahlil Gibran, and why science and religion are compatible. Short, of interest to those looking to understand the man.
Joel Waldfogel, Digital Renaissance: What Data and Economics Tell Us about the Future of Popular Culture. My blurb is: “Digital Renaissance makes a real contribution to the economics of the Internet and the economics of art and culture.”