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

1. Sevket Pamuk, Uneven Centuries: Economic Development of Turkey since 1820.  The best economic history of Turkey I know, it comes with strong recommendations from Daron Acemoglu and Dani Rodrik.  Not an engaging read, but a useful survey.

2. Nell Dunn, Talking to Women.  Interviews with British (and Irish) women, circa 1964, remarkably frank and open, “witty, anarchic, and sexually frank.”  Strongly recommended, is it possible that the quality of discourse on these matters has not much advanced or even declined?

3. Charles Allen, Coromandel: A Personal History of South India.  “I have called this book Coromandel chiefly for sentimental reasons.  I first became aware of that sonorous word as a fifteen-year-old schoolboy exiled in England.  Coromandel! was the title of the third in a series of Boy’s Own-style adventure stories set in India written by John Masters, an ex-Indian Army officer turned popular novelist.  It was all about a West Country lad who sails to India with a map to find the legendary Coromandel and make his fortune.  I reread it recently and found it not half as good as I thought it was — but the magic of that word Coromandel has always stayed with me, as the very essence of South India in all its elusiveness and allure.  I’m not alone in thinking this.”

4. Sally Rooney, Normal People.  A novel, they’re not, Irish, recommended.

Louise I. Shelley, Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy is Threatening Our Future, is a useful survey of varying kinds of black and dark markets.

M. Todd Henderson, Mental State, “When conservative law professor Alex Johnson is found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his house in Chicago, everyone thinks it is suicide.  Everyone except his brother, Royce, an FBI agent.”

Kimberly Clausing, Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital delivers exactly what its subtitle promises.

Jeffrey Lane, The Digital Street, is an interesting and original urban ethnography of how digitalized media, and the recording of street interactions, affect gang norms and patterns of violence.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard A. Arenberg, Congressional Procedure: A Practical Guide to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress.  You know, this stuff matters a lot more than it used to.

2. Timothy Larsen, John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life.  Covers the evolution of religion in Mill’s life, and stresses that toward the very life he turned back to a religiously-oriented world view.  Arguably all of the (< 12) people at Mill’s funeral were Christians.  As a side benefit, the book has an illuminating treatment of the romance with Harriet Taylor.  I’ve since ordered four other of Larsen’s books, the ultimate compliment.

3. Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs.  An excellent history book in its own right, this is also one of the best sources for understanding the 19th century roots of our current dilemma.  Reading everything by Daniel Walker Howe is in fact a good algorithm for proceeding in life.

Daniel S. Hamermesh, Spending Time: The Most Valuable Resource is a good introduction to what economists know about the allocation of time, both evidence and theory.

Adam Zamoyski, Napoleon: A Life I read only some parts of, and found very well-written and entertaining, but it wasn’t sufficiently conceptually innovative to hold my interest.

Jacy Reese has a new book The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists are Building an Animal-Free Food System.  It is overstated, but still better than the near-unanimous ignoring of these issues which goes on in the economics profession.

What I’ve been reading

1. Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.  I hadn’t realized that so much was known about her life, or that she spent so much time in Canada, or that she fell into such obscurity during the early part of the twentieth century.  She died the same year Rosa Parks was born.  I liked this book very much.

2. Tom Miller, China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road.  A good look at the new conflicts between China and its southeast Asian and central Asian neighbors.  Clear enough to be a good introduction, detailed enough to be useful to those who already know something about the topic.

3. Robert Alter, The Art of Bible Translation.  Alter is one of today’s most important doers, and his forthcoming Hebrew Bible translation is likely to be definitive and the most important act of publication this year.  This short volume presents his perspective on what he has done, most of all focusing on how to turn Hebrew into English.

4. Michael Tomasello, Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny.  How does human psychological growth run in the first seven years, in particular how does it instill “culture” in us?  Tomasello address this question in a Belknap Press book by comparing us to chimpanzees and bonobos.  Most of all, how does the capacity for shared intentionality and self-regulation evolve in people?  This is a very thoughtful and also important book, but I’m not sure it finally succeeds into tying up all the pieces into a broader picture of…shared intentionality.

5. Camille Paglia, Provocations.  At first I was discouraged by the notion of a recycled Paglia compilation, but the quality of these pieces is often high and many of them are not readily available elsewhere.  The now-classic  Sexual Personae is still the best introduction to her work, but if you think you might be tempted by this one, you should buy it.  I would put the hit rate at about fifty percent (who else will give you running commentary on the main cinematic adaptations of Homer’s Odyssey?), and it is sad to see so far it has not been seriously reviewed.

What I’ve been reading

1. Nate Chinen, Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century.  Chinen mounts a persuasive argument that the “golden age of jazz” is in fact today, and fills in the background knowledge you might need to grasp such a claim.  I’ve long suggested that if you enjoy live performance, the access/price/talent gradient is truly remarkable.  You can see virtually any world class performer, from an A+ quality seat, for a mere pittance.  Except in London.  The bottom line is that I will keep this book, hardly ever the case.

2. James Mustich, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List.  Paging through this book, from beginning to end, or just browsing it, and buying the attractive-sounding titles is in fact a good (but expensive) way to find new reading.  I see no reason why such volumes should be regarded as absurd.  Right now I am on “Bradley,” and while I don’t agree with all of the selections, they are unfailingly intelligent and at least plausible.

3. Can Xue, Love in the New Millennium.  Is she the Chinese writer most likely to next win a Nobel Prize?  “In this darkly comic novel, a group of women inhabits a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flowerbeds and false reports fly.”  Much of the story is set in a brothel, with a rotating cast of characters.  Parts remind me of The Dream of the Red Chamber, in any case this is definitely a new fictional work of note.  Here is an atypical excerpt: “He and Xiao Yuan had one thing in common: they both valued sensual pleasures.  His greatest wish was to sit in the darkened National Theater and listen to La Traviata with her.  He thought that after experiencing that atmosphere, their sex life would become satisfying.  His idea was naive; Xiao Yuan said he was “too practical.”  She added, “Sex is a black hole.  People can’t understand all of its implications within a lifetime.”

4. Thomas J. Bollyky, Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways is a good history of public health advances, but also how they have led to what are now plague-prone poor megacities.  Here is the author’s piece in Foreign Affairs.

What I’ve been reading

1. Santiago Levy, Under-Rewarded Efforts: The Elusive Quest for Prosperity in Mexico.  Probably the best current book on Mexico’s economy and why it has not grown more rapidly.  Most of all, Levy blames misallocation, and more specifically the attachment of too many workers to the low-productivity informal sector.  The author notes (p.34) that both the top 20 percent of the wage distribution, or even the top 1 percent, saw no wage growth from 1996 to 2015.

2. Sriya Iyer, The Economics of Religion in India.  A useful survey, which delivers on what the title promises.

3. Howard Sounes, Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney.  One of my favorite biographies, this book is also excellent on outlining the history of the Beatles (and subsequent McCartney groups) as problems in the theory and practice of management.  I now have ordered the author’s other books on music history.

4. Jeffrey D. Sachs, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.  This book is somewhat less radical than I had been expecting, mostly concentrating on the potential gains from multilateralism, international cooperation, and international law.  Or is that the truly radical view?

5. Roger Scruton, Music as an Art.  The chapter on Schubert is the highlight, and perhaps the best explanation of that composer’s beauty and importance.  The book is otherwise high variance, with the remarks on morals and aesthetic philosophy much weaker.  At times he pops open an insight when it is least expected, such as on heavy metal music: “In the realm of pop they were the modernists, undergoing in their own way that revolution against kitsch and cliche that had set Schoenberg and Adorno on the path towards 12-tone serialism.”

Helene Rosenblatt, The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century, presents liberals as moralists and debunks the notion of liberalism as so exclusively an Anglo-American phenomenon.

Dean Keith Simonton, The Genius Checklist: Nine Paradoxical Tips on How You! Can Become a Creative Genius, is a popularization of some of his earlier research on genius and creative achievement.

Notable is Stephen L. Carter’s new biography of his grandmother, Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.

What I’ve been reading

1. Donna Zuckerberg, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age.  Ten or fifteen years ago, would I have predicted that Harvard University Press would publish a serious academic argument claiming that on-line pick-up artists misread the classic texts they cite?

2. Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost-Benefit Revolution.  One of the very best Cass Sunstein books, the product of decades of reflection, remarkably well thought out on every page to an extent which is rare these days.

3. William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era.  Winner of a Pulitzer, this remains one of the essential takes on mid-20th century Soviet history and is highly readable as well.

4. Maxwell King, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.  Yes, that is Mister Rogers.  If you’ve seen the movie, this book is the perfect complement.  I hadn’t know that Mister Rogers was born into wealth, self-financed his early work, and consistently turned down opportunities to market “Mister Rogers toys” to kids for large sums of money.  His email address by the way was [email protected], with the triple z’s indicating he slept soundly every night, and the 143 referring to the constant weight he kept throughout his adult life.

What I’ve been reading

1. Rob Reich, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it Can Do Better.  A sustained argument that current manifestations of philanthropy are not very egalitarian or necessarily realizing democratic ideals.  My views stand “to the right” of this book, but for some of you it will serve as a very good articulation of why philanthropy might be making you nervous.

2. Edmund White, The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading.  An exquisitely written book, yet his reading narrative leaves me cold (too much an insider? not eccentric enough?).  I found the chapter on his husband and their relationship extraordinarily compelling.  A highly intelligent book, at the very least.

3. Jason Brennan, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice.  A well-argued libertarian take on exactly what the subtitle promises.

4. Robert Skidelsky, Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics.  The history of macro and money told through its historical development, which in my view is the right approach.  The coverage ranges from the classical economists up through the present day.  I hope this book does well.

5. Nicola Gennaioli and Andrei Shleifer, A Crisis of Beliefs: Investor Psychology and Financial Fragility.  An “as smart as you would expect” take on the hypothesis that investor over-extrapolation of recent price trends can cause financial crises, including our recent financial crisis.

What I’ve been reading

1. David Foenkinos, Charlotte: A Novel.  A holocaust escape story, written in a kind of blank verse, this book was a bestseller in many countries but mostly ignored in the United States.  Original, recommended, and a quick but compelling read.

2. John Foot, Archipelago: Italy Since 1945.  There should be more books like this, namely giving you a smart overview of the recent history of an important country.  This one is especially strong on the nature of Italian corruption, the importance of connections in Italy, changes in the Italian education system, and the origins of the Northern League.

3. Holly Case, The Age of Questions.  Starting in the early nineteenth century, an “age of questions” began, including the Jewish question, the German question, the Bullion question, and many others: “The essence of the age of questions was the practical accommodation of physical reality to the attitude of interrelation that the age engendered.”  Books on abstract themes are often difficult to pull off, but this one expanded my thinking and historical understanding.

What I’ve been reading

1. Annie Lowrey, Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World.  A very good book, one of the hot books of the year, and much deeper and broader and balanced than the subtitle might imply.

2. George Magnus, Red Flags: Why Xi’s China Is In Jeopardy.  The case for pessimism, based on all possible reasons.  Worth reading, but who knows?

3. Devin Fergus, Land of the Fee: Hidden Costs and the Decline of the American Middle Class.  Not a balanced treatment, but a fact-rich and handy starting point for reading about this topic.  You won’t learn how many of those fees are efficiency-based, but you will go around asking the question more.

4. François Cusset, How the World Swung to the Right:Fifty Years of Counterrevolutions.  Full of generalizations and unsupported claims, but still a better guide to reality than most of what you will find from the other big think books.  An attempt at fresh thought, in pocket-sized form.

5. Paula Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation.  Yet another good social and intellectual history of the early, formative period of Christianity.

Charles Silver and David A. Hyman, Overcharged: Why Americans Pay Too Much for Health Care.  I find most books on this topic too painful to read, including this one, but it does appear to be comprehensive and the new go-to coverage on this topic.

What I’ve been reading and browsing

1. Gaël Faye, Small Country.  Short, readable, and emotionally complex, one of my favorite novels so far this year.  Think Burundi, spillover from genocide, descent into madness, and “the eyes of a child caught in the maelstrom of history.”  Toss in a bit of romance as well.

2. David Edgerton, The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth Century History.  I’m only on p.34, but this one is spectacular and I expect to read it closely all the way through.  You’ll probably hear about it more in future blog posts.  He takes on many myths about British postwar decline, for instance, arguing that British business actually did pretty well in the 1950s and 60s.  Right now it is out only in the UK, but the above link still will get you a copy.  Here is a good Colin Kidd review in New Statesman: “Every so often a book comes along that the entire political class needs to read.”

3. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Inadvertent (Why I Write).  92 short pp. on how he thinks about writing, consistently high in quality, the contrast between Kundera and Hamsun was my favorite part.

Laurence M. Ball, The Fed and Lehman Brothers: Setting the Record Straight on a Financial Disaster is a very serious and useful book.  The Fed could have saved Lehman Brothers and didn’t, partly because of political pressures, and partly because they underestimated the damage it would cause to the economy.  Ball documents what I have supposed from the time of the event.

Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost-Benefit Revolution.  Not since the 1970s has cost-benefit analysis been as underrated as it is right now.

Joy Lisi Rankin, A People’s History of Computing in the United States appears to be interesting.  It tries to liberate the history of American computing from the usual emphasis on Silicon Valley, and offers greater focus on Dartmouth, Minnesota, and other less studied locales.

What I’ve been reading and browsing

The Bill of Rights did not become an essential feature of Supreme Court opinions until the justices needed a new justification for their authority to strike down legislation as unconstitutional.  In 1940, the Court began citing the Bill of Rights routinely and started building up the doctrine that the 1791 amendments were a linchpin of judicial review.

That is from Gerard N. Magliocca, The Heart of the Constitution: How the Bill of Rights Became the Bill of Rights.

Jesse Norman, Adam Smith: Father of Economics. Written by an MP, impressive, though I remain closer to a traditional classical liberal view of Smith.

Geoffrey B. Robinson, The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66.  Hardcore excellent across both the factual and conceptual dimensions.  It is striking that as of 1965 Indonesia had the world’s largest non-governing communist party, until this episode that is.  At least half a million people were killed and “…the vast majority were felled with knives, sickles, machetes, swords, ice picks, bamboo spears, iron rods, and other everyday implements.”  Not so much high tech, not even by 1940 standards.  Yet most were highly organized rather than spontaneous.  Definitely recommended.

Elhanan Helpman, Globalization and Inequality.  A very well done survey of what we know about this issue, from a leader in the field.

Lincoln Ballard and Matthew Bengtson, with John Bell Young, The Alexander Scriabin Companion, the definitive treatment of its topic.  Bengston is also my favorite Scriabin pianist.

On herding and social influence, there is Michelle Baddeley, Copycats & Contrarians: Why We Follow Others…and When We Don’t.

Eric Rauchway, Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal considers Roosevelt’s early plans for the New Deal, before his election, and also how Hoover started laying the groundwork for opposition.

Ashoka Mody, Eurotragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts, has produced the best book yet on that “not quite yet in our rear view mirror” episode.

What I’ve been reading

1. Susan Napier, Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art.  A thorough and serious treatment of Miyazaki’s career, focusing on his creative works rather than biography per se.

2. Helen DeWitt, Some Trick.  Conceptual and informationally dense short stories for highly intelligent people.  Here is a good James Wood review.

3. Matthew Polly, Bruce Lee: A Life.  A quite good, serious, and well-researched biography of the master, especially good in setting up the context of the martial arts in Lee’s time.  I hadn’t known that James Coburn took 106 private lessons with Bruce, nor that Steve McQueen was another notable pupil.  Nor had I known how much Bruce studied the fights of Muhammad Ali for some of his film sequences.

4. James Crabtree, The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age.  Delivers on exactly what it promises, a strong look at India’s wealthy class.

5. Thomas Weber, Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi.  Perhaps you, like me, are totally sick of Hitler books.  But how exactly did his ideas morph into…what they became?  This book is detailed, well-documented, psychologically insightful, at times even brilliant.

What I’ve been reading

Gregory Claeys, Marx and Marxism, a better than expected take on where Marxism came from and how Marx’s different intellectual periods fit into his life.  One of the better introductions to Marx, noting that it does not stress issues of economic theory.

Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace.  Not well known in the United States, but still one of the better Norwegian novels.  Short, readable, concerns a boy who goes missing.

Peter Cozzens, The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West.  Very good overall history of the post-Civil War campaigns against Native Americans, still highly relevant for understanding American foreign policy, and attitudes toward guns, among other things.

David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History.  A very strong work about race relations on the other side of the Atlantic.  I had not known that “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is Yoruba for “life goes on.”  The song as a whole was intended by Paul McCartney as a parable of the possibility of West Indian assimilation and it was a direct response to Enoch Powell.  Definitely recommended.

Linda Yueh’s What Would the Great Economists Do?: How Twelve Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today’s Biggest Problems, is probably the closest we will come to having an updated version of Robert Heilbroner.

Joshua Keating, Invisible Countries: Journeys to the Edge of Nationhood looks at Abkhazia, Kurdistan, Somaliland, Liberland, and a Mohawk reservation straddilng the U.S.-Canada border, as well as a Pacific Island that might disappear.  An interesting book for fans of alternative governance arrangements.

I’ve now see the page proofs for Steven Pearlstein’s Can American Capitalism Survive?: Why Greed is Not Good, Opportunity is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor.  His view is not mine, but if you want his view this book is the place to get it…

What I’ve been reading

Economic Science Fictions, edited by William Davies.  I didn’t quite come away with a takeaway from this book, but still I feel obliged to pass knowledge of it along to you.  It is a bunch of essays about economic themes in science fiction, and/or how the two “genres” might be more closely integrated, with a lead essay by Ha-Joon Chang.

Allen C. Guelzo, Reconstruction: A Concise History.  Could this new book be the single best brief introduction to Reconstruction available?  Recommended.

Emily Dufton, Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America.  I loved this book, which I also consider a paradigmatic example of how to write a wonderful non-fiction work.  Throughout it is clear, substantive, balanced, passes various ideological Turing tests, and it focuses on essentials, as well as framing everything in terms of broader theories of social change.  It is sure to make my best books of the year list, and if she had ten other books I would buy them all sight unseen.  Here is Dufton’s home page.

Bekelech Tola, Injera Variety from Crop Diversity.  She explains where all the different types of injera come from.  I hadn’t realized for instance that teff is sometimes mixed with maize, or sorghum flour, or cassava powder, all in the service of variety.

What I’ve been reading

The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony.  Falls into the “contrarian, but shouldn’t need to be contrarian” category.  It makes good points, but I felt it was interior to my knowledge set.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, Spring, a comeback for Knausgaard.

Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Quran and the Bible: Text and Commentary.  I won’t have the time soon to work through the thousand pages of this book, but it appears to be a major achievement and of very high quality.  Here is the book’s home page.  Here is a good piece by Reynolds on related topics.

Nick Polson and James Scott, AIQ: How People and Machines are Smarter Together, is a new and (believe it or not) original and very good take on this theme.

Heiner Rindermann, Cognitive Capitalism: Human Capital and Wellbeing of Nations perhaps covers too much ground, but is still a very useful 500 pp. plus survey of exactly what the title suggests.

Jan Assmann, The Invention of Religion: Faith and Covenant in the Book of Exodus.  One of the best introductory works on the best and most important book ever written.