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

1. Daphne Hampson, Kierkegaard: Exposition and Technique.  Dense but carefully argued and consistently insightful, perhaps the best introduction to its subject matter.  It is especially strong on how Kierkegaard’s Lutheranism informed his critique of Hegel, his supernaturalism, and his strong opposition to complacency.

Kierkegaard also was an influence on my Stubborn Attachments, as Hampson writes: “Given that faith is to look beyond ourselves to Christ, the ‘future’ is for Lutheranism a critical category.  In the thought of the 20th-century Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann ‘future’ and ‘God’ become concomitant.  The relation to this future, to God, takes one outside oneself, whereas to rest on my laurels (my past) is of the essence of sin.  As we shall see, for Kierkegaard, relating to the idea of eternal life is existentially life-transforming.  It follows that in this tradition there is little continuity of person, for one and again I must break myself open (in my self-satisfaction) as I consent to dependence on God.”


2. Johnny Rogan, Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless: Volume 2: The Lives of Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, Kevin Kelley, Gram Parsons, Clarence White and Skip Battin.  Full of amazing and loving detail, this volume covers the less famous of the Byrds, and why their careers did not go further; whether in business or the arts, we spend too much time studying the winners.  Here are my earlier remarks on Rogan’s earlier editions as an extended essay on management theory and career advice.

3. Michael D. Barr, The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Power and Influence.  From 2013, but all the more relevant today.  Barr’s coverage is insufficiently appreciative of good results, but nonetheless offers an invaluable “how things really work” guide to Singaporean government, most of all on where accountability lies and where it does not.  There is guesswork involved, but this book offers plenty of details and analysis you won’t get elsewhere.

4. Henry A. Kissinger, A World Restored: Europe After Napoleon: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age.  Published in 1964, before Kissinger became Kissinger, although he is a war criminal this volume shows the quality of his thought: “…an equilibrium based on considerations of power is the most difficult of all to establish, particularly in a revolutionary period following a long peace.  Lulled by the memory of stability, states tend to seek security in activity and to mistake impotence for lack of provocation.”  The person who recommended this volume to me told me it would explain why the internal and external requirements for foreign policy on the Continent are much more in accord than they are for either England or America.  It does no such thing, so I still would like to read on that question.

Jack Schneider, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality.  Under a true value added measure, the schools in Somerville, Massachusetts turn out to be quite good, even though their raw test scores are not impressive.

David Osborne, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Education System, covers how charter schools are transforming the American educational landscape.

What I’ve been reading

1. Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.  At first I feared it was too trendy, but I ended up engrossed.

2. Stephen R. Platt, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War.  Pseudoerasmus calls this the best book on the most underrated big war in human history; he is right.  It also gives you a good sense of how 50-100 million people might have died.

3. Mark Bowden, Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam.  Both a very good Vietnam War book, and a very good Vietnam book.

4. Rousas John Rushdoony. The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church.  Uneven in argumentative quality, but brilliant in parts, this is one of the conceptually most interesting books on early Christianity.  It turns out your views on Christology really do shape your politics, and furthermore there is a coherent version of libertarian Calvinism, except it isn’t very libertarian, and it comes from…having the right Christology.  Recommended, it opens up new worlds for the reader.

5. Thomas Mann, Der Zauberberg.  I had never read this in German before.  For all its extraordinary intellectual and emotional peaks, it is also remarkably witty.

What I’ve been reading

1. Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.  One of the few books that have a perfect title.  These are a cross between short stories, ruminations, and essays.  Yiyun Li is from China, yet she refuses to write in Chinese or to have her work published in Chinese.  At times you wonder what is really in here, but her voice and vision stick with you.

2. Yaroslav Trofimov, The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holy Shrine.  Compulsively readable, and also excellent background on both the Gulf region and the Saudi-Iran conflict.

3. William R. Cline, The Right Balance for Banks: Theory and Evidence on Optimal Capital Requirements.  Not for the unconverted, but a good guide for anyone with a prior interest.  Capital requirements should be higher, but it is wrong to think the American economy currently has “too much finance.”

4. Regulating Wall Street: Choice Act vs. Dodd-Frank, published by NYU, with many notable contributors including multiple essays by Lawrence J. White.  Balanced, judicious, the best look so far at pending reforms to banking and finance.

5. Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute: Or Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?  A lot of this book is only so-so, but the Preface — “A Glance into the Archives of Islam” — counts as one of the better works I’ve read this year, even though it comes in at only 27 pp.  It covers Hagar and Sarah, how Muslim and Christian understandings of the Abraham story differ, and the intellectual sources of institutional problems with Islam and political order.  That’s the secret to reading SZ, not to let yourself get distracted by the bad stuff or empty pages.  Amongst those who do not revere him, he remains underrated.

Arrived in my pile is the exhaustive and comprehensive Edward N. Wolff, A Century of Wealth in America.  This is likely to prove an important work for many researchers.

What also appears valuable, but I cannot read right now, is Kevin R. Brine and Mary Poovey, Finance in America: An Unfinished Story.

What I’ve been reading

1. Robert Knapp, The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles.  Jews, Christians, and polytheists, mostly in the first century after the birth of Christ.  Strongly conceptual, rather than a string of hard-to-remember facts and citations.  Here is a useful summary review.

2. Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream.  A well-known Argentinean novel, finally available in English.  A kind of ghost story, imagining wondering if the soul of your dying child really has been transferred to another person.  Short and very powerful.  Here is one very good review.

2. Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers.  Plenty of libertarian thought in here, and many historical tidbits of interest, for instance Julia Caldwell-Frazier, “The Decisions of Time” (1889) p. 486:

What obstacles and failures Prof. Morse encountered when he completed his rough model of the recording electro-magnetic telegraph; but see of what inestimable value his invention has been to mankind! Was not public opinion opposed to the telephone?—styled it “a useless thing.” But within a decade the telephone has become the most patronized means of urban intercommunication. Through all the innumerable obstacles and oppositions, we see, by the decisions of time, science tracing the wild comet in its vast eccentric course through the heavens; we see science bringing down the very lightning from the clouds, making it a remedial agent and a messenger, quick as light, to carry our thoughts.

Here is useful NYT coverage.  There is also:

Michael Vatikiotis, Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia, a useful introduction to why that part of the world has not turned into paradise.

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, is a quality treatment of its topic material.

Jesse Eisinger, The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, is a useful look at why so many cases are leveled against the company rather than the CEO. I found the book worthwhile, but don’t think he offered much of an argument as to why that should be bad.

Bradley M. Gardner, China’s Great Migration: How the Poor Built a Prosperous Nation, is a good introduction to what the title promises.

What I’ve been reading

1. Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, The Myth of Independence: How Congress Governs the Federal Reserve.  I’ve only been reading the title of this one, as it came in the door just before I left for China.  But I like it already, and even if this book were nothing more than its title it still would be better than much of what is written on monetary policy.

2. Frédéric Dard, The Executioner Weeps.  French noir, full of cheap tricks, suspenseful, fun.

3. Robert Bickers, Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination.  A very good book, substantive, readable, and full of information not readily available elsewhere.  Yet the title is misleading, as most of the book, including the best parts, covers the first half of the twentieth century and in particular the Western presence and control in China (not quite domination).  Later on, the author says plenty about the Cultural Revolution, but doesn’t seem to want to actually condemn it.

4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, Oliver Ready translation.  I hadn’t read this one since high school, so thought it was worth another try.  I can’t say I find Raskolnikov to be a convincing criminal, or a convincing character at all.  Maybe this story is better read as man’s struggle for freedom, and his inability to obtain it, due to the social processing of all his actions, rather than as a novel of crime per se.  I liked it, I didn’t love it.  If it were published today, it would not receive rave reviews.

5. Slavoy Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology.  While he is overrated by his trendy partisans, he is underrated by almost everyone else.  Might this be his best book?  Early Žižek is the best Žižek.  We have not escaped from the spectre of the Cartesian self, and what might a truly emancipatory political project have to look like?  2017 is not the worst time to be reading this book.  Here is one probably not very helpful review.  Usually the best five pages in a Žižek book are very very good, but in this case it is thirty or more.

And I very much enjoyed this sentence and the few pages of exposition that followed: “The notion that best illustrates the necessity of a ‘false’ (‘unilateral’, ‘abstract’) choice in the course of a dialectical process is that of ‘stubborn attachment’: this thoroughly ambiguous notion is operative throughout Hegel’s Phenomenology.”

What I’ve been reading

1. Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution: A New History.  Things might have been different, if you believe this book.  German support for Lenin was very important, and the author sticks to the main story lines.  Hard for me to judge, but at the very least it was interesting and also clearly written.

2. Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13.  This novel builds too slowly to fit my reading style in a somewhat busy time of year, but I suspect it would be wonderful read aloud in a monotone, or as an audio book.  A young girl disappears in England, and the story records how the town processes the event, and eventually forgets about it, over the course of 13 years.  Here is one good review, it is a quality work of some originality.

3. Ken Gormley, editor, The Presidents and the Constitution.  An edited volume that is wonderful and deserving of the “best of the year” list.  The book considers how each American president in turn faced constitutional issues, and how those were resolved.  This is an excellent survey of constitutional law, and a very good refresher on American political history.  If you are a non-American, and looking to learn who all those lesser-known American presidents were, and what they did, and why and how so many of them were mediocre or worse, this is also perhaps the best place to start.

4. Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire.  As clear and understandable a treatment of this topic as you are likely to find, Wilson himself writes: “A major reason for the Empire’s relative scholarly neglect is that its history is so difficult to tell.  The Empire lacked the things giving shape to conventional national history: a stable heartland, a capital city, centralized political institutions and, perhaps most fundamentally, a single ‘nation.’  It was also very large and lasted a long time.  A conventional chronological approach would become unfeasibly long, or risk conveying a false sense of linear development and reduce the Empire’s history to a high political narrative.  I would like to stress instead the multiple paths, detours and dead ends of the Empire’s development…”  Relative to those obstacles this is an amazing book.

5. Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby y compañia.  I tried this a few years ago in English, but it clicked for me only in Spanish.  It is a series of short, interconnected philosophical meditations on those who don’t write, have given up writing, or who cannot help but write.  One of the better novels of the new century, though note it does require some basic background knowledge of figures such as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger.

What I’ve been reading

1. Gunther S. Stent, The Coming of the Golden Age: a view of the end of progress.  Starting on p.84 (!), this short 1969 tract becomes a remarkable disquisition on stagnation, through the lens of “Faustian Man,” the decline of romanticism, Ortega y Gasset, Kierkegaard, and the hippie beats of San Francisco.  At some point the social sciences won’t make that much more progress, and Stent portrays the Maori as the non-complacent branch of the Polynesians.

2. Susan Southard, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War.  What is a city like after a nuclear bomb hits?  Beautifully written, both historical and anecdotal, and the ignoble record of the American government in this episode, with respect to cover-ups and poor treatment of survivors, extends well into the recovery period.

3. Jonathan Abrams, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution.  A study of youth vs. experience, you can think of this as an excellent management book in addition to its basketball virtues.

4. Javier Cercas, La verdad de Agamenón, selected essays about literature, Borges, Tijuana, Spanish political culture as expressed through history, and the life of an author.  About half of them are excellent, none of them bad.  Could Cercas be the least-known (in America) great author in the world today?

5. Richard V. Reeves, Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do Abut It.  The top one percent is not the relevant group.

6. Fernando Vallejo, Our Lady of the Assassins.  This short and violent novel is about Colombia during the period of its troubles.  Full of life and vigor, makes the case for complacency.

Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro, Cents and Sensibility: What Economists Can Learn from the Humanities, covers a topic I am greatly interested in; here is a partial review by David Henderson.  Related issues are considered by Mihir A. Desai, The Wisdom of Finance, with Charles Sanders Peirce and Wallace Stevens being two points of focus.

I am happy to have just written a blurb for Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles, The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Become Richer, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality, self-recommending.

What I’ve been reading

1. Harold James, The German Slump: Politics and Economics 1924-1936.  Not economic history in the post-cliometrics sense, but a history of economic issues, very high quality, full of good information on just about every page.

2. William Rosen, Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine.  A good book on exactly what the title promises, my favorite sentence was this: “Before penicillin,  three-quarters of all prescriptions were still compounded by pharmacists using physician-supplied recipes and instructions, with only a quarter ordered directly from a drug catalog.  Twelve years later, nine-tenths of all prescribed medicines were for branded products.”

3. Justin Yifu Lin and Celestin Monga, Beating the Odds: Jump-Starting Developing Countries.  An instructive look at how countries have to start growing before the right institutional framework is in place, and how they can get around that.  Haven’t you wondered how China racked up so many years of stellar growth with such a bad “Doing Business” ranking from the World Bank?  One of the better books on developing economies in the last few years.

4. Joan C. Williams, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.  An intelligent and indeed reasonable basic approach to answering questions about class, including “Why don’t they push their kids harder to succeed?” and “Why don’t the people who benefit most from government help seem to appreciate it?”  I am not the intended audience, but still this was better than I was expecting.

Rick Wartzman, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America, is a densely-written but nonetheless useful history of how America moved from paternalistic big businesses to lower-benefit jobs.

Arnold Kling, The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides.  This short book, revised, improved, and expanded, is so good it is wasted on almost all of you.  Here are various pieces of background information.

What I’ve been reading

1. David Der-Wei Wang, editor.  A New Literary History of Modern China.  Almost one thousand pages, and aren’t edited volumes so often poison?  Still, these short, collated excerpts provide one of the most useful and readable entry points into modern Chinese intellectual history; this will be making my “year’s best” list.  Every year you should be reading multiple books about China, all of you.  Here is a sentence from the work, from Andrea Bachner: “In a brothel in Singapore at the beginning of the twentieth century, a quaint Chinese intellectual (reminiscent of Wang) immersed in the project of writing a new Dream of the Red Chamber in oracle bone script on turtle shells inspires an English visitor to dream of creating a novel superior to Ulysses, tattooed on the backs of coolie laborers.”

2. Richard O. Prum, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — And Us.  The word “forgotten” is misleading in the title, but nonetheless an excellent look at how signaling theories work when the signal is distributed across a quality that is neither useful nor especially burdensome and costly.  In other words, it’s not all about the peacock’s tail.  The result is aesthetic beauty, and competition across that beauty for its own sake.  This book offers an excellent and clearly written treatment of the particulars of avian evolution, signaling theory, and also aesthetics, bringing together some disparate areas very effectively.

3. Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu.  A strong collection, with two stories by Cixin Liu.  Here is a new article on Chinese science fiction.

4. Thomas Hardy, Unexpected Elegies: “Poems of 1912-1913” and Other Poems About Emma.  Some of Hardy’s best poetic work, it mixes “passion, memory, love, remorse, regret, self-awareness and self-flagellation…to serve a speech of intense emotional candor, all in celebration of his dead (and for many years estranged) wife, Emma,” by one account.

There is a new, expanded edition of Amartya Sen’s Collective Choice and Social Welfare, still the best place to go for his views on normative economics.

Robert Wright’s new book is Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.  I am not sure how amenable Buddhism is to bookish treatment, and furthermore the word “true” makes me nervous in this title (“useful”?), but still this book reaches a local maximum of sorts.  If you want a book from a smart Westerner defending Buddhism, this is it.

What I’ve been reading

1. William Vaughan, Samuel Palmer: Shadows on the Wall.  Another first-rate Yale University Press book of art plates and art history, for this they are the best.  Get a hold of as many of them as you can.

2. Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak.  This short Chinese noir novel, with a dash of Murakami, is one of my year’s favorites and also one of this year’s “cool books.”  I finished it in one sitting.  Set in Beijing, the protagonist sells audio equipment, and then strange things happen.  Here is a good interview with the author.

3. David J. Garrow, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  So far I’ve only read bits and pieces of it, but I am surprised it is not receiving more positive attention.  It seems like one of the most thorough and smart and thoughtful biographies of any American president.  It has plenty of detail on Obama’s life and career, and you can learn what Obama’s ex-girlfriend says about how he was in bed at age 22 (“he neither came off as experienced nor inexperienced”, [FU Aristotle!])  Yes, at 1084 pp. of text this is more than I want to know, but what’s not to like?  Here is a good Brent Staples NYT review.  Garrow cribs his main narrative — the artificial construction of his blackness — from Rev. Wright and Steve Sailer, and doesn’t exactly credit them, although that (the former, not the latter) may explain why the mainstream reception has been so tepid.

4. Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.  The title says it all.  I disagreed with almost everything in this book, still it is useful to see where the Zeitgeist is headed.

5. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, assorted authors and editors and photographers.  One of the best and most readable introductions to Incan civilization.  I’ll say it again: you all should be reading more picture books!  They are one of the best ways to actually learn.

Two useful books for presenting meta-information on learning things are:

Ulrich Boser, Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything, and

Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong.

And Thomas W. Hazlett, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone, is a very learned, market-oriented look at what the title promises.

What I’ve been reading

1. Michael J. Klarman, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution.  Excellent author, the chapters on the time period before the Constitution are good enough to make the “best books of the year list,” the rest is a much above-average summary and distillation, but of more familiar material.  At 880 pp. of clear, limpid, and instructive prose, it is a winner in any case.

2. W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland.  More of a mutual travelogue, with alternating contributions, than a series of letters, one learns that even in 1936: “There is little stigma attached to illegitimacy.  Bastards are brought up on an equal footing with legitimate children of the family.”  Furthermore, “All chocolate or sweets should be bought in London.”  During the trip they run into Goering, yes the Goering.

3. Richard A. Posner, The Federal Judiciary: Strengths and Weaknesses.  This is a grumpy book, but I don’t mean that in a grumpy kind of way, as I like many grumpy books: “The dominant theme of this book has been judicial standpattism — more precisely, the stubborn refusal of the judiciary to adapt to modernity.”  By the end, Posner gives the federal judiciary a grade between B and B+, I was surprised it was so high.

4. Duff McDonald, The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite. “In the early 1920s, HBS was still without its own buildings at Harvard, faculty were crammed together in cramped offices, and classrooms were scattered around Harvard Yard.”  This is a remarkably clear and engaging survey of its subject matter, the main drawback being it never explains the rise of HBS in terms of…management, as HBS itself might do so.  There is thus an odd cipher at the book’s core, plus from the discussion of Michael Jensen onward, the book descends increasingly into ad hominem attacks and unfair moralizing.  This volume is an odd mix, but still worth reading for its contributions.

Stephen Ellis, This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime, is one of the better books on that country: “…there are even private colleges in Lagos offering courses in credit card fraud and advance-fee fraud.”

Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, is a series of essays on society and theology from one of the Mormon “grandmasters.”

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, collects many essays on the Piketty book and also on the topic more generally.

Shahab Ahmed, Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses of Early Islam, “…the early Muslim community believed almost universally that the Satanic verses incident was a true historical fact.”  Ahmed, a brilliant scholar at Harvard, passed away in 2015, here is a short appreciation.  If they wrote books for me, someone would be working on “Islam and Strauss” right now.

What I’ve been reading

1. Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy.  LitHub wrote: “Even in the wake of Knausgaard and Ferrante it is hard to find a literary phenomenon that has swept Europe quite like the autobiographical project of Édouard Louis.”  I don’t know that I enjoyed this book very much, but it was an effective fictional experience.  Most of all it scared me that such a tale of poverty and abuse could be so popular in Europe these days.  Recommended, but in a sobering way; I would rather this had been a bestseller in 1937.

2. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs.  A novel about the consequences of a Delhi terrorist bombing that is both deep and compelling to read, full of surprises as well.  Here is a useful NYT review.

3. Edward T. O’Donnell, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age.  This focuses more on George’s connection to social and labor movements, and less on George as an economist or land theorist, than I would have liked.  Still, it is an information-rich narrative that most of all brings the times and movements surrounding George to life.

4. Andrew Marr, We British: The Poetry of a People.  A good introduction to its topic, most of all for the mid-twentieth century, with plenty of poems reproduced.  Here is a Louis MacNeice poem, Snow:

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.


World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various


And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes —

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands —

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

What I’ve been reading

1. Mark Zupan, Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest.  This is now the very best book on how special interest groups subvert the quality of public policy.

2. Historically Inevitable: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution, edited by Tony Brenton, contributors include Dominic Lieven, Orlando Figes, and Richard Pipes.  I, for one, often find it easier to learn history through counterfactual reasoning.  “What if they hadn’t put Lenin into that train?, and so on, and so this is my favorite from the recent spate of books on 1917 in Russia.

More generally, there are people who very much like counterfactual reasoning (say Derek Parfit), and people who don’t care for it much (say Jim Buchanan).  The two types often don’t communicate well.  The counterfactual deployer seems like a kind of smart aleck, caught up in irrelevancies and neglecting “the real issues.”  In turn, the non-poser of counterfactuals seems stodgy and unable to understand the limitations of principles, how one might handle the tough cases, and what might cause one to change one’s mind.  Being able to bridge this gap, and learn from both kinds of thinkers, is both difficult and yields high returns.

3. Mary Gaitskill, Somebody with a Little Hammer, Essays.  Short pieces, never too long, strong throughout, mostly on literature (Nicholson Baker, Peter Pan, Norman Mailer, Bleak House) with some essays on movies too.  This will make my best of the year list, and she remains an underrated author more generally.

4. Jace Clayton, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.  An original and consistently interesting extended essay on how “World Music” is evolving in digital times.  A must-read for me, at least.

5. Johan Chistensen, The Power of Economists Within the State.  I haven’t read this one, but it appears to be a very interesting look at the role of economists within government, for the case studies of New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and other cases (in less detail).  “Economists in government” remains an underappreciated topic, so I expect this book is a real contribution.

6. Julie Schumacher, Doodling for Academics: A Coloring and Activity Book.  It’s funny, for instance one panel has the heading “Find and color the many readers who will enjoy your dissertation.”  The images include a rat and a snake in the grass, but there aren’t even so many of those.

What I’ve been reading

1. Philippe Desan, Montaigne: A Life.  Knotty, complex, and almost 800 pp., the bottom line nonetheless is that I will not liberate this book but rather keep it forever.  I’ve read only about 200 pp. so far, but it is one of the best guides to understanding its main topic, most of all when it comes to integrating how his written texts sprang from his actual life.

2. Dieter Helm, Burn Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels.  That’s not the right title, because most of this book covers the game rather than the endgame.  This is a careful and conceptual look at how different sectors of energy production are likely to evolve, taking good care to distinguish different parts of the world and stationary vs. mobile energy sources.

3. John F. Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.  A very good and readable book on a much misunderstood topic.  Upon a close read of the data, it turns out the War on Drugs and private prisons are overemphasized as causes of overincarceration, whereas much of the actual blame should be placed on altered incentives for prosecutors.  Note that Pfaff also has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago in addition to his JD.

4. Kevin N. Laland, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.  If you read and profited from Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Success, this book is the next step.  Here are remarks by Robin Hanson on the book.

5. Edna O’Brien, August is a Wicked Month.  Irish fiction, 1967, old and old-fashioned enough that the sex in the story still sizzles, as does the comeuppance.  I will read more of her.

Nadia Hillard’s The Accountability State: US Federal Inspectors General and the Pursuit of Democratic Integrity, is a thorough and useful account of what the title promises.

What I’ve been reading

1. Erica Benner, Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom.  A useful and readable introduction to the practical issues of Florentine politics and how they influenced the life and writings of Machiavelli.

2. Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America.  Volume one of the Penguin History of the United States, this book is especially good at tying in “settlement issues” to later “governance issues.”  It is compulsively readable and has an excellent annotated bibliography.  Circa 1770, exports were about 10% of American gdp (p.311); today exports are a bit over 12% of gdp.

3. Holger Hoock, Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth.  This is a look at the significance of violence in American history, focusing on the Revolution itself, and it is a good way to remind foreigners how screwed up (and dynamic) we are.

4. Arguments for Liberty, edited by Aaron Ross Powell and Grant Babcock.  I do not think the arguments in this book succeed as arguments for liberty, with the exception of some of the utilitarian arguments, noting that I am only a “2/3s utilitarian.”  Still, you get Eric Mack, Jason Kuznicki, Kevin Vallier, Neera Badhwar, Michael Huemer, and Jason Brennan, and so this is the rare edited volume that lives up to what you ideally might want it to be.

5. Jok Madut Jok, Breaking Sudan: The Search for Peace.  I’ve read a few books on South Sudan lately, to try to figure out, if only in broad terms, what is going on there.  This is the one that actually does a good job explaining things!  Above all else, I now have some sense of just how historically deeply rooted the current conflict is.  Recommended.

Jonathan Schwabish, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, is specific in all the right ways, most of all when it comes to Powerpoint slides.

My colleague Philip E. Auerswald has just published the very useful The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History.