Results for “What I've Been Reading” 384 found
1. Ian McEwan. The Children Act. The main story line pretends to revolve around a Jehovah’s Witness who won’t take a blood transfusion, but I think it was meant as a book about Islam and he was afraid to say so. The resulting mix doesn’t quite work.
2. Arundhati Roy and John Cusack, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden are part of the book too. The two main authors conversing with Snowden is in fact the strongest argument against Snowden I’ve seen. Maybe he is just being polite, but it’s the only time I’ve heard him sound like an idiot.
3. Helen Hardacre, Shinto: A History. I’ve read only about a fifth of this 720 pp. book, but it seems to be a highly useful history on a topic hardly anyone knows anything about.
4. Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. Compelling throughout, and worthwhile reading for anyone interested in media and media policy. Ellsberg, of course, was closely connected to Thomas Schelling and made significant contributions to the theory of choice under uncertainty.
There is also:
After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, is a very useful collection of writings on Piketty-related themes, including Solow and Krugman.
Nathan B. Oman, The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Foundations of Contract Law. An interesting blend of “moral foundations of capitalism” and analysis of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
Shahab Ahmed, Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam, “…the early Muslim community believed almost universally that the Satanic verses incident was a true historical fact.”
1. Jean-Yves Camus and Nicholas Lebourg, Far-Right Politics in Europe. A very good and extremely current introduction to exactly what the title promises, with plenty on earlier historical roots.
2. Noo Saro-Wiwa, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. More or less a travelogue, but also one of the best introductions for thinking about Nigeria, and it does stress the different regions of the country. Both informative and entertaining.
3. The Maisky Diaries: The Wartime Revelations of Stalin’s Ambassador in London, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. Paul Kennedy called it the greatest political diary of the twentieth century. One of the best windows on the coming and arrival of the Second World War, and I don’t usually like reading the diary form. It’s also a very good look into how such an impressive person could be Stalin’s ambassador. By the way, why is the hardcover about a quarter of the price of the paperback?
4. Peter Leary, Unapproved Routes, Histories of the Irish Border, 1922-1972. Soon there may be one again, so I decided to read up on the background, a tale of Derry being severed from Donegal. This informative, easily grasped book also has a chapter on the fisheries border, a sign of the imaginativeness of the author.
5. Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. Ellis is consistently excellent as an author, and this book is best on tying the intellectual evolution of the Founding Fathers to the troubles of the Articles of Confederation period.
There is also a new Deirdre McCloksey festschrift, Humanism Challenges Materialism in Economics and Economic History, edited by Roderick Floyd, Santhi Hejeebu, and David Mitch. It appears to be a very fine tribute.
Stephen D. King has a new book coming out on the reversal of globalization, namely Grave New World: The End of Globalisation, The Return of History.
1. Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War. A vivid and entertaining look at a major European fascist who remains neglected by Americans (I don’t even think this book has a U.S. edition). I was surprised how readable this book was, given its length and subject matter. The words “rollicking” and “psychopath” come to mind. He was nonetheless one of the most influential European writers of his time.
2. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-1945. One of the classics, readable and comprehensive and one of the best places to start. One thing I learned from this pile of books is how hard some of those leaders worked to have the mid-level bureaucracy on their side. The centralization often occurred at higher levels, for instance Mussolini had 72 cabinet meetings in 1933, but only 4 in 1936. The Italian Fascist party, by the way, was disproportionately Jewish, at least pre-1938.
3. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism. Along with Payne, one of the core books to read, stronger on analysis while Payne has more historical detail. He is especially clear on how the fascists built up and refined their political coalitions over time, and the conflicting roles of party and nation in the history of fascism.
4. R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Dictatorship. I’ve only read parts of this one, but it seems to be the best detailed historical account of a non-Nazi fascist regime. If you wish to know, for instance, how and why the Italian fascists reformed Italian public holidays, this is your go-to source.
5. Alexander de Grand, Italian Fascism: Its Origin and Development. Highly focused and to the point, also has an A+ quality annotated bibliography. It considers regions of Italy, demographic issues, looks at the arts, and for such a short book gives the reader a remarkably broad and multi-faceted perspective. Overall this book emphasizes how deeply rooted fascism was in so many other Italian institutions and ways of life.
6. I’ve also been reading plenty of Benedetto Croce, including his history of Naples and History, its Theory and Practice. He is oddly boring and non-concrete, but was a consistent opponent of the Italian fascist regime, except for the first two years of Mussolini’s rule (he later claimed that was for tactical reasons). In any case, the reader learns that the opposing side doesn’t always have a good ability to articulate why bad events are happening. I can recommend Fabio Fernando Rizi’s very good history and survey, Benedetto Croce and Italian Fascism.
7. Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. This beautiful short novel (also a movie) is especially good on anti-Semitism in Italy, how youth process political collapse in their countries, and how events can outrace your expectations and leave you in a haze.
Some books on Italian futurism are coming in the mail.
Overall I did not conclude that we Americans are careening toward fascist outcomes. I do not think that notion is well-suited to the great complexity of contemporary bureaucracy, nor to our more feminized and also older societies. Furthermore, in America democracy has taken much deeper roots and the system of checks and balances, whatever its flaws, has stood for a few hundred years, contra either Italy or Germany in their fascist phases.
Still, I did not find this reading reassuring, as people will support many bad things in politics. The Italian war in Ethiopian was remarkably popular, but exactly why? We Americans could (again) do something quite bad, but without being fascists.
Less directly on fascism, but by no means irrelevant to the topic, I can recommend two new books:
Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: A Biography. Long, thorough, but readable treatment, focusing on more on his poetry than the political writings.
And I have been enjoying my ongoing browse of Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life.
1. Ousmane Oumar Kane, Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa. This excellent book clarified many aspects of West African and also Nigerian history for me, most of all how it connects to the earlier North African civilizations.
2. Sheelah Kolhatkar, Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street. I cannot vouch for the contents and allegations, which focus on Steven A. Cohen and his hedge fund career, but this is a highly engaging and better researched than usual look at the legal case against him.
3. Mark R. Patterson, Google, Yelp, LIBOR, and the Control of Information. Data fraud, data fraud, data fraud, welcome to 2016 yes you should be reading more books on this topic.
4. Kevin Vallier, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation, “…public reason liberalism, properly understood, realizes foundational liberal values while according religion a prominent and powerful role in public life. I claim that, in theory and practice, public reason liberalism is far friendlier to religion in public life than both its proponents and opponents believe.” There is a Straussian reading of this book too.
5. Aurelian Craiutu, Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes. A much-needed perspective these days, from a very thoughtful scholar.
6. Gary Taubes, The Case Against Sugar. My intuitions agree with this argument, plus jelly donuts don’t taste that good anyway.
1. Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix, Beyond Earth; Our Path to a New Home in the Planets. The core claim is that humans can (will?) colonize Titan, the moon of Saturn. But what are we to make of sentences such as: “The temperature is around -180 Celsius (-290 Fahrenheit), but clothing with thick insulation or heating elements would keep you comfortable. A rip wouldn’t kill you as long as you didn’t freeze.” Pregnancy would be tricky too.
2. Ian Thomson, Primo Levi. One of my favorite literary biographies, ever. This is also a first-rate look at the history of the Holocaust, and the postwar Italian literary world. Definitely recommended.
3. Philippe Girard, Toussaint Louverture. One of the best and most readable treatments of the Haitian revolution, with a focus on Louverture of course. Here is one good bit:
When it came time to pick between two extremes — slavery and unfettered freedom — Louverture stopped well short of the latter. By order of General Louverture, all former field slaves, even those who had settled in urban areas during the Revolution, would return to their original plantations, sometimes under their former masters. Those who refused would be “arrested and punished as severely as soldiers,” which implied that plantation runaways could be shot as deserters. He thereby merged the two worlds he knew best — the sugar plantation and the army camp — into a kind of military-agricultural complex.
According to many critics at the time, rebel leaders were in essence confiscating the slave plantations of their former white masters. Furthermore, the importation of laborers from Africa was to continue.
4. Lewis Glinert, The Story of Hebrew, delivers exactly what it promises: “For many young Israelis, Arial is virtually the only font they read.”
Also in various stages of undress are:
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, foreword by Bernie Sanders.
Niall Kishtainy, A Little History of Economics, a modern-day Heilbroner.
Johan Norberg, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, a Julian Simon-esque take on the case for optimism.
1. Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds. A super-fun but oddly uneven biography of Kahneman and Tversky, a meditation on the nature of collaboration, and a history of the early stages of behavioral economics (economics?) and for that matter a history of Israel in some of its early decades. There are cameos from Rapaport, Thaler, Gigerenzer, and others. Why did the Israelis take so readily to the idea of an economic psychology, compared to the Anglos?
2. Michel Faber, Undying: A Love Story. The pages are arranged like poems with stanzas, but it reads more like prose. It is the moving story of the death of Faber’s wife by cancer, very short and interesting throughout. So far published only in the UK.
3. Robert R. Reilly, Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music. A highly useful and to the point guide to classical music for the periods you probably do not listen to. It is strongest on the “intermediate” composers, such as Vagn Holmboe, Robert Simpson, and Edmund Rubbra. It makes a persuasive case for the 17 string quartets of Heitor Villa-Lobos, we’ll see if that was $40 well-spent.
4. Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund, Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game. This book is a series of letters, mostly about soccer. They are more substantive than you might be expecting, but still you have to love both Knausgaard and soccer to enjoy this one, on those I am only one for two.
5. Richard Florida, The New Urban Crisis. Staying ahead of the Curve. This is about how cities are failing the middle class throughout much of the world. At the same time, suburbs are seeing a new poverty and urbanization is not always translating into rising living standards around the world. This book is where the problems of urban economics “are at” right now.
1. Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives, by Sunil Khilnani. A highly readable introduction to Indian history, structured around the lives of some of its major figures. I passed along my copy to Alex.
2. Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa. More for classical music and Ojawa fans than Murakami readers, this is nonetheless an easy to read and stimulating set of interviews for any serious classical music listener. They are most interesting on Mahler.
3. Elsa Morante, History. In America, this is one of the least frequently read and discussed great European novels of the 20th century.
4. Miriam J. Laugesen, Fixing Medical Prices: How Physicians are Paid. Will people still care about these issues for the next four years? I hope so, because this is the best book I know of on Medicare pricing and its influence on pricing throughout the broader U.S. health care system.
My copy of Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy has arrived. It is a very good statement of how political fragmentation and intensified intellectual competition drove modernity and the Industrial Revolution.
I have only perused John H. Kagel and Alvin E. Roth, Handbook of Experimental Economics, volume 2, but it appears to be an extremely impressive contribution.
Marc Levinson’s An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy details what made the post World War II era so special in terms of its economics and income distribution and why it will be so hard to recreate.
Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation, due out in March, he argues that racial equality really hasn’t improved much since 1968.
Guillermo A. Calvo, Macroeconomics in Times of Liquidity Crises is a useful book on sudden stops and related ideas.
Arrived in my pile is Yuval Noah Harati, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.
1. Ronald C. White, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant is still underrated, this book is highly readable and to the point and not to fusty. Someone should get Paul Krugman (a Grant fan) to review this book.
2. Jeffrey Edward Green, The Shadow of Unfairness: A Plebeian Theory of Liberal Democracy. “There will always be some plutocracy, don’t get bent out of shape too badly” is my brief summary of this one. This book could be more readable, but it is highly intelligent.
3. Esther Schor, Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language. I hadn’t known that almost all Esperanto words are accented on the penultimate syllable (bad for poetry), the system of correlatives and “table words” can be quite difficult (“It also has nine groups of word endings, not only for place but also for time, quantity, manner, possession, entity, etc.”), and how much the entire movement was influenced by the intellectual climate of late 19th century Russian Jewish thought. Recommended.
4. Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia. A revealing look into the mind of the author, but this one works only if you know and love her novels already. Ferrante’s “children’s” story The Beach at Night is worthwhile, very dark, you can read it in a small number of minutes. Here is a good NYT review.
5. Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone [Dream of the Red Chamber], Penguin edition, vol.I. I am not confident of my ability to follow along all of the longer plot lines, but it is more absorbing and readable than I had recalled from a much earlier attempt to read it. And overall it does make upper middle class life in 18th century China seem more civilized than its counterpart in Europe.
1. Peter Ames Carlin, Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon. I hadn’t known that Simon originally recorded the Hearts and Bones album with Garfunkel, but later erased his partner’s contributions to the songs. Nor had I known that Simon produced a stripped-down, acoustic guitar version of “Surfer Girl.” For fans, the book is interesting throughout, and most of all the story is of an ongoing rivalry — with Art — that never became functional again once it collapsed.
2. Antonio Di Benedetto, Zama. A 1950s Argentinean novel set in colonial times, and beloved by Roberto Bolaño; the introduction describes the author as “a would-be magical realist who can’t quite detach himself from reality.” For fans of the disjointed tragic. I very much liked it, but had to read the first half twice in a row to grab hold of what was going on.
3. Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Six Encounters with Lincoln: A President Confronts Democracy and its Demons. Fresh and stimulating throughout, I found most interesting the parts of how the Commander in Chief role of the president evolved under Lincoln, and Lincoln as the first “media president.” Highly relevant for current politics too.
Forthcoming is Joe Quirk, with Patri Friedman, Seasteading: How Ocean Cities Will Change the World. Comprehensive and readable, though I am not a convert.
William Mellor and Dick M. Carpenter II, Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit, is a very useful look at how laws and regulation block progress and create barriers to advancement.
I have only browsed Milan Vaishnav, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, but it appears to be a quite interesting political economy take on the (non-optimal) transactional economies from having criminals so deeply involved in Indian politics.
Minxin Pei, China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay, takes a close look at Chinese corruption, based on a detailed study of two hundred cases.
1. Stephen M. Bainbridge and M. Todd Henderson. Limited Liability: A Legal and Economic Analysis. One of this year’s sleeper books, it is probably the best extant treatment of corporate limited liability and one of the best books on the corporation from a law and economics point of view. I do not understand how it ended up at $133 from Edward Elgar.
2. William F. Buckley, edited by James Rosen, A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century. Obituaries penned by WFB, fascinating throughout. One forgets what a lucid writer he was, and some of the more unsettling entries (MLK, John Lennon) are some of the most interesting.
3. Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation, by Robert D. Crews. The history of globalization in Afghanistan and of Afghanistan, highly intelligent and good material on just about every page. A model for how to take a now somewhat cliched topic and make something original out of it.
4. Morton H. Christiansen and Nick Chater, Creating Language: Integrating Evolution, Acquisition, and Processing. Have you ever wondered what is the actual professional status of Chomskyian linguistics and other claims you read in popular science books? This is the go-to work to address that question, it is written at the right level of serious rigor yet readability for a non-linguist such as myself.
Frank Ahrens, Seoul Man: A Memoir of Cars, Culture, Crisis, and Unexpected Hilarity Inside a Korean Corporate Titan. A fun take on exactly what the subtitle promises.
I can apply that same description to Joseph Turow, The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power.
Rabbi Mark Glickman, Stolen Words: The Nazi Plunder of Jewish Books. I found this moving and extremely well-presented.
1. Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Short descriptions of places you ought to visit, such as ossuaries, micronations, museums of invisible microbes, the floating school of Lagos, the Mistake House of Elsah, Illinois, Bangkok’s Museum of Counterfeit Goods, and the world’s largest Tesla coil in Makarau, controlled by Alan Gibbs of New Zealand. The selection is conceptual, so I like it. I will keep this book.
2. James T. Hamilton, Democracy’s Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism. A highly original look at exactly what the subtitle promises, I thank Jay for keeping Cowen’s Second Law valid. Has this topic ever been more important than this year?
3. Andre Schlueter, Institutions and Small Settler Economies: A Comparative Study of New Zealand and Uruguay, 1870-2008. There should be more such books! New Zealand and Uruguay had roughly comparable per capita incomes in 1920, yet New Zealand pulled away and never gave back much of that lead. One factor, according to the author, was that the Kiwis had about 40% public ownership of farm land in 1930, resulting in a greater distribution of gains from agriculture and eventually a more egalitarian polity. Uruguay, in contrast, had engaged in some badly-run land privatizations and ended up with excess concentration. New Zealand also took the lead on frozen meat shipments, and New Zealand had a much more rapid recovery from the Great Depression, among other factors, and in Uruguay the enforceability of contract rights slipped away considerably in the 1940s and 1950s. In sum, Uruguay ended up with more rent-seeking policies that redistributed resources toward elites. I can’t believe this one wasn’t a bestseller.
4. John Richard Boren, For Intellectual Property: The Property Ideas of Andrew J. Galambos. As far as I can tell from this intriguing but maddeningly vague book, and based on what I have heard, Galambos was a 1960s-70s libertarian astrophysicist who believed in intellectual property rights for all ideas, indeed in ideas and not just for the expression of ideas as under current law. The rumor, possibly apocryphal, was that those who knew his true doctrines were forbidden to explain them to others without first making the requisite payments. I saw this in the bibliography in the back of the book:
Sic Itur Ad Astra, Volume One by Andrew J. Galambos. This is the transcript of his 1968 delivery of Courses V-50 and V-50X. The book discloses the basics of the Science of Volition but has been removed from sale by Galambos’ trustees. Used copies are sometimes available. Some of Galambos’ recorded lectures…can be heard online at the FEI website, www.fei-ajg.com, where the trustees have imposed significant restrictions on access. Only one Galambos course, V-76…is available for purchase on CD without restrictions.
In fact I know more than I am letting on.
5. James Joyce, Ulysses, always worth a reread, in bits and pieces. Don’t start on p.1. That way, you won’t be discouraged by not knowing what is going on. That is serious advice.
I have browsed the useful-seeming Johan A. Lybeck, The Future of Financial Regulation: Who Should Pay for the Failure of American and European Banks? Most books with titles like that are bad and boring, this seems to be a very useful collection of facts about previous bailouts.
1. Robert Kanigel, Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. Lots of information about Jane Jacobs, so it has to be a good book and indeed it is. I found Becoming Jane Jacobs more engaging to read, but this one covered the latter part of her life in great detail, unlike the previous bio.
2. Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond. This is not a plot-based novel, rather it is Irish and poetic and much of it I read a second time. Most of you would find it frustrating.
3. Alain Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy. I would not describe this as stirring narrative, but that is more the nature of the material than any fault of the author. It is by far the most comprehensive treatment of what we know about the ancient Greek economy. Here is Mark Koyama on theorizing about ancient economies. NB: I have only browsed this book.
4. John Stubbs, Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel. A good detailed biography, focusing more on Swift’s times, Ireland, and religious and political disputes, rather than Swift as writer per se. A very useful supplement to the other major Swift biographies.
5. Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War. The best, clearest, and most instructive military history of the Civil War I have ever read; the pre-history summary of war origins is good too. Someday I should write a full post on all the reasons why I find so many Civil War military history books unreadable, in the meantime this one hit a home run. By the way, the two authors live in Fairfax, VA.
Also noteworthy is Leigh Eric Schmidt, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation.
Richard English, Does Terrorism Work? is a good, balanced historical look at what terrorists have and have not achieved. The best chapter was on Ireland, and the book is mainly non-Muslim examples.
Arrived in my pile, and looking very interesting, are:
Roger E.A. Farmer, Prosperity For All: How to Prevent Financial Crises.
Adrian Goldsworthy, Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World.
1. Europe Since 1989: A History, by Philipp Ther. And yet it is all told through the vantage point of central and eastern Europe. Recommended, not just the usual and interesting to see “the West” treated as the periphery. Makes you wonder if eastern Europe ever had a chance.
2. Jeffrey Edward Green, The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship. “The ocular model, by contrast, is grounded on the People’s eyes and its capacity for vision, rather than on the People’s voice and its capacity for speech.” Think of it as Exit, View, and Loyalty, for the contemporary age.
3. Naomi Duguid, Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan. Not only an excellent cookbook, but a good regional study in its own right.
4. Paul Bloom, Against Empathy. “Singer goes further and argues that individuals like Kravinsky [an organ donor], motivated by their cold logic and reasoning, actually do more to help people than those who are gripped by empathic feelings…”
5. Christine Woodside, Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books. Fun and interesting, this gives you the real story behind those women and their connection to libertarianism. Here is a short essay by the author excerpted from the book. I cannot, however, say this book drove me to wish to read the original sources.
The new Coetzee and McEwan novels are OK but they don’t thrill me. There is also George J. Borjas, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative, coming out soon.
1. Against Everything, Essays, by Mark Greif. The worst of these are still well-written and interesting, and the best are among the best essays being written today. There are many good sentences: “Were “In the Penal Colony” to be written today, Kafka could only be speaking of an exercise machine.”
2. The Blind Photographer, edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding. Here is an article on Pedro Martinez, one such photographer from Oaxaca. An excellent book, thought-provoking about both the nature of disability and photography, and also the mind’s eye. Here is a good National Geographic article on the volume.
3. Harvey Cox, The Market as God. Harvard theologian argues that economists have started to argue as theologians do. The closing sentence is “When The Market does not have to be God anymore, it might be a lot happier.”
4. William Domnarski, Richard Posner. This biography focuses on Posner the infovore, and is itself a big pile of information. We should not forget Posner’s role in founding the Journal of Legal Studies and Lexecon when awarding him a much-deserved Nobel Prize. Every page of this book has information, recommended, even if (because?) it is a bit of a splat. Here is one cited account of Judge Posner: “One of my favorite lines is when he would characterize a lawyer’s answer as “mere words” when in fact he wanted a “real reason.”
Do not miss Posner’s descriptions of various (unnamed) colleagues on pp.193-195, for instance: “…certainly ambitious, but that cannot be rated a fault. He has a vaguely cold and supercilious exterior; of the inner man I cannot speak because I do not know. But I do have trouble seeing him actually marrying an outdoors girl [as was the rumor], as he is very definitely the hot-house intellectual plant.” Another, from the philosophy department at Chicago, was “a timid, small-bore type.” Also stunning are pp.249-250, when Posner discusses his own naivete when witnessing the behavior of others, most of all his colleagues in academia. pp.251-256, which close the book, are just sublime.
I don’t think I will have time to get to Lynne B. Sagalyn’s Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan, but it looks very good.
I read only a fragment of Chris Wickham’s Medieval Europe, but found it well-written, to the point, and illuminating for both the specialist and general reader.
1. Alex Cuadros, Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. One of the best looks at contemporary Brazil, and it’s not just about the country’s billionaires.
2. Philip Ball, The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China. I am glad to see the Grand Canal finally get its due. “An epic portrait of China’s water management history,” says one blurb. I found half of this book fascinating and the other half not terrible.
3. Edward B. Foley, Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States. A serious yet also readable look at rigged and semi-rigged elections in the United States, including in the recent past.
4. Nathan Hill, The Nix. This is the trendy novel right now, and usually I don’t like those, but after one hundred or so pages I am still enjoying it. It is both smart and genuinely funny, and doesn’t (yet?) grate on my nerves. And what is “the Nix”? Amazon says: “In Nathan Hill’s remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.” I say it’s the best mother-son story to come along in a long time.
5. Marc Raboy, Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World. A very good, very detailed, 863 pp. but still conceptual and history-of-science rich biography. Compared to Marconi’s earlier fame, you actually don’t hear so much about him any more.