Big ideas, breadth of sources (including--surprisingly for a book on economics--Austen and Balzac), longitudinal analysis, wonderfully limpid style: tBig ideas, breadth of sources (including--surprisingly for a book on economics--Austen and Balzac), longitudinal analysis, wonderfully limpid style: the best work of economics I've ever encountered.
As interesting as the central thesis was, the best aspects of Piketty's thought have to do with his real-world understanding of economics as "political economy" rather than "economic science;" and his insistence that we cannot measure/understand what we do not know, viz, the loci and movements of wealth intentionally hidden from view. He has done the best he can with the information available, but in case after case it is apparent that we cannot know the full story until financial information is transparent enough to be subjected to the kind of data-driven objectivity that economic scientists profess to require....more
Rating books: as I believe I've said somewhere, I don't like ratings because I'm not capable of a system. Books that I think are badly written I willRating books: as I believe I've said somewhere, I don't like ratings because I'm not capable of a system. Books that I think are badly written I will rate low; books that I disagree with I will rate low; books that I enjoy I tend to rate mid-to-high, but never the highest, which is only reserved for the books that I think I will remember the best. But that rationale is exploded by the very worst books--the Ayn Rands and the Gone with the Winds--whose very badness carries them full circle into the "most memorable" category.
In any case, I have given this book the highest rating because it's a memoir with a gusting downwind style that avoids the shoals of the first person narrative, it is packed with memorable fellow travelers, and its narrative arc is a fugue state that is as blind as it is redemptive. For a while I think some memoirists have all the luck in the characters they have been dealt, but then I think that it takes more than a camera obscura to be Vermeer. In this case it's not even only the additional gift of felicitous writing--there's also the spirit of someone whose physical debilities cause him to categorize pain in colors but who refuses to be slowed by the fact that he is a wreck.
As a boy in the house of a relative there is an oar-ship model that people say is Viking, but young Richards notices the little man tied to the mast. There is much about the sea, a Southern sea with stink and tawdriness and miracles, but also a sea that carries Richards through his own educative odyssey of sirens, oddities, and god-tossed fortunes--one of the least affecting but nonetheless fun of which is him on assignment in Europe, with Esquire magazine picking up the tab, trying to track down and interview a touring Tom Waits, and giving up in favor of taking a series of first trains out of the station to wherever they happen to be going and eventually winding up as the only guest in a back-country Corsican inn that surely housed Odysseus.
Ultimately it is all uplifting--a word that I hate to use because it is an adjective of cheap witness and skin-deep evangelizing. But Richards forces my hand because this book is all the opposite of those things....more
Last summer I read the Qu'ran for the first time. While reading, I kept having this thought: "Muhammad was asserting radical, universal monotheism asLast summer I read the Qu'ran for the first time. While reading, I kept having this thought: "Muhammad was asserting radical, universal monotheism as the basic component of religion. He was, essentially, a Unitarian."
Then, just a few days ago, while reading this book by the imam of the famous "Ground Zero mosque"--and already enjoying it and cheering on the author for his championship of religious toleration--I read this (p. 142): "I often ask Christians to consider Muslims as Unitarians with an Arabic liturgy." Ka-ching! Ring up five stars for this book! But Rauf's next sentence is in some ways even better--and more revealing of the spirit of the book: "To which I get a roar of laughter."
Of course, Christians in the US are doing much worse than laughing at a common-sense understanding of Islam. I live in the state that is perhaps the poster child of American Islamophobia: Tennessee, where yahoos in Murfreesboro tried to prevent the enlarging of a mosque and where my own state senator denigrates Islam as a "cult."
Karen Anderson, one of the best writers on religion going imho, says on the back of the book that "everybody should read this book," which is usually what I think about a book like this one. In this case, however, I'll scale back the recommendation and just say that "everybody who lives in Tennessee should read this book," or, enlarging the circle somewhat, "every American Christian and Jew should read this book."
The strengths of the book are its emphasis on the importance of Islamic jurisprudence, with its multiplicity of viewpoints, which explodes whatever notion one might have of Islam as an ideological monolith; its explanation of Shariah, a bugaboo for many Americans, so as to show that it is entirely consistent with and even supportive of a modern, multi-faith society; its championship of the progressive role of American Muslim women in advancing the rights of women in more "traditional" Islamic states; and its hopefulness for an equitable solution in Palestine, which would be practicable if we could understand its problems to have more to do with nation-building than with intractable religious differences.
Rauf makes only sparing use of the "Ground Zero mosque" controversy, and it is mostly entirely positive. Despite what must have been great difficulties in an emotional climate, he focuses on the outpouring of support he received from non-Muslims.
This book should help make American Islam mainstream. Heck, according to Rauf, Thanksgiving--that most American of holidays--is perfect for Muslims, even if their pumpkin pie "might be a little spicier." Who knows, it might not be long before Islamic families will join in singing "Deck the halal."
When I carry a book's ideas around in my head and, day after day, look at my surroundings through the eyes of those ideas, that's when I have to thinkWhen I carry a book's ideas around in my head and, day after day, look at my surroundings through the eyes of those ideas, that's when I have to think that a book has had an impact on me. Such is the case with this book. I didn't zip through it, enthralled, but I engaged it every day--mostly in nibbles during my lunch hour--and it would form the touchstone of my thoughts on my commuting drive home.
Ah, the commuting drive. Ah, the home: the suburban home, the man's-home-is-his-castle cul de sac home that America--and much of the developed world--has designed itself into in the name of freedom and happiness.
But what if it's not working? What if the logical conclusion of all this designed so-called happiness is Atlanta? I've lived there, and I have family living there. To me it's the place where automotive suburban isolation has attained the scale and perfection of a nightmare.
In Charles Montgomery's telling, it's clear how we got here: the crowning of the automobile as the ideal application of individualism to transportation (at the expense of collective modes of getting around and of slower ones, too, requiring physical effort), and, following this, the large-scale transformations (think interstates and residential zoning laws) that proceeded apace.
But to describe the book in this way does it a great discredit, because it is much more than a critique of automotive/suburban faux-libertarianism. It articulates a positive doctrine of the city as a "happiness project" that began back when the Athenians went about figuring how to design democracy. At the book's core is a comprehensive, well-rounded understanding of happiness as a psychological, social, and philosophical phenomenon that is much more nuanced than the worn-out artificiality of "homo oeconomicus" and his so-called rational decisions.
The book is rich with successful examples of "happy" reforms in cities all over the world: Bogota, Vancouver, Copenhagen. Public bike rental and Seine-front public beaches in Paris are transforming the City of Light. A Portland neighborhood brought "neighbor" back into the 'hood by painting a mural in an intersection and calling it "Share-It Square;" it was illegal, of course--it violated codes--but the neighborhood was able to fight City Hall and win.
As for me, I'm now imagining a network of walking paths to connect my sidewalk-less suburb to its commercial district. Why not be able to walk to the store, or to a restaurant, on a pretty day? It would only require a few sidewalks and marked crossings to connect lesser-used streets that could safely be used for pedestrian traffic. People could get exercise and see their neighbors while also doing something functional. What if that has as much--or more--to do with happiness as carbon-spewing, autonomous motoring?
The five stars are less because I appear to have been given the oboe as a sisyphean assignment (by whom I'm still trying to find out) and have referreThe five stars are less because I appear to have been given the oboe as a sisyphean assignment (by whom I'm still trying to find out) and have referred to this book while pushing the boulder uphill, than they are because I keep it by my side when the boulder inevitably tumbles back down. It is then that this book fills me with false hope, which is better than no hope at all. ...more
Stiglitz delivers a clearly-written and compelling analysis of the current economic and political situation in the United States. Undoubtedly much ofStiglitz delivers a clearly-written and compelling analysis of the current economic and political situation in the United States. Undoubtedly much of my positive response is driven by the fact that I'm the child of parents who worshipped at the shrine of the New Deal, however no small part of it is simple appreciation for Stiglitz's rare knack for cogent explanations that are as compellingly readable as they are putatively authoritative.
There is also the fact that Stiglitz is very informative about the workings of globalization, financial markets, investment banking, and macroeconomics, so that now, when it comes to the greedy excesses of bankers, free market fantasists, public-revenue-sucking corporations (Halliburton), and other rent-grubbing profiteers, I can do more than seethe inwardly. Now I can also recommend a book for them to read.
"This book is not about the politics of envy: the bottom 99 percent by and large are not jealous of the social contributions that some of those among the 1 percent have made, or their well-deserved incomes. This book is instead about the politics of efficiency and fairness." (p. 266) As such, the book shows that much of the wealth at the top has nothing to do with "social contributions." Instead, it comes from gaming a system that is rigged for those who already have the money and the influence that comes with it.
It saddens me, though, to read Stiglitz when he says "America is no longer the land of opportunity." Much as I agree with what he has to say, I hope he's wrong about that.
I was outen the byack pyorch, singing up a fog with my groundhog beater, when my eye caught a line of devil's snuffboxes nestled in the grass and I thI was outen the byack pyorch, singing up a fog with my groundhog beater, when my eye caught a line of devil's snuffboxes nestled in the grass and I thought "wal, dog my cats, now awaits the juberous pleasure of gettin rid o them thangs."
Only botheration about this here dictionary is that the alphabetization is letter-by-letter and not word-by-word, so sometimes expressions using the same root are separated, e.g. "sing" is separated from "sing up a fog" by such unrelated words as "singe" and "single." But I ain't cuttin a dido about it....more
I was overwhelmed by this book. Hedges mixes the evidence from classical literature and his own experiences as a correspondent in many theatres of conI was overwhelmed by this book. Hedges mixes the evidence from classical literature and his own experiences as a correspondent in many theatres of conflict around the world to describe and evaluate the siren call of war and its disastrous consequences....more
A most admirable book, and not only because it confirmed my long-held hunch that money is not specie. Both magisterial and approachable, the book emplA most admirable book, and not only because it confirmed my long-held hunch that money is not specie. Both magisterial and approachable, the book employs wide-ranging historical and cultural examples to construct an argument for a democratically-understood macroeconomy that could be improved by a more appropriate division between security and risk....more
I got to read this book at the same time as I was involved in a performance by a middle school chorus of "My Heart Will Go On." It was entirely coinciI got to read this book at the same time as I was involved in a performance by a middle school chorus of "My Heart Will Go On." It was entirely coincidental. I'd ordered the book for my library, and it just happened to come in the day before the concert.
As is obvious from the blog, I was not taken with Wilson's own aesthetic platform--and I didn't even mention there his tone deafness as to sentiment, which he equates with kitsch. All that aside, though, I do admire the "project" that the original book represents, and the courage shown by the new edition's inclusion of essays (particularly one by Mary Gaitskill) that give Wilson's viewpoint a thorough dressing down. We all gain insight and wisdom from a full and open conversation about taste....more
A brilliant book, and exciting to read, even though some of the sentences yielded only to my machete.
The world changes before our eyes, and history isA brilliant book, and exciting to read, even though some of the sentences yielded only to my machete.
The world changes before our eyes, and history is the only way to see it. I particularly benefited from the global perspective occasionally taken by this book to explain the expansion of the western hegemony. Also, the connection between the growth of textile industrialization in Britain and the spread of slavery in the southern US is horrifyingly fascinating to consider as a parable of human nature....more
Centuries of iconography have conditioned us to imagine Jesus as a fair-skinned, straight-haired man of irenic disposition. It is a difficult thing toCenturies of iconography have conditioned us to imagine Jesus as a fair-skinned, straight-haired man of irenic disposition. It is a difficult thing to get past. What Reza Aslan might say is, "that's okay, as long as you understand that you're imagining the Christ rather than the man."
Making that distinction is one of the salient accomplishments of this book. It is a distinction born on the road to Damascus in the mind of Saul of Tarsus and further ramified in doctrinal novelties that left the Jewishness of Jesus far behind, clung to by the sect that gathered around James, Jesus' brother, once dominant among Christians to the point of forcing corrective apologetics upon Saul-become-Paul, but weakened to a footnote by the destruction of Jerusalem even as Paul's spiritual inventiveness fertilized the entire canon of a universal church.
In Aslan's telling, Jesus is a quasi-literate man of the people bent on purging Judaism of the corrupt and corrupting distortions of Temple observance, which serves the interests of a plutocratic caste of priests (who are furthermore collaborationists with the Roman imperialists) rather than those of the mass from which Jesus has arisen. It is for the Jews that Jesus performs his miracles and proclaims his messiahship.
Situating this Jesus in a turbulent era rife with miracles and messiahs is another of Aslan's accomplishments. History can never provide enough context; our minds boggle before it. But a little of it is like an ounce of prevention: it diminishes to some degree distortions generated by the anachronistic present and by the dogmatic dictates of those centuries of iconography. ...more