The book takes a road less-travelled in economic theory. Rather than accepting -as it has been the trend- that destiny, geography, history,etc.. deterThe book takes a road less-travelled in economic theory. Rather than accepting -as it has been the trend- that destiny, geography, history,etc.. determine the wealth of nations, the author explores the idea that it is actually human agency through policies, governments and individuals that ultimately has the last word in regards to the wealth of a community. In that sense, the book advocates for policies rather than the acceptance of fate. The author, an economist, seems very impressed, for example, with Botswana and Norway, two very different countries for sure but one thing in common, a very abundant natural resource. Botswana in particular was handed probably all of the wrong ends of the stick including diamond mines. Through good policies these two countries seem to have avoided the terrible pitfalls of neighbors like Russia or Zimbawe. Of course other factors besides destiny's intervention are considered and given ample space, especially the long-standing traditions that have aided progress or kept countries away from genuine growth like the custom of distributing political favors in India, the absent land ownership of Spanish aristocrats, the autocratic tendencies of Russian leaders or the predictable burocracies and corruptions of China among others.
I agree with the author that to take a country like the U.S. and say that it naturally had to become a wealthy nation Isabel exercise of historical backengineering. The fact is that the U.S. could have followed the path of Argentina if things had gone just a bit differently (the South could have won the Civil War or the country might have called it splits). The fact is that only good, even when very flawed, policy allows US and other nations to continue to thrive. There is nothing guaranteed or inherent in a country that would deliver growth no matter what. On the contrary, the state of affairs is always fragile. Farming subsidies for cotton or Peruvian asparagus and catfish tariffs are some examples of very damaging policies in the US today.
Other questions the book tries to answer: Does Max Weber's idea that countries with a Protestan ethic tend to do better economically hold any water? -Never mind Calvinist predetermination basically makes all attempt at salvation through work pretty useless- Is there a particular religion that is better suited for creating wealth or is it the use of religion by interest groups with very secular interests the cause of much damage? What happened to China that stopped it on its track to remaining a superpower during the Min Dinasty? How does its future look when compared to India? You'd think oil, diamonds and natural resources would propel any country out of poverty and yet, again and again, those resources seem to be the kiss cof death, mismanaged and corrupting. Why did Argentina and the U.S. follow such divergent paths when they both started as equals in potential and wealth? What are the crazy paradoxes about lobbying for ethanol and catfish? Why has London managed to remain a hub of world commerce but Moscow has floundered? Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine? Has globalization truly made distance a non-issue? The author writes about these and other questions with a very clear and entertaining style that left me enlightened and worried at the same time. ...more
I loved how succinctly and simply the author crammed so much into such a small tome. I was genuinely pleased by the way he spelled out the chapters onI loved how succinctly and simply the author crammed so much into such a small tome. I was genuinely pleased by the way he spelled out the chapters on prejudice, the need to belong and act "for others" and social media. Those final two chapters made me rethink many of my own attitudes, smug and clever as i think i am ;) ...more
I'm smitten. It is impossible to think "Van Gogh" without being aware of the well-known irony of his elevation to the very highest altars of ART (andI'm smitten. It is impossible to think "Van Gogh" without being aware of the well-known irony of his elevation to the very highest altars of ART (and commerce) after a life cut short by despair and scarcity. In this letters Van Gogh makes his case. Vehemently, honestly and without much embellishments beyond their raw directness, he appeals to his patient brother Theo often for money but even more often for understanding. And even though he might have been difficult and stubborn, he makes all kinds of sense. Among the themes : His religious beliefs, badly shaken by the evidence of hypocrisy and abandonment; his loneliness and desperate "inopportune" love for his cousin Kee Vos and the need for female companionship; rows against his father , ex-employers and teachers as well as his admiration for them, often in the same paragraph. And of course his art as the hard-fought vehicle for all that faith and passion, his appreciation for beauty and his hard work to stay afloat. Incredibly touching and sincere, the story of Van Gogh would still be told were the letters to vanish but they certainly deliver us the artist as the genuine article. As his life as an artist evolves against all odds, VG starts to enter more and more into the "thinking" behind his "working" efforts. Some of the letters he addresses to artists (Bernard, Gaugin) are full of insights into what constitutes art and its meaning. He formulates a life long ambition of forming an artist colony of sorts. He delves into what is a subject worth painting (and what isn't, he was a harsh critic, an honest one), the influence of Millet a constant above all others but also the beauty of Japanese prints and the old Dutch masters. Van Gogh comes across as a very intelligent and aware artist able to follow the art and literary worlds despite his desperate plight. His search for authenticity and quality is relentless and may have been the final straw that rendered him depressed, sick and spent even when things were just starting to look rosier. One of the best books one can read about art just because it is honest to a fault and direct. ...more
This lengthy volume. I removed one star due to repetition of some key ideas again and agai, specially regarding Matisses's artwork: Almost every paintThis lengthy volume. I removed one star due to repetition of some key ideas again and agai, specially regarding Matisses's artwork: Almost every painting is described as a revolution. Almost at every turn Matisse is on the brink of becoming the most acclaimed artist of the twentieth century as if we needed to be constantly reminded (convinced?, I remain a sceptic). Almost every chapter starts by describing hardship and incomprehension stared down by sheer stubbornness and dedication and rewarded by frantic collecting. Almost every painting's analysis is the same..either the figures are lost in a decorative scheme or the subject is reduced to its most essential features. This doesn't stop the writer from attributing highly specific anecdotal significance to most works. Wether it is his son Pierre oppressed by a piano lesson or Henri's possible repressed sexual yearning towards his student Olga Meerson, his highly synthesized pieces seem to be loaded with petty drama considering the aims stated by the artist himself of making art that is comfortable. Matisse's art as a refuge from a troubled world becomes more apparent towards the very end as well as his position at odds with other artists swept by political or sensual distractions like Picasso. I personally think Matisse was a terrible draftsman but somehow the book has managed to both gloss over it and make it seem less important, a mere glitch where the aims were loftier and more pressing. One thing that baffles me is that these paintings took enormous effort and time on occasion but when one looks at them it is hard to decide what part of the process was so strenuous when clearly the act of painting them didn't seem spectacularly loaded with technical challenges. I would understand that coming up with the perfect composition might take some trying but the author seems to accept readily that the act of painting itself took months at face value. Picasso produced at dizzying speed with unwavering confidence surpassing in boldness anything that came his way. By contrast, Matisse seems to have been giving birth every time he grabbed a brush-at least from this account. Matisses's compositions are not particularly difficult even when his approach to painting was "something else" so what did take months? As many artist biographies, this one pays no attention to technique, materials or work methods, my main complaint remains that it could have been a lot shorter if repetition of events and ideas hadn't been so pervasive. On the plus side, Matisse's everyday family life receives luscious attention and care. In that area, this biography is flawless.Matisse appears as the centre of his family, devoted to his art above all and at the expense of all, including wife and children. Marguerite's ordeals were a shock to me and probably deserve their own book. One suspects that Matisse would have amounted to nothing if it hadn't been enabled by the wonderful women in his life who managed every little aspect of his affairs so he could paint in concentrated stupor. Amelie in particular stands out as the one that placed all bets on him only to be sidetracked in the very end over the presence of Lydia Delectorskaya....more
**spoiler alert** Don't be seduced by the title. Often lauded as a portrait of lost youth in the period between wars, a satire of British society and**spoiler alert** Don't be seduced by the title. Often lauded as a portrait of lost youth in the period between wars, a satire of British society and a really funny book albeit full of yearning and foreshadowing, this book fell short on all counts in my opinion. I found it only slightly funny, in that " He kicked her - the spaniel, not the Countess" kind of way that PG Woodehouse mastered. I saw some glimpses of yearning and despair besides mine as a reader but mostly on the resignation to irrelevance of some characters, one of them - a gossip writer- even committing suicide when refused invitation to a party. As satire, it lacks bite. The characters are cartoony, with silly names like Runcible, Throbbing, Miles Malpractice, Outrage, etc...and very much lacking any insight whatsoever. The plot is minimal, a series of vignettes interlaced by gossip column reports about the parties and sightings of socialites -reports often made up for the sake of excitement. Adam, a young writer, wants to marry Nina but lacks money so tries different schemes to obtain it including a job, fleecing Nina's dad, a stereotypically boisterous and idiotic landed Colonel , and giving his earnings to a horse race gambler. The characters move around following parties, car races, film sets, dirigibles ...for no reason. The book is well written, the dialogue is rapid and witty. That's the end of its merits and that's no small feat. I believe Film directors have had a lot more success fleshing out Waugh's books into movies than Waugh had writing them. This might be one further example. The reason might be that they are provided with good dialogue while every hit of visual imagination or context is left blank for the director to bring his or her own ideas. The book was mercifully short. It seemed written with no plan in a couple of sittings. It does change tone a bit towards the end when Nina marries someone else - an echo of Waugh's own break-up may be. ...more
In this compilation of notes about Hensche's techniques, the artist comes across as someone with quite a limited vision of the role and technique of aIn this compilation of notes about Hensche's techniques, the artist comes across as someone with quite a limited vision of the role and technique of art. Some of his comments on Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Velázquez, Sargent or Rembrandt are a bit arrogant and even ignorant. This has its origin in some misguided "common knowledge" like the fact that during his time it was not known Michelangelo was a great colorist by mannerist standards, and on a very linear vision of Western art as a succession of movements improving on the past. Hensche has no problem giving credit to Monet and his own master Hawthorne but only as precursors of Hensche's own finally modern and finally well understood colorist doctrine. Hensche was probably a great instructor whose legacy rests on the practice of developing the "color keys" of light through blocking and proper representation of color as seen, not as learnt. But his dismissal of tonalism, his idea that the wider variety and availability of colors today renders the masterpieces of the past as "passé", his ignorance of the way color was used very effectively from Ancient Greece to Vermeer, etc...diminishes the message somewhat and makes him sound a bit provincial despite his impressive curriculum. It doesn't help the book has very few and uninteresing illustrations.That said, Hensche was and is an influential master colorist whose echoes are found among the best painters in the impressionist style and its variations from Daniel Pinkham to Eric Merrell to Camille Przewodeck or Peggi Kroll-Roberts among many others....more
Great book arguing for the abolition of this blemish in our Justice system. A little short on procedural matters but well argued. It does a good job dGreat book arguing for the abolition of this blemish in our Justice system. A little short on procedural matters but well argued. It does a good job debunking the usual arguments "in principle". It also brings Capital Punishment forth for what it is: expensive, useless, non-deterring and non remedial. It addresses all the usual questions regarding the victims, the mistakes, the unrepentant and the false moral balance. You measure a society not by how it treats its better citizens but by the way it treats its worst criminal. ( paraphrasing F. Dostoyevsky, he should have known.) ...more
Great book arguing for the abolition of this blemish in our Justice system. A little short on procedural matters but well argued. It does a good job Great book arguing for the abolition of this blemish in our Justice system. A little short on procedural matters but well argued. It does a good job debunking the usual arguments "in principle". It also brings Capital Punishment forth for what it is: expensive, useless, non-deterring and non remedial. It addresses all the usual questions regarding the victims, the mistakes, the unrepentant and the false moral balance. You measure a society not by how it treats its better citizens but by the way it treats its worst criminal. ( paraphrasing F. Dostoyevsky, he should have known.) ...more
This book is a great resource for people who lack a science degree but want to understand some of the intrincacies of art materials and conservation. This book is a great resource for people who lack a science degree but want to understand some of the intrincacies of art materials and conservation. It is not intended as an artist manual. Painters with some experience will find it interesting however, and the novice artist will get a very clear overview of the different kinds of art materials and what they have in common. For example, you will learn what are the different kinds of carbohydrate based binders (gums), protein based binders (tempera, casein) and others, like tryglicerides (oil) beeswax (hydrocarbon and fatty acids) and natural resins (diterpenoids and triterpenoids). Also, how binders can be clasifiend in water soluble and not soluble. This clear and crisp clasifications remove much of the misteries surrounding "art recipes" and will help avoid costly mistakes. A great section also are the chapters dealing with teh nature of pigment (not enough, that's why I remove a star) and color/light. Much of the book is devoted to the techniques used to identify forgeries and why these techniques work. That said, the first five chapters should be obligatory reading to any art student. There are even some neat cone and rod eye anatomy lessons! What it is missing in my opinion is a whole lot of other chapters that would have been very interesting for an artist, not just a conservator, like a lot more information on preparation of materials, safety and , why not, a few formulas to preserve artwork for the centuries. Alas, that was not the intention and the book accomplishes in a few pages what others seriously lack. Moreover, there is avery fadcinating article on how to paint artwork only visible with an atomic reactor, a beautiful list of color pigments by index of refraction and atomic structure as well as some heady stuff on how conservators can determina teh age of an artwork by the reaction of the pigments to x-rays, infrared and even the dendrochronology of the wood used in the panels. ...more
A lot of painting books are written by mediocre painters and have ambitious titles like "Create a masterpiece portrait like the masters, blah blah bl A lot of painting books are written by mediocre painters and have ambitious titles like "Create a masterpiece portrait like the masters, blah blah blah..." In reality, they are just vanity books. Nothing wrong with that but they fll the shelves for no reason at all and I usually look at the authors paintings FIRST. Only then do I see if I can spend some time reading about the author's insights. Emile Gruppe's Gloucester harbor (Mass) paintings are quite astonishing so I picked up the book at the library. It is certainly an honest "direct" approach to his work and I was more than happy to devote a couple of hours to it. I recognized some techniques from my own practice, a few fun opinions, and some new stuff as well, not a lot. Some things might sound a bit old fashioned regarding materials and easels but the main pleasure was certainly derived from looking at the magnificent paintings. Those don't grow old. ...more
Unless you are a political junkie interested in every last detail of James A. Garfield's sudden and unexpected rise to the Presidency, this book is noUnless you are a political junkie interested in every last detail of James A. Garfield's sudden and unexpected rise to the Presidency, this book is not for you. Painstakingly researched with every protagonist, every meeting, discussion, shopping trip, train trip, ballot count and luncheon that was ever recorded and some that weren't, this is as narrow as it gets to understand the times and mores of James A. Garfield. The narrative happens in a bubble and I was hoping for a wider view. The characters are purely political animals fleshed only as far as as it's useful to understand their ambitions, no more. Any larger issue like the state of the nation after the civil war, the temperance movement, the international ambitions of the U.S, the actual electoral issues like tariffs and unlimited silver coinage, etc...are dutiful listed but never expanded on while every cabinet nomination and everyone of Conkling's tantrum runs for pages on end. So I add one star for the research involved. Some segments are readable,specially towards the end. After all, it is a murder. It is also a murder that forced some people to gain persceptive like it did for Chester A. Arthur who succeeded Garfield. many people remained the same without learning anything like Guiteau, who was a deeply trouble man, or Roscoe Conkling, who saw everything as a personal issue. Even Grant seemed likeable after the President fell. In coclusion, a lot of the text seems to be a narrated and expanded transcription of Garfield's diaries, party convention records and Guiteau's court proceedings. I wish I had just gotten a book on the "Guilded Age" and not have to plow through the barrage of dates and facts which can only please people with an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Congress or career politicos. even Garfield's death which seems to have been sheer agony is a play-by-play account with every probe, infection and bowel movement spelled out. Agein, the author put a commnedable effort in accounting foer everything. It makes good history, not a great time for the casual reader. One thing that comes across quite clearly though: just like back then, money, power and ambition is the broth that feeds lawmaking....more
Great book for beginners and people that "think" they can not draw. Whether it's the right side or the left side or your knees that do the thinking, iGreat book for beginners and people that "think" they can not draw. Whether it's the right side or the left side or your knees that do the thinking, its quite irrelevant and I wish the author didn't put so much stake on the dubious inner workings and preliminary science of the mind. What is useful is the series of exercises that allow students to disconnect from the symbolic and verbal way of thinking when taking a realistic approach to drawing. This goes for painting as well in many aspects. I think the leap in confidence the book allows is remarkable for the immense majority of people that have allowed their logic to interfere with the proper way of seeing and translating what one sees, not merely as things but as shapes. I also liked the author's take on children and preadolescent art. Unlike many psychologists that ascribe convoluted theories to children's drawings, the author looks here for consequences of developing a language of symbols in the formal evolution of art while striving for realism and loosing the natural instinct for composition in the process.
This is a great book to start. But once you've mastered the idea and are able to go into the trance, drawing what is in front of you, observing contours and negative shapes and generally looking without thinking , the next phase involves some serious , ahem, left brain activity. A realistic drawing is within reach but now you'll need to move on and make a good drawing. For that, there are plenty of other great books out there that will teach perspective (this book reduces it to a useful but limited extension of the previous techniques of mirroring the sighting), the creation of volume from within the figure, composition, edge and tone manipulation, etc.
The power of achieving a qualitative step cannot be understated and therefore I recommend this book and its exercises with no reserves. Just don't get too enamored with which part of the brain is doing the work. I think that sells books but it might not be as useful to you....more
Ah, the irony. This book was written at the beginning of the 1990's when most countries of South America and Central America were in the grips of compAh, the irony. This book was written at the beginning of the 1990's when most countries of South America and Central America were in the grips of comparative despair and poverty. Forward 20 years later and it seems the governments in these formerly poor countries were taking these lessons dispensed by the superpowers to heart . Get your house in order they said. And then, the U.S. saw the biggest economic collapse in a long time and Canada seems poised to become another greedy oil-monger. In a way, the book was correct, the advancement of countries like Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and others has been short of spectacular. Granted, the latinamerican "idiot" is still alive and kicking with his Che Guevara t-shirts and his demagogic speeches. In some cases it rose to power like in Venezuela or Bolivia or stayed put like in Cuba who still today is quietly begging for foreign investment (what do we think lifting the embargo means). So yes, investment, competition, wealth creation and in short, capitalism has generally lifted a few boats and continues to do so despite endemic corruption and crony privileges. It's very exciting what's happening in Mexico, one could only imagine where Mexico would be if they could get rid of the drug traffic scourge and the whole folklorico-religious-raza idiocy. Unfortunately, the book was so entranced by the wealth creation mechanisms of places like the U.S., New Zealand, South Korea, and Spain, yes, Spain, that it missed how frail some of that wealth was and how it was also skirting true market competitiveness. In the U.S. it was real estate sand castles and corporations manipulating the market and getting bailouts, in New Zealand it was movie studios dictating labor laws and Spain, well, it will be a miracle if it ever climbs out of the hole it made. The sad part is that today the U.S. and some of the formerly hopeless Republics of the south seem to resemble each other more and more and the net sum seems to target the lower common denominator, the gap between rich and poor and the harm done to the middle class in the wealthier countries while the standard of living in places like Brazil and Mexico might render our immigration walls moot in a few years because we will be the ones looking for jobs there. Sure, doesn't seem plausible just yet but give it twenty more years....more
I really enjoyed David Rakoff's ability to find just the right word or the exact movie reference for every situation. Beyond his accurate aim, he is I really enjoyed David Rakoff's ability to find just the right word or the exact movie reference for every situation. Beyond his accurate aim, he is hilarious as well. In this book, Rakoff strolls and bitches about some choice bubbles of contemporary madness afflicting the moneyed. Fashion, the now defunct Concorde, cryogenics, faux rusticity, fasting, cosmetic surgery,Log Cabin Republicans, food snobbery...all ailments of people too wealthy and pampered to see the idiocy. But Rakoff does not just slash, he comes across as someone too smart to just condemn (save for some choice epithets thrown the way of Barbara Bush and Karl Lagerfeld, two old c**ts, no question.) Rakoff writes deeply about the shallow ends of the upper crust by revealing their fears and pretense. Still, it is a book about the shallow ends, it makes for good fun despite the unflinching observation and the occasional moral outrage. I hope to read more from this author on matters other than the decadence of the pampered profligate and the "monstrocracy."...more
The downfall of much historical fiction is that it is written with feet firmly planted in modern and local sensibility. This is the unfortunate case The downfall of much historical fiction is that it is written with feet firmly planted in modern and local sensibility. This is the unfortunate case of this book. That is not to say that "The Birth of Venus" was boring or badly written. On the contrary, it's quite easy to read. However, if you are expecting to submerge yourself in the Italian Renaissance, you might be disappointed to get what amounts to a Nancy Drew novel with some sex and plague thrown in for backdrop. The main character, Alessandra C, is the daughter of a rich florentine merchant. Against expectations of the time, she harbors artistic ambitions and a mind eager for learning. Of course, her whole family either mocks those pursuits or tries to make her desist for her own good. Florence is in the grips of the fiery Savonarola and his particular brand of religious fanaticism and misogynistic ideals. Alessandra is an observer and despite her curiosity she remains one. Beyond family and marriage nothing she does matters in the least and for all her bravado she is constantly protected and saved by others. Alessandra is well intentioned but rebellious and her mother is as loving as she is exasperated. We get it. She impresses other learned men but shows a great deal of indifference to matters of business and politics so remains that sort of proto-feminist. She likes to witness History but shuns participating beyond walking the streets at dangerous times. Erila, her slave, fares not much better. She is black and powerful, independent and dignified. A slave who knows how to find her way regardless and is not bound by convention. In short, another cliche of modern making. Black servants and citizens were common during the Renaissance in Europe and some of them surely were powerful and dignified but Erila and her earthy ancient wisdom is this close to a caricature. Not to ruin the plot, sodomy figures prominently in it and, again, it is talked about with bafflement that such nice people as the sodomites could be considered so depraved. In other words, the way patronizing but fair minded people talked about gays in the fifties. And that's why the novel ultimately fails. It's a domestic drama against some events of historical relevance but there is no real connection. Throw in some disemboweled corpses, some explicit sex, some torture and some plague, some Botticelli and some Medici name dropping and you get the gist. ...more