In order of satisfaction:

1. Empire of Liberty,by Gordon Wood
2. The Great Transformation, by Karl Polanyi
3. Masters and Commanders, by Andrew Roberts
4. Startup Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

Wood is giving us the history of the United States from 1787-1812, a drama in which the parts of Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke were played by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and the part of Sarah Palin was played by Thomas Jefferson. Or something like that.

Polanyi is required reading in my daughter’s sociology grad school theory class. In spite of positioning himself directly against classical liberal economists, he is right on many things, particularly the focus of humans on status and the impact of economic instability on status. But he is wrong to make it seem as though the alternative to markets is something communitarian. The alternative instead is something like what North, Weingast, and Wallis call “the natural state,” ruled by warlords. As you know, I am sympathetic to Polanyi’s view that a market economy as we think of it is a very modern development, and as you know, there is much evidence that is viewed as contrary to my view. Let us wait for Matt Ridley’s book to come out next year–he will have the definite assault on Polanyi and Kling.Roberts is writing about the Anglo-American strategic co-operation during World War II. The main conflict was over whether to strike at France early or instead to go for North Africa and then Italy, with the British successfully steering policy toward the latter. Even though Roberts writes primarily from the point of view of Alan Brooke, the British chief of staff, my guess is that the Americans were right.

The way I look at it, the challenge boils down to how to make decisive use of aircraft. In late 1942 it would have been pretty easy to come ashore in France, and then everything would have depended on tactical air power. I would much rather have B-17’s in 1942 and 1943 going after German troop trains and tank formations in France than engaging in the “strategic” bombing of Germany.

I am skimming the book, because the contextual details that Roberts insist on tossing in (what Churchill is wearing, random anecdotes) are neither entertaining nor illuminating.

Owning a copy of Startup Nation is a way to signal pro-Israel sympathies. But it’s a classic case of a magazine article that did not deserve to be padded into a book.