MORE Econlib Holiday Reading
By Amy Willis
In case the recommendations from Munger and Boudreaux weren’t enough, and as promised, here are some more:
Reading recommendations are always though, particularly for the Christmas season. Perhaps one should just stick with Argentinian writer Ernesto Sabato’s advice to those who asked him: read what gives you joy.
I would dare to recommend three books that make for a good holiday reading. One is James Grant’s biography, Bagehot: the Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian. Grant is in love with the Victorian age and what it stands for, ideologically speaking: that is, a world where individuals wanted to rule themselves so that the state would not. He gives us a vivid portrait of Bagehot, with the perfect mix of history of ideas and history of things.
Robert Harris’s Officer and Spy was published in 2013, but I shall confess I read it just a few weeks ago, before going to watch its movie adaptation by Roman Polanski. The movie is excellent, the novel even more so. The Dreyfus Affair, the political scandal which erupted out of the unjust incarceration of captain Alfred Dreyfus for treason, is known to us all as one of the peaks of European anti-semitism, but we seldom appreciate what it meant and its dynamics. Harris’s engaging novel makes us to better understand those circumstances.
My third recommendation would be George Will’s The Conservative Sensibility. I was inspired to read the book by listening to Russ Roberts interview Will on EconTalk. It is a tremendously rich work, which brings together masterfully lots of different arguments and subjects. If you want to have the right reply to keep your socialist father-in-law on his toes at Christmas lunch, read it. Will makes extensive use of James Madison, and in his EconTalk with Russ recommended Madison’s Metronome by Greg Weiner. This now sits on my night stand, and I hope to read it this Christmas break—together with the third volume of Charles Moore’s magnificent biography of Margaret Thatcher. I think Moore’s first two volumes were excellent, one of the best and more entertaining political biographies I’ve ever read (they can compare with Roy Jenkins’s marvelous works on Gladstone and on Churchill), so I have high expectations for this one, too.
There was a critical moment in my youth when the number of books on my holiday wish list overwhelmed the number of toys. But just because I always have a list of books I’m hoping to unwrap over the holidays doesn’t mean that I don’t already have a sizeable stash of books I’m hoping to read during those glorious days of winter break.
Here, for those interested, is what I hope to read, if I’m not buried under a pile of gingerbread, latkes, and wrapping paper.
The Pig War, John Placentius (Paideia Institute): A friend recommended this to me on Facebook with a message reading, “Hi Sarah! I have a book recommendation for you– I couldn’t help but think you might be interested. It’s a new English translation and critical edition of a 16th century tautogram… in Latin… in hexameter… about a war between so many ruthless pigs. Worth it for that, but also worth it for the illustrations alone.” I clicked “buy” instantly, for reasons that should be obvious. (And a tautogram is a poem where every line starts with the same letter. It’s trickier than you think.)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial Press): I’ve avoided this one for a long time because the title sounded too adorable. But it’s been recommended so often, and by such trustworthy friends, that I’m looking forward to checking out this novel set during the German occupation of the Isle of Guernsey in WWII. I love fiction written by women from this time period, so I’m hoping this modern take will give me some of the same enjoyment.
The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends who Shaped an Age, Leo Damrosch. (Yale University Press): This one is a must-read for those of us working on the Adam Smith Works website, though I suspect it will also be a pleasure read. Damrosch’s look at the 18th century version of the Algonquin Club–where Johnson, Boswell, Smith, Gibbon, and Burke matched wits, played with ideas, and probably drank more than they should have–sounds like a great holiday read and a great bit of popular history. (I’ll probably be wrapping a few of these to give away, too!)
Temeraire Series, Naomi Novik (Del Ray): There are few things I like more than digging into a giant fantasy series when the snow is falling outside. Novik is fast becoming one of my favorite fantasy reads, and rereading the Temeraire series this winter seems like a really good idea. It’s the Napoleonic Wars. With dragons. And economics. Trust me. (And if that doesn’t hook you, try Novik’s riffs on fairy tales in Uprooted and Spinning Silver. They’re glorious, too.)
There’s two feet of snow on the ground, more coming, and what better way to beat the cold then with a snuggly cat, some hot chocolate, and a good book? Here is what I am reading this break. A lot of this reflects my dissertation, but I am also reading for fun
Humanomics by Vernon Smith and Bart Wilson (Cambridge)
Vernon and Bart use Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments to examine personal relationships in economic theory. Standard theory is very good at explaining interpersonal mercantile relationships, but less so for our personal relationships. Vernon and Bart bridge that gap.
Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment by Charles Griswold, Jr (Cambridge)
Although Smith is primarily thought of as an economist, much of his work is in the jurisprudence and moral philosophy realm. Furthermore, Smith’s first job was a professor of rhetoric. Griswold brings together Smith’s published and vast unpublished corpus to show how he fits into the world of the Enlightenment and help us better understand Smith’s political and moral thoughts.
The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law by Nadia Nedzel and Nicholas Capaldi (Palgrave)
“Rule of law” in the Western tradition is a phrase often used but not really well-understood. Seemingly everyone who uses it has a different understanding of the phrase. Nedzel and Capaldi explore the usage of the phrase in the Anglo-American sphere from its origins in Ockham through its modern defenders/definers (Dicey, Hayek, Leoni, Fuller, Oakeshott). They then use this history to show how the rule of law 9as opposed to the rule by law) is a uniquely Anglo-American concept compared to the Continental usage of the term.
Competition and Entrepreneurship by Israel Kirzner (Liberty Fund)
This collection of essays highlight Kirzner’s most important contributions (in my opinion) to economic theory. Specifically, he fills in many of the holes in standard microeconomic theory about what entrepreneurship is and how competition works in the market process. My emphasizing local knowledge, human action, and “surprise,” Kirszner gives us a coherent, process-driven idea of economic theory.
Knowledge and Coordination by Daniel Klein (Oxford)
A useful elaboration and expansion on Kirzner’s work (see above), Klein re-introduces Adam Smith’s concept of “universal benevolence” and corrects the usage of the invisible hand to better explain the role of knowledge, coordination, and cooperation in the marketplace.
A Critique of Welfare Economics by I.M.D. Little (Oxford)
This book is a bit dated (most recent edition published in 1957), but it is still an interesting read as many of his critiques of welfare economics are still important. Little explores some of the implications of the then-new field of welfare economics and discusses its limitations. In this manner, he anticipates some of the work that would come after him in the guise of Ronald Coase and James Buchanan.
Exile (The Legend of Drizzt) by R.A. Salvatore (Wizards of the Coast)
Taking place in the Dungeons and Dragons world of The Underdark, home to the evil Drow, vicious and greedy Drugar, insidious Mind Flayers, and countless other horrors, this book follows Drizzt Do’Urden, a Drow (dark elf) outcast in his self-imposed exile. This is Book 2 in the series and follows Drizzt’s attempt to escape the murderous wrath of his family and his attempts to live his life on his terms rather than bow to the commands of the Drow’s evil deity Lolth, the Spider Queen.