March 31, 2014

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, March 2014

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming, et al. Powers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14)
Comic book mind candy, at the super-hero/police-procedural interface.
Martha Wells, The Fall of Ile-Rien (The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, The Gate of Gods)
Mind candy. I read these when they were first published, a decade ago, and re-visited them when they came out as audiobooks. They remain unusually smart fantasy with refreshingly human protagonists. (Though I think the narrator for the recordings paused too often, in odd places, to be really effective.)
Graydon Saunders, The March North
Mind candy. Readers know I am a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy (look around you), but there's no denying both genres have a big soft spot for authoritarianism and feudalism. I picked this up because it promised to be an egalitarian fantasy novel, and because (back in the Late Bronze Age of Internet time) I used to like many of Saunders's posts on rec.arts.sf.written . I am glad I did: it's not the best-written novel ever, but it's more than competent, it scratches the genre itch, and Saunders has thought through how people-power could work in a world where part of the normal life cycle of a wizard would ordinarily be ruling as a Dark Lord for centuries. (I suspect his solution owes something to the pike square.) The set-up calls out for sequels, which I would eat up with a spoon.
Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Mind candy: further adventures in the natural history of dragons.
Franklin M. Fisher, Disequilibrium Foundations of Equilibrium Economics
This is a detailed, clear and innovative treatment of what was known in 1983 about the stability of economic equilibrium. (It begins with an argument, which I find entirely convincing, that this is an important question, especially for economists who only want to reason about equilibria.) The last half of the book is a very detailed treatment of a dis-equilibrium model of interacting rational agents, and the conditions under which it will approach a Walrasian (price-supported) equilibrium. (These conditions involve non-zero transaction costs, each agent setting its own prices, and something Fisher calls "No Favorable Surprise", the idea that unexpected changes never make things better.) Remarkably, Fisher's model recovers such obvious features of the real world as (i) money existing and being useful, and (ii) agents continue to trade for as long as they live, rather than going through a spurt of exchange at the dawn of time and then never trading again. It's a tour de force, especially because of the clarity of the writing. I wish I'd read it long ago.
Fisher has a 2010 paper, reflecting on the state of the art a few years ago: "The Stability of General Equilibrium --- What Do We Know and Why Is It Important?".
— One disappointment with this approach: Fisher doesn't consider the possibility that aggregated variables might be in equilibrium, even though individuals are not in "personal equilibrium". E.g., prevailing prices and quantities are stable around some equilibrium values (up to small fluctuations), even though each individual is constantly perpetually alternating between seizing on arbitrage opportunities and being frustrated in their plans. This is more or less the gap that is being filled by Herb Gintis and collaborators in their recent work (1, 2, 3, 4). Gintis et al. also emphasize the importance of agents setting their own prices, rather than having a centralized auctioneer decree a single binding price vector.
The Borgias (1, 2, 3)
Mind candy. Fun in its own way, but I'm disappointed that they made the politics less treacherous and back-stabbing than it actually was. (Also, there's a chunk of anachronistic yearning for equal rights and repulsion over corruption.)
ObLinkage: Comparative appreciation by a historian of the Renaissance. (I haven't seen the rival series.)
House of Cards
Mind candy. Rather to my surprise, I enjoyed this at least as much as the original. (I will not comment on the economics of the second season, or the generally very strange view of American politics.)
Homeland (1, 2, 3)
Mind candy. Well-acted, but I find the politics very dubious. In particular, "let the CIA do whatever it wants in Iran" is a big part of how we got into this mess.
Dexter (5, 6, 7 and 8)
Mind candy. Not as good as the first four seasons, but then, very little is. I refuse to believe the ending. Previously: 2, 3, 4.
Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
As a sentient being with a working Internet connection, you are aware that Brosh is one of this age's greatest writers on moral psychology (and dogs). This is a collection of some of her best pieces.
John Dollard, Caste and Class in a Southern Town
The easy way to read this ethnography of "Southerntown" (= Indianola, Miss.) in 1936 would be as a horror story, with a complacent "thankfully we're not like that" air. (At least, it would be easy for me to read it so.) Better, I think, to realize both how horrifying this was, and to reflect on what injustices are similarly woven into my own way of life...
Seanan McGuire, Half-Off Ragnarok
Mind candy: the travails of a mild-manner Ohio cryptozoologist. (I think it could be enjoyed without the earlier books in the series.) Previously: 1, 2. Sequel.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Beloved Republic; Commit a Social Science; The Dismal Science; Linkage

Posted at March 31, 2014 23:59 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth