Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, December 2010
- Robert Jackson Bennett, Mr. Shivers
- Historical horror novel, set among hobos during the Dust Bowl. To describe
re-imagined by Cormac McCarthy would be a bit unfair, but Cormac was plainly a
big influence on the prose and (for want of a better phrase) the metaphysics.
This was a first novel; I will certainly keep my eye out for others from the
- ROT-13'd spoilers: Ovt puhaxf bs guvf, juvpu V guvax ner fhccbfrq gb
erznva hasngubznoyr gb gur ernqre, jrer abg ng nyy zlfgrevbhf, orpnhfr V'q
ernq Gur Tbyqra
Obhtu (vg cynva gb zr gung Pbaaryyl jnf tbvat gb orpbzr gur arj
Ze. Fuviref dhvgr rneyl ba), naq Qnivq
Bevtva bs gur Zvguenvp Zlfgrevrf, gubhtu V pbhyqa'g fjrne gung
Hynafrl jnf Oraargg'f fbhepr.
- ObLinkage: Bennett on
world-building for this book.
- Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
- Well-told and intelligent history of the events leading up to the financial
crisis of 2007--, enlivened (or marred, depending on your tastes)
porn about leading participants. ("Hidden history" is mere marketing; they
are good at citing their public-record sources.) They emphasize, quite
properly, the toxic combination
of securitization's destruction of
information with quite massive institutional corruption and negligence.
The latter, in their utterly persuasive account, embraced mortgage lenders,
Wall Street, ratings agencies, regulators, Congress, institutional
investors, mythopoetic economists
in and out of academia and government, and of course many but by no means all
borrowers. (Sample.) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac certainly do
not coming out smelling like roses, and their many sins are cataloged in
detail, but the idea that they, or shiftless poor brown people, were
responsible for the crisis is rightly derided as absurd.
- My biggest complaint is that the book is almost entirely focused on America
(except to the extent that foreign banks bought into mortgage-derived
securities), and I wish they had written more about the international aspects
of the bubble and the crash. While it paints a very ugly picture of our
decrepit institutions, I suspect that a group portrait would be no
- Picked up because McLean co-wrote the best book on Enron; but they resist the temptation to mention the latter more
than is reasonable.
- Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Captain Alatriste
- Mind-candy: swashbuckling and intrigue in the Madrid of the Golden
- Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, Land of Mist and Snow
- Mind-candy: young-adult historical naval fantasy set during the Slavers'
Rebellion. (I believe I got that last phrase from James Nicoll, but I'm not
Godfrey-Smith, Darwinian Populations and Natural
- Excellent brisk survey of key topics in the philosophy and general theory
of natural selection. No previous exposure to the debates is really needed.
There are some places where I would quibble, but over-all I recommend it very
- As for the quibbles: (1) Godfrey-Smith takes some verbal formulations of
the conditions people have put forward as necessary and sufficient for natural
selection to produce evolutionary change, and constructs counter-examples where
everything is balanced just so, and the distribution of the population is
static. This seems to be needless pedantry about "change", as though
exhibiting a system in mechanical equilibrium exposed a problem for classical
mechanics, and explaining "motion" in terms of forces. (2) I think he is too
hasty to dismiss the possibilities of population-based, and even more
specifically Darwinian, accounts of cultural and social change, even in
presence of mass media and the like. But this touches on some unpublished work
I've been doing with Henry Farrell, so I won't go into that here. (3) While I
agree that the classical Mendelian notion of "gene" is an approximation to what
we now understand about how genetic material works, it is a useful
approximation in many interesting cases, and I wish he had been clearer about
whether he thinks, in those cases, genes could act as "replicators", in the
sense of Hull
- Josiah Ober, Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning
in Classical Athens
- An interesting look at how the democratic political institutions of
classical Athens worked. Full review: Liberty was Born from Endless Meetings.
- Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
- A very engaging popular account of the psychology, sociology, moral
philosophy and experience of error, in all its many forms. Despite the
subtitle, the closest Schulz comes to statistics is mentioning
quality-assurance methods, and of course I think omission is (what
else?) a mistake. But otherwise, it's really
good: funny, informative, moving, and largely persuasive.
Briggs, Silver Borne
- Mind-candy. I am actually slightly hesitant to recommend it, because I
know that a large part of my enjoyment derived from the fact that while I was
reading it, I was not
- Michelle Sagara, Cast in Silence and Cast in Chaos
- Mind-candy. In which our heroine
adopts otherworldly menaces
like stray cats foils outbreaks from the dungeon dimensions.
- — Previously. Subsequently.
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
The Dismal Science;
The Collective Use and Evolution of Concepts;
Minds, Brains, and Neurons;
Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime;
The Continuing Crises
Posted at December 31, 2010 23:59 | permanent link