This summer, for reasons to be announced later, I won’t have much time. Or, if others are to be believed, I’ll have too much time. What seems to be the one consistent in all the advice I’ve received about what will happen this summer, is that I will inevitably be unprepared for it. And that my life will never be the same.
So to prepare for the unpreparable, I’ve bought a stack of books. Just in case. Here are my favourite twelve reads of the (southern hemisphere) summer. I summarise them through the eyes of others.
Grit author Angela Duckworth recommends The Elements of Choice: ‘Eric Johnson distills the modern science of decision-making with incomparable clarity and the most captivating stories. His book is a must read for anyone who wants to know how we can help one another make wiser choices.’
Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole recommends The Power of Creative Destruction: ‘Accelerating technological change, global warming, pandemics, individual and national stagnation, over-indebtedness: this century decidedly provokes anxiety. Armed with legitimate concerns, anti-globalization protestors and neo-Luddites look inwards and denigrate innovation. The Power of Creative Destruction offers another vision, more persuasive and based on the innovation that creates wealth and jobs. Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin, and Simon Bunel dismantle contemporary myths about such economic phenomena as secular stagnation and the impact of automation on employment. They show the need for competition and the fight against rents. They advocate a regulated capitalism that will allow us to keep society prosperous and the planet green. They explain, in short, how to manage the creative destruction that over the past two centuries has brought to our society a previously unimaginable prosperity. Provocative and rigorous, this book is an important milestone in our reflections on the future of our societies. A must-read.’
Diane Coyle, a University of Cambridge scholar and one of the authors to feature on this list, had this to say about Andrew Lo and Stephen Foerster’s In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio: ‘Throughout recorded history, people have looked to safeguard their future through the stewardship of their assets. This wonderful book describes how, in the twentieth century, a group of scholars and practitioners developed systematic approaches to this endeavor. By exploring the differences between these pioneers, In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio puts forth a framework that enables each of us to reflect on our own investment portfolios.’ (I’m already halfway with this book, and learning a lot.)
One of my favourite scholars, Jared Diamond, has this to say about Mine!: ‘This delicious book will guide you through the confusing maze of ownership disputes that bedevil our daily lives. Who owns your ‘private’ information, your Netflix password, your yard’s airspace, and the chair of your deceased parents that you and your sister now both want? It’s often unclear: read and prepare yourself!’
Steve G on Amazon writes this about The Nile: ‘There were parts of the book that I found outstanding – those about the hydrology of the Nile and the geopolitics of the Nile drainage basin. I liked how the book was organized, with discussion starting at the north end of the river and then following the river south, so following a geographic and not chronological discussion. The historical treatment is also excellent, with an in-depth discussion of colonialism. On the other hand, while I normally enjoy reading about the author’s journey, in this case, these sections came out flat. I also didn’t enjoy the use of historical jargon or the numerous detours to discuss historical theories, for example, about Orientalism or ethnicity. Overall, though, this book is well worth reading.’
University of Toulouse professor Paul Seabright gives Jan Lucassen’s The Story of Work two thumbs up: ‘If being forced to work feels bad, it is nowhere near as bad as having no worthwhile work to do. Lucassen’s masterly book shows how the human need for fulfilment in shared tasks has confronted technological and social forces that pit us against each other in a struggle to appropriate the material rewards of work and the esteem that comes with it.’
Says Mahmood Mamdani of Howard French’s Born in Blackness: ‘A necessary book. A compelling narrative that systematically dismantles one prop after another in the academy’s master narrative of how Europe brought light to ’the Dark Continent’ over the past six centuries. Howard W. French has written a worthy successor to Du Bois’ The World and Africa.’
I also enjoyed Adam Hochshild’s review: ‘Born in Blackness does for traditional Eurocentric history what Copernicus did for the pieties of his time when he showed that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not vice versa. Africa, its peoples, and its wealth, the superbly qualified Howard French shows us, are far more central to the formation of the modern world than we usually think. And, unlike Copernicus, French has been to all the places he writes about.’
Harvard University’s Dani Rodrik likes Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be, by Diane Coyle: ‘In a profession that is not known for critical self-reflection, Diane Coyle stands out. As she points out in this masterful book, economics’ foes often base their case on strawmen that miss the profession’s true failings. Coyle offers as much a defense of sensible economics as a critique of some of its unproductive habits, and shows the way forward to a useful economics for an increasingly digital economy.’
Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler recommends Career and Family by Harvard’s Claudia Goldin, who many think might be the third woman to win the Nobel in Economics: ‘Girls do better than boys in high school, and women are more likely than men to graduate from college, yet men still earn more than women. How come? Claudia Goldin is the expert on this question, and Career and Family provides a comprehensive answer in what is the equivalent of a historical novel spanning five generations. The book is concise, thorough, and completely engaging.’
Yale University School of Management’s Fiano Scott Morton says of Jan Eeckhout’s latest book: ‘The Profit Paradox is a timely and valuable addition to the national conversation on monopolies and competition. Jan Eeckhout does a masterful job of linking long-running macroeconomic trends to the lives of individual workers and consumers. Economists have only recently understood how market power affects both. He explains how the drive for corporate profit, in combination with insufficient enforcement to prevent market power, lowers wages and working conditions and reduces opportunities for small business. The book is one of the first clear and engaging explanations of how many of the most problematic features of the modern economy are causally related.’
Historian and author Jerry Brotton loved David Rooney’s About Time: ‘About Time is an utterly dazzling book, the best piece of history I have read for a long time. From sundials in ancient Rome to astronomical, water-driven, mechanical, and atomic timepieces used throughout history and across cultures, Rooney has written the definitive book on these remarkable objects that give order to everyday life. It is a moving and beautifully written book that even takes us 5,000 years into the future with plutonium clocks ticking away beneath our feet. There will be many puns about this as a timely book; in fact, it is timeless.’
Jakub Docvik gave Dan Breznitz’s Innovation in Real Places five stars on Goodreads: Probably the best book on innovation policy in recent years, its common mistakes, failures, and misconceptions, as well as strategies for success. It should be compulsory reading for all policymakers that fell into the delusion that their “Silicon Hyphen” will be a success rivaling the Bay Area. Breznitz enjoyably describes the various success stories, failures as well as theoretical underpinnings of how can regions create their own was for local economic development through innovation – not just novel and radical innovations, but later stage, incremental and manufacturing-based models, that bring wider prosperity than gigantic exits of VC-backed ICT startups.
In the latter chapters, Breznitz also greatly describes how the intellectual property regimes, systems of corporate finance, and data mining are diminishing the possibilities for local economic growth through innovation. Breznitz is a must-author for anyone that wants to understand innovation and technology policy and this might his best book yet.’
Of course, if you have not yet read Our Long Walk to Economic Freedom, then this summer is the time to do so. Here’s Franzi’s review on Amazon: ‘Loved every page of it! Amazing narration of historic events, putting so much of today’s world into perspective, and leaving its reader empowered and re-energized to pursue a better future- for everyone. Full of eye-openers, for economists and everyone else wanting to understand why we are at where we are at (wish there was already a German or Portuguese translation to the book to share with even more friends)!’
And watch this space for two new titles – both very different from Our Long Walk – to appear early next year.