Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reading Notes: Buses and Planes

Reading notes, accumulated from recent plane and bus rides:

John E. McDonough, Inside National Health Reform.  You are most likely to read this if stuck in the middle seat in the back of coach, i.e., where there is nothing else to do and no escape.  This is no criticism of McDonough.  He's done a masterful job of laying out the skeleton of Obamacare in as comprehensive and comprehensible manner as possible.  Valuable and worth the effort, even if a bit of a slog. 

Geert Mak, Amsterdam.   Not easy to write a history of The City without writing a history of The Netherlands as a whole, and Mak doesn't always manage the organization as well as one might hope.  But he mostly delivers the goods and does a particularly good job of describing Amsterdam's afterlife--the time after the glory days of the Dutch Republic and the overseas empire had receded into senescence.  I hope to quote a bit once my mind clears.

Avhijir V. Banerjee and Erher Duflo, Poor Economics.   On what works in aid to the dollar-a-day cohort.  B and D present the world of development aid as a contrast between "supply wallahs" (Jeffrey Sachs) and "demand wallahs" (William Easterly).  B and D are really pretty close to the demand wallahs, though they would like to think of themselves as presenting a third view which you might call "it's complicated."  Or more grandly, the world is generally a messier but more interesting place than the threads economists spin out of their own gizzards.

David Bellos, Is That a Fish in your Ear?  Highly entertaining, anecdote-rich meditation on the translator's trade.  Probably better understood as a series of loosely-connected essays. If there is a theme, it might be "translators deserve more respect."  Seeing that almost anybody gets more respect than translators usually get, this assertion seems almost surely correct.

Rachel Polonsky, Molotov's Magic Lantern.  I didn't realize until after I had finished it that this was the book at the center of a gripping little academic tragi-farce a few  months back in which the Russian historian Orlando Figes made a perfect fool of himself.  Structurally, the book is a bit of a mess, but the atmospherics are powerfully persuasive and it is fun to read one where you really don't have to worry about following the argument because there isn't any.

1 comment:

New York Crank said...

Re Figes:

Cliches become cliches for a reason. What has come to mind is Henry Kissinger's line, now a cliche, about faculty politics. (I always thought it was George Bernard Shaw's line, but a cursory glance at Google tells me I'm wrong).

Anyway, you've heard this a million times before: "The politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small."

Sheesh! These guys would slow-garrote their rivals on a public gibbet if they thought they could get away with it.

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank