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Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

The book count is 34 books this year, I actually have four more to write about but I'm out of time.  This year I'm not going to be as hard on myself for falling short of the 52 books in 52 weeks mark because some of the books I read were textbooks.  Since textbooks are 700 pages of raw information and since I read some of the chapters of my macroeconomic theory and public policy books several times I'm going to count this year as the most thorough year of reading that I've had in years.  Now it's on to the awards in my limited world of literature.

Best book:  Let the Great World Spin

Worst book:  Potshot

The book I can't stop thinking about is Super Sad True Love Story.  The story itself was average but the world was so detailed and such an interesting take on our modern world of social networking and oversharing.  Also Gary Shteyngart has such a powerful and compelling literary voice and cadence to his writing that I'm compelled to read his other novels.

The best thing to happen locally is the used book store that opened in Nashua.  It's called, plainly enough, Used Book Superstore.  If you live in the New Hampshire/Northern Mass area keep your eye out for the 40 percent off coupons.  We went in as a family last night and we spent enough that they gave us another coupon good for 50 percent off for the next two weeks because we spent so much.  I guess just like a good casino they know how to recognize their prime customers and ply them with discounts.

The best thing to happen to me literature wise was the arrival of e-books into my life.  In March I bought a droid phone which had an e-book reader on it called Aldiko.  I was instantly hooked.  I still read more print books than e-books but I can see a day when the e-book rules all.  From doing academic work this year I'd have to say that both print books and e-books have their advantages.  Print books have what I call the flip factor.  It's easy to flip a couple of pages back in order to take another look at a table or to re-read a chapter or two.  I'd never attempt to do homework with an e-book.  Homework is all about flipping all over the place of answers and e-books are just not quite fast enough yet to allow you to flip all over the place to find an answer.  E-books do have the advantage of search though.  I keep running into situations where I start writing a paper and remember a passage I'd really like to find to cite or to read again.  Indexes help but they're not nearly as good as a search for a word that you knew was in the sentence.  E-books are still inferior if you like marginalia and finding little notes in your used books so hopefully print books will be around for a long while.

So here is to a happy and prosperous 2011!  I hope you read some great books and win some big hands.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Economic Growth in Britain and France, 1780-1914: Two Paths to the Twentieth Century

Whew, just reading the title of that book wore me out.  This book was one I read for research on my term paper on French economic history.  Originally I was going to write a paper on French economic history from the industrial revolution to the present, that turned out to be a too broad nightmare.  I then decided to write a paper on whether or not the French Revolution made workers better off, no dice, there is not a lot of material on that kind of history, probably because as soon as the French revolution was over Napoleon was in power so there just isn't a whole lot of French revolutionary history without taking into account the effects of the empire.  Lastly I decided that my best plan was to write about France during the industrial revolution, mostly because there were lots of books at the University library about it.

The University library is an amazing place.  I've never seen a collection of such amazing books about history and economics and math and social sciences before.  If I won a big lottery prize I would probably spend all day and night at a university library.  There is no larger collection of books there that no-one wants to read.  Another book I read for this paper was Rondo Cameron's France and the Economic Development of Europe which has been checked out twice before my since it was published in 1962.  One of the checkouts was returned the same day and since it is a thousand page monstrosity of tables, charts and dense statistics I'm positive that unless it was John Nash that checked it out that day it was not completely read.

The horrifying thing about my choice of paper topic was that I read my professor's bio after I'd chosen the topic and it turns out he is an expert on French economic history.  Since I'm totally obsessed with grades and any other form of achievement, I knew that it was going to be some work to get an A.  I ended up reading 1500 pages altogether of French economic history to get my paper done.  I've collected my A though and O'brien and Cameron have gone back to collecting dust.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective

You may be asking yourself, "didn't you post about this already?"  Well Dear Reader let me assure you that there is a huge difference between the book by  J.Mokyr entitled The British Industrial Revolution an Economic Perspective and the Robert C. Allen book The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective.

To give it to you the dry straight facts, Mokyr's book is about the theory of what caused the Industrial Revolution.  Why the 18th and 19th centuries and why Great Britain.  Allen also has his own theory and his introduction chapter covers this but Allen goes much more in depth about the history of Great Britain and does more to compare what was going on in England to what was happening on continental Europe and in Asia.

Allen's book does tell more of a story.  I loved the section where he discussed entrepreneurs and inventors in the U.K.  This was one of the moments of economic history class where economic history resembled what I thought history was about before I took this class.  I always imagined that history was a bunch of retired old men reading musty old books and telling stories around the fire at night while they smoked their pipes.  I never imagined that they would pore over spreadsheets of the percentage income gains of British laborers vs. French laborers.

If you do want to pick up an economic history book about the Industrial Revolution, I would say this one is the more accessible of the two.  Also it's much cheaper with a list price of $25 vs. the insane price of $50 that Mokyr's book is going for used on Amazon right now.  It looks like I'm about to make my own economic history by selling a paperback book on Amazon for a much larger price than I would ever have imagined.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good in Bed

Chick lit has been controversial this year.  Jonathan Franzen was recognized and applauded for freedom before it even came out.  Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult decided to speak out about what they perceive as unfair media bias against women writers.  For some reason I'm drawn to situations where media types get all hot blooded so I decided to check out some of the books Picoult and Weiner have written to see what they're talking about.

I started with a used copy of Good in Bed, I hope Ms. Picoult and Ms. Weiner don't think that I'm going to be giving them any money to figure this out.  I'm afraid that unless you can produce some compelling cover art, I'm not going to be buying any new books.  My bookshelf is stacked two layers deep, I just got an unexpected bonus at work and I have a used bookstore coupon that's going to get used along with some of that bonus money.  Mr. Franzen won't be seeing any royalties either because I was able to pick up a big hardcover copy of The Corrections at the used book store as well.

Let the battle begin.  Jennifer Weiner's Good in bed is the story of a writer named Cannie who works the celebrity section of a newspaper.  Her ex-boyfriend gets a job at a national women's magazine writing a column called "Good in Bed".   The boyfriend writes about their relationship.  Cannie is overweight and the boyfriend writes about how challenging it is to date an overweight woman, which is of course our heroine Cannie.

I'm honestly reaching for ways to compare this book to other media I've consumed but the only other girly media that comes to mind is the day I was stuck with nothing else to do and ended up watching Bed of Roses in Lake Powell.  I think I may not have been sober that day either but I do remember the stalker flower salesman randomly chasing down some woman and then one of them deciding that they were having second thoughts.  I'm still perplexed at how having second thoughts about a perfectly normal relationship is a plot driver, in fact I'm not even sure that most men have second thoughts.  In fact many of the situations I've been in make me wonder if I even am capable of forming complete first thoughts.

Some of this book was fascinating.  There was a chapter where Cannie described going to college and getting her job in fantastic detail.  Jennifer Weiner showed some amazing talent in parts of this book, some parts though were rough, so rough that I'm surprised that anyone let it go to print without another re-write.  The ending was happy, Cannie got everything she wanted, it certainly didn't happen the way anyone would want it to happen but it happened nonetheless.

From a literary standpoint this book was average.  I need to finish the Picoult and Franzen before I make any kind of judgement about media bias and the subjugation of women's fiction but comparing this to other books it is a pretty lukewarm bowl of soup.  It wasn't terrible enough to send it back but it wasn't good enough that I'd call it memorable without the controversy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The European Economy Between the Wars

Finally economic history starts to get interesting and useful once you can read about the post World War I economies of Europe.  There are still plenty of tables to be found here but at least there is some narrative and it starts to resemble the history you know and love.

Highlights of the years between the wars include reparations,  German hyperinflation, and of course the Great Depression.

The best chapter was the one that discussed the observation of Marienthal by sociologists.  Marienthal was a textile town that was completely devastated when the textile mill that supported the town shut down.  The workers had unemployment insurance but the unemployment wouldn't allow them to work at all. If someone who was receiving payouts worked at all, even carrying milk to market for a portion of the milk or taking in any kind of sewing they were cut off from the payments.  The town essentially became a place where people sat around and played cards all day and did nothing.  Even the city parks and common areas became overgrown.

So is it worth a read?  Only if you're into IS/LM curves, collapse of demand, and tariff policy.  I enjoyed this more than the other textbooks for my class but I know this won't be for most people.