What I’ve Been Reading (Non-Football)
I read some about football. I read more about other things. I told you about the football books I read in the first quarter of 2015. Now I will tell you about some of the more interesting of the other books I finished that quarter, but not about the uninteresting ones or the ones I don’t feel like discussing.
Most of my fiction reading is unremarkable, read solely for personal enjoyment and relaxation and not sufficiently interesting to be mentioned here. In the first quarter, I finished the final two extant volumes of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. If my appetite for television dramas in a year ever exceeds the 13 hours in a season of The Americans, I could start watching Game of Thrones without fear of spoilers for current books.
There’s way too much out there to actually read, so it’s crucial to develop heuristics that help you pick and choose what to even start reading (unless you’re Tyler Cowen and you just read the first 25 pages of every book you possibly can). Explicitly didactic fiction? Normally a big no-no and a huge turn-off. Fan fiction? Apply Sturgeon’s law, then apply Sturgeon’s law again, and apply Sturgeon’s law once again for good measure. Yet I still read, and on the whole greatly enjoyed, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. This is the most Not For Everybody, Your Mileage May Vary thing I’ve ever mentioned on here. Familiarity with the Harry Potter books is somewhere between greatly enjoyment-enhancing and absolutely essential. If you start it, and you’re not enjoying it by chapter 8-10, give up. If you love it like I did, settle in for a very long ride. Personal favorites include chapters 37, 45 (duh), and 93.
The death of Singaporean elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew got me to finally finish Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights. I’d left it sitting unread on my phone for a while since it was just a collection of clips from other things LKY had done, and when I read a book I’m preferably looking for arguments longer than a couple paragraphs at the most. I got it on a Kindle deal, and even at the $1.99 or whatever I paid for it I’m not sure it was worth it. The Singapore Story, which I read about 15 years ago, may be my favorite autobiography by a twentieth century politician, though.
As far as installments in the Penguin History of Europe go, Christendom Destroyed by Mark Greengrass ranks significantly closer to Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory and Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome than it does to The Birth of Classical Europe. While good and a fine overview, though, I would not put it on the same level as either the Blanning or Wickham and therefore recommend it only to those with an interest in the subject and not more broadly.
Of interest only to a limited audience, I mostly enjoyed James Whitman’s The Verdict of Battle, about how victory in eighteenth century warfare had legal consequences it subsequently lost. It’s not perfect-I would have liked to have seen him draw more out about why Chotusitz was necessary after Mollwitz and more generally if victories whose result was binding could be determined ex ante instead of solely ex post. Further, the eighteenth century rule seems like a better one, but its breakdown was the result of changes in political participation more broadly that on the whole I would characterize as greatly for the better. I’m fine with a book that just describes the baleful influence of Kantians and current trends among international lawyers, but I’m not sure that’s a huge audience.
I know, it’s a movie and everybody else and Peter King has already read it, but I finally got around to Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and found it as compelling a personal story as I’d read in some time even with the ultimate ending being close to the proverbial going home and buying a Buick.
I don’t have much I feel like saying about Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels by Ian Morris, other than that I enjoyed it, though not as much as Why the West Rules-For Now or War! What Is It Good For?, and the commentaries (his main essay originated as the Tanner Lecture in philosophy at Princeton) on his work are all pretty much worthless except that they give him a chance to write more about his thesis in the rebuttal section.