Friday, April 10, 2009

What I've been reading

  • Jay McInerney's "Bacchus and me", one of the best books I've read within the past two years or so. Informative, witty, provocative (even for me: I clearly disagree with the author in several places!, but that only adds to the spice...). Don't miss it even (or especially if...) you don't know much about wines (earlier).
  • "Elephants on acid: And other bizzare experiments", by Alex Boese: somewhat overrated. It does have quite some (catalogue) informative value, indexing indeed rather unusual (public "crazy"/"taboo") research within the last century or so, but the scientific studies mentioned are a strange highly selective sample from two or three disciplines (with a dominant preference towards psychology experiments); (accordingly) the writing style is very commercial, paying much more attention to the (ex ante) declared research target, than to the often unmatched (ex post) quality of the cited study; finally, we could perhaps do without the forced 'jokes' at the end of every chapter. Nevertheless, this could be used as light evening reading for those of you not involved much with (academic) science in daily life...
  • "Economics: A very short introduction", by Partha Dasgupta. Interesting and perhaps desired goal in this series: a very short and concise introduction to a specific discipline, meant particularly for outsiders. Dasgupta's book is well written, very solid in what it discusses, but far from exhaustive or even general enough in coverage (both in portraying methodology and subfields etc)... In order to "shortly introduce" this topic to non-economists, I would ideally prefer a very short version of Mankiw's "Principles of Economics" (e.g., take the 10 principles and expand in the typical 'short introduction' series book length...), or else something in the spirit of Wheelan's "Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science" (see also earlier, 2nd bullet point).

  • "Einstein: His Life and Universe", by Walter Isaacson. Probably the best biography on Einstein as yet. The author is, inter alia, using autobiographical material only recently available from Einstein's family etc. I started quite a while ago reading it (see earlier, last bullet point) but wrapped it up only recently. In particular, and rather uncommon to previous Einstein biographies, the author does a great job in portraying Einstein's personal life(s) with all its ups and downs, and a good job in presenting (and at points giving plenty of detail) Einstein political/social/economic views (particularly in the latter stage of his life), including (my interest here) what academic economists would consider naive economic perspectives (some of which Einstein himself revised or re-nuanced, to his credit).

  • "Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism ", by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller. I have just started this book, and I think there is much more to it then the following..., but, before we all turn behavioural economists (sic), I suggest we all read its very recent review, by Richard Posner. In fact it is this criticism I wanted to advertise here: you might have issues with Posner's comments here and there, but else it really gets down to the fundamentals (the animal spirits, here, if you will). Here's a bit to get you going, the one bit that involves this profession: "Some of these mistakes of commission and omission had emotional components. The overconfidence of economists might even be thought a manifestation of animal spirits. But the career and reward structures, and the ideological preconceptions, of macroeconomists are likelier explanations than emotion for the economics profession's failure to foresee or respond effectively to the crisis." Nonetheless, I will still finish reading the book :-).

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