Daniel W. Drezner

My geeky summer vacation reading list

My geeky summer vacation reading list

 In a desperate, last-ditch effort to keep up with the President’s pace of summer vacations, your humble blogger will be at an undisclosed locale and blogging at a more leisurely pace than normal (though I do hope to get to the Goldberg essay on Israel/US/Iran soon). 

I confess to being not much of a fiction reader in general, and I’ve already read my novel for the summer.  But I am looking forward to my non-fiction reading on this trip – it‘s a balanced mix of something old, something new, and a few things to think about in the wake of my Israel trip: 

1)  Harold James, The End of Globalization:  Lessons From the Great Depression.  As the economy starts heading into its second dip since the fall of 2008, it’s worth contemplating whether the globalized economy we’ve taken for granted the past thirty years could really disintegrate.  It’s certainly true that, to date, the Great Recession has not really upended the open rules of the global game.  A few more dips, however, and anything is possible.  James wrote this short book about a decade ago, using prior historical eras in which globalization has collapsed to ask whether it could happen again.  This, plus another look at Barry Eichengreen’s Golden Fetters when I get back, should serve me well for the next month or so. 

2)  Jerry Z. Muller, Capitalism and the Jews.  To put it bluntly, why are the Jews so damn good at commerce?  How have philosophers explained this stereotype-that-contains-some-element-of-truth?  Why have some Jews rebelled against the market?  This interconnected collection of essays proffers some tentative answers to these questions.   

3)  Albert Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction:  Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy.  If this summer’s political to-dos have been about anything, they’ve been about how conservatives reactionaries have skillfully and not-so-skillfully used their rhetoric to push the public discourse in a direction that favors their arguments.  In this kind of environment, Hirschman’s book seems especially trenchant.  Besides, in my humble opinion, every social scientist should read or re-read one of Albert Hirschman’s books every year.  Hmmm…. question to readers:  which author do you think social scientists should read at least once a year?

4)  Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-up Nation:  The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.  While I was in Israel, everyone and their Jewish mother kept telling me to read this book, which proffers to explain why Israel has transformed itself from socialist basketcase to entrepreneurial exemplar.  So, I’ll take a look.  I’ve heard Singer’s spiel on this, which among other things argues that Israeli entrepreneurs have a comparative advantage because of their esprit de corps that builds from their army experience.  This echoes some of Avner Greif’s work about the Maghrebi traders.  That said, Greif’s hypothesis is now open to question, and I’m not completely convinced about Senor and Singer’s argument. 

5)  Peter Andreas and Kelly Greenhill, eds., Sex, Drugs and Body Counts:  The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict.  Having  worked a bit on money laundering, I’m keenly aware of the ways in which bulls**t statistics become accepted as fact.  If some authoritative figure pulls a number out of thin air, the media will often repeat it to the point where it becomes gospel.  Andreas and Greenhill’s edited volume takes a hard look at how some of these figures affect public policy debates.  Slate’s Jack Shafer has already penned a paean to the book that I could never match, so just check out his praiseworthy review

Readers are encouraged to proffer their own nonfiction book recommendations in the comments.