Lazy man’s book reviews and blog post (or, What I’ve been reading)

  1. The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, by Herbert Asbury. The (non-fiction) book that sparked the Scorcese movie. Possibly the most amazing collection of historical tales I have read. Will cure you of any notion that the US led an ordered and peaceful path to peace and prosperity.
  2. Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination and Common Knowledge, by Michael Chwe. How humans use ceremony and ritual to coordinate everything from everyday interactions to political systems of authority. A game theorist’s quick and informal take.
  3. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. Supposedly the earliest best English mystery novel. Almost 150 years old, but still feels fresh. Though a bit long, reminding us that 19th century readers had many long candlelit nights without the Internets.
  4. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Can you tell I downloaded Kindle books from a list of “Best Detective Novels Ever Written”? Campy but excellent.
  5. Introduction to Modern Economic Growth, by Daron Acemoglu. Finally picking up this textbook off my shelf. As Bob Solow writes on the back, reading this volume “makes me feel like one of the Wright brothers coming face to face with a Boeing 747 for the first time.” I am trying to find the Wright Bros-level material for my PhD development class this winter.

7 thoughts on “Lazy man’s book reviews and blog post (or, What I’ve been reading)

  1. It’s a great read, but I’d be careful about interpreting the Asbury book as non-fiction. I think its pretty well agreed that he made up lots of the stories, embellished others, and relied too much on newspaper articles, which were often more fiction than fact. For an earlier research project, I couldn’t find one scrap of evidence outside of Asbury on gangs in old time New York.

    If you like Asbury, you might enjoy Anbinder’s history of the Five Points, which I recommend highly.

  2. Assign your students a paper on the Acemoglu book from an anthropological perspective on how Acemoglu’s identity as a conservative economist shapes his view of development, modeling, what constitutes learning. Could simplify this to “catalogue the errors in logic in the first 50 pages”. For bonus points, see if any of your students can discover anything in the text that is interesting and important, and yet not already obvious to an intelligent laymen. This latter question would be really difficult, but you could grade on a curve…