What I’ve been reading – Marginal REVOLUTION


1. Ian Morris, Geography is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000 Year History.  None of the book is bad, and half is quite interesting.  Think of the treatment as “Deep Roots for Brexit,” though willing to noodle over earlier and more interesting topics in history.  From a good FT review by Chris Allnutt: “Morris succeeds in condensing 10,000 years into a persuasive and highly readable volume, even if there are moments that risk a descent into what he seeks to avoid: “a catalogue of men with strange names killing each other”, as historian Alex Woolf put it.”  Now if only he would explain why their hot and cold water taps don’t run together…

2. Michel Houellebecq, Interventions 2020.  Grumpy non-fiction essays, with plenty of naive anti-consumerism.  You need to read them if you are a fan, but I didn’t find so much here of interest.  I was struck by his nomination of Paul McCartney (!) as the most essential musician, with Schubert next in line.  Mostly it is MH being contrary.  He has earned the right, but he wasn’t able to make me care more.

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3. Frank O’Connor, “Guests of the Nation.”  One of the best short stories I have read, Irish.  Can’t say any more without spoilers! 11 pp. at the link.

4. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest.  Has anyone done a systematic accounting of which Vietnam era fictional works have held up and which not?  Maybe this one gets a B+?  Not top drawer Le Guin, but good enough to read, and better yet if you catch the cross-cultural references and all the anthropological background works.

5. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, some cheap paperback edition.  I did a quick, non-studied reread of this, in prep for the new Cambridge University Press reissue edition due out June 30, which has excellent notes and I will study and reread in more detail.  One of the very best books!  Not only is the story fully engaging and deeply humorous, but it is one of the seminal tracts on progress (largely skeptical), a blistering take on political correctness, wise on the virtues and pitfalls of travel, and one of the first novels to truly engage with science and politics and their interaction.  Straussian throughout.  Swift is one of the very greatest thinkers and writers and his output has held up remarkably well.

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