Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tim Harford's top 10 undercover economics books

Here is the Guardian editor's introduction to "Tim Harford's top 10 undercover economics books" list, followed by Harford's account of Number One on the list:
Tim Harford's new book, The Logic of Life: Uncovering the new economics of everything, argues that the most unexpected people - oversexed teenagers, Las Vegas slot addicts, juvenile delinquents and even your boss - are rational, unconsciously weighing up risks and rewards and complying with economic logic. The author of The Undercover Economist, Harford is fond of unearthing economics in unexpected places, and here he roots it out in 10 unexpected books.

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

If only more economists could be like Jane Jacobs, for whom everything began with observing the world around her with the greatest care. The book begins with "the uses of sidewalks" and swiftly reveals the difference between one 35ft broad and one a mere 20ft. Jacobs's magisterial book is the very best example I know of how a compelling theory can be built, step by step, from the tiniest and most acute everyday observations.
Read about all ten titles on Harford's list.

Read excerpts from The Logic of Life, and learn more about the author and his work at Tim Harford's website and his blog.

Watch a brief video of Harford talking about The Logic of Life.

Tim Harford v. Stephen Colbert caged death-match: two men enter, one man leaves.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Diane Ackerman: most important books

Diane Ackerman's latest book is The Zookeeper’s Wife, the true story of a zookeeper who hid 300 Jews from the Nazis.

She recently told Newsweek about her five most important books.

One book on her list:
Life With Swan by Paul West. A novel full of all those exotic games couples play and don't want people to know about.
Read about the other four books on Ackerman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Five best books that explore human nature

Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, is the author of several books, including How the Mind Works and, most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature.

For the Wall Street Journal, he tagged a five best list of books that explore human nature.

One title on Pinker's list:
The Strategy of Conflict
By Thomas C. Schelling
Harvard, 1960

Only three years ago Thomas C. Schelling won the Nobel Prize in economics, but he has long been admired for a book that is more than four decades old. "The Strategy of Conflict" is not so much on human nature itself as it is on the rules of engagement that govern rational social creatures. But it introduced dozens of ideas on culture, emotion, conflict and communication that we are still in the early stages of exploring. Why is it sometimes advantageous to be an irrational hothead? Why do negotiators often split the difference between their positions or settle on a round number? Why do people use innuendo rather than blurting out what they mean? Other writers, including me, have addressed these topics in recent years, but Schelling had the ideas first.

Read about all five titles on Pinker's list.

Read or view Schelling's Nobel Prize lecture, and read his autobiography from The Nobel Prizes 2005, editor, Karl Grandin.

Influential books: Thomas C. Schelling.

Writers Read: Thomas C. Schelling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 22, 2008

James Hopkin's top 10 Polish books

James Hopkin's acclaimed debut novel, Winter Under Water, is just out in the U.K.

He named a top 10 list of Polish novels for the Guardian.

Here is part of his introduction, followed by one title on the list:
Poland has made a significant contribution to world culture, not least in the field of literature. I first visited the country in 1998 and was amazed by the reverence shown to writers and books - so much so, in fact, that I later moved there to write my first novel....

A Minor Apocalypse by Tadeusz Konwicki (Dalkey Archive Press)

A classic, dark satire of communist times in which a struggling writer is asked to set fire to himself, by way of protest, in front of the hideous Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. In an 'age of sorcerers and soothsayers dying away, all those prophets and messiahs who failed to save the world', Konwicki steps in to offer a little magic, a little poetry and a little guidance in a grim totalitarian world.
Read about all ten books on Hopkin's list.

Visit James Hopkin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Critics chart: six books on irregular war

M.R.D. Foot is a decorated veteran of the British Army and scholar of modern history. His many books include SOE: The Special Operations Executive 1940-1946. For the (London) Times, he named a critics chart of "six books on irregular war."

One book to make his list:
The Next Moon by Andre Hue

From teenage spy to the linkman between SOE and SAS in occupied Brittany.
Read about all six titles on Foot's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Five best satires of academic life

Roger Rosenblatt's contributions to Time and PBS have won two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, and an Emmy. He is the author of five Off-Broadway plays and twelve books, including the national bestseller Rules for Aging and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

His latest book, Beet, is an academic satire.

For the Wall Street Journal, he tagged five "satires of academic life [which] deserve to sit at the head of the class."

Number One on his list:
Lucky Jim
By Kingsley Amis
Doubleday, 1954

The nature of institutions usually dictates how to treat them in fiction; thus universities, like governments, are most accurately portrayed by ridicule. The best academic novels are also the funniest. And the funniest of these in my book -- and most everyone else's -- is Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim." The novel obliterates the more obvious targets of academic life -- the savage senior faculty, the dismal standards of intellectual success, the steady flow of cant, the casual conspiracies, the petty humiliations -- particularly those suffered by our hero, Jim Dixon, the inept and embittered history don at a provincial British college. "Lucky Jim" also touches on the darkest and unhappiest feature of the academy: Love cannot breathe there. (Jim's poor excuse for a girlfriend says things like "How close we seem tonight, James," and "All the barriers are down at last, aren't they?") One of the funnier, if quieter, jokes of the novel is that Jim has no recollection of how he wound up where he is -- a puzzle all too familiar to academicians. In a way, he presages England's Angry Young Men of the 1950s. But he's the most likable of the lot, and, stuck in a university, he suffers more.

Read about all five titles listed by Rosenblatt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2008

Top 10 romps and romances

Freya North's latest novel, Pillow Talk, won Britain's Romantic Novel of the Year award earlier this month.

She named a top 10 list of romantic fiction for the Guardian. A few prefatory remarks, then Number One on her list:
Throughout my life, romantic fiction has sustained me. I read recently that, as a genre, it is purchased more than any other. From tales of chaste love to bawdy shenanigans, from historical dramas to contemporary affairs, romantic fiction is as multi-faceted as love itself. The unifying factor is there's no better premise for a novel than love, in all its guises. I like to live vicariously through my heroines - they get up to things I'd never dare do...

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Possibly my desert island book. If Defoe can be revered as the godfather of the romp, his spunky protagonist, Moll, is the godmother of feisty literary heroines. The pace is frenzied and the plot outrageous. Our heroine marries every eligible male between Lancashire and Virginia - including her brother. She's a very modern icon - whatever befalls her, she picks herself up, dusts herself down, rearranges her cleavage and rampages off again.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ann Patchett's most important books

Ann Patchett is the author of the brilliant novel Bel Canto, a PEN/Faulkner Award winner about a hostage crisis in South America, and the more recent novel Run, the story of a fictional mixed-race Boston family.

She recently told Newsweek about her five most important books.

One title on the list:
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West.

Sentence by sentence, one of the most beautifully constructed novels I know.
Read about the other books on Ann Patchett's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Five best: books about the post-Civil War period

Stephen Budiansky is the author of The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, which has just been published by Viking.

He named a five best list of books which "capture the hope and turmoil of the post-Civil War period" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title to make the list:
By Eric Foner
Harper & Row, 1988

"Nearly two and a half centuries had passed since twenty black men and women were landed in Virginia from a Dutch ship," Eric Foner writes early in "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution." "From this tiny seed had grown the poisoned fruit of plantation slavery, which, in profound and contradictory ways, shaped the course of American development." If there is a scrap of paper from the Reconstruction era that Mr. Foner, a history professor at Columbia University, hasn't personally looked at, it would be hard to imagine. This beautifully written book is jaw-droppingly comprehensive, weaving countless telling details into its discussion of all the political, economic and social complexities of the era.

Read about the other four books on Budiansky's list.

Learn more about The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 8, 2008

Six top political thrillers

In 2007 Barry Forshaw, author of The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, named a "critic's chart" of "six American noir masters" for the London Times.

Now he's named his top political thrillers for the paper.

Number One on his list:

House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

Francis Urquhart - more ruthlessly corrupt than any expenses-massaging real-life MP - is a great literary monster.

Read the full list.

See Forshaw's "critic's chart" of "six American noir masters."

Read: The Page 69 Test: Michael Dobbs' The Lords’ Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Five best books about conspiracy theories

Max Holland, author of The Kennedy Assassination Tapes, named five books which "help untangle the mysterious popularity of conspiracy theories" for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Paranoid Style in American Politics
By Richard Hofstadter
Knopf, 1965

First conceived as a university lecture, Richard Hofstadter's seminal essay -- the title work in this collection -- remains the place to begin any discussion of conspiracy theories. "Heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy" are hallmarks of the paranoid style, writes Hofstadter (1916-70). To paranoia's purveyors, "history is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power." Hofstadter was writing about extreme right-wing groups, such as the John Birch Society, that flourished in the early 1960s. It's a pity that he is not here to analyze today's extreme leftists who promote the line that the Bush administration was behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

Read about all five titles on Holland's list.

--Marshal Zeringue