Some of the books that have crossed my desk, and end-table, over the past few months.
This year of Coronatide, I define “summer” loosely, as I suspect many of you do. Sometimes it all feels like March has been extended for an indefinite run. (September 1 would be March 184th, since you asked.)
An unordered list:
- John Oller, White Shoe: How A New Breed Of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business And The American Century (Dutton: New York, 2019). Paul Cravath, JP Morgan, William Nelson Cromwell, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, the Panama Canal, the railroad/sugar/coal/steel/tobacco/&c. trusts, and the formative years of BigLaw as we know it today. Plus ca change. Very New York-y.
- Albert Hirschman, The Rhetoric Of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1991) Another entirely original, succinct (170 pages) tour de force from (as many of you know) one of my go-to authors. I’m not alone in tagging Hirschman as the first behavioral economist, even if that term was unknown in his day. “Rhetoric” is a taxonomy of three of the standard maneuvers of those who want to oppose suggested reforms without, quite exactly, taking a stand against them. With a coda (Hirschman admits he thinks “symmetrically”) on the progressive toolkit of standard-issue ripostes. Caveat lector: If you like thinking every argument you’ve ever come up with is entirely original to you, erase this paragraph from your mind. Do it now.
- Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins Of Our Discontents (Random House: New York, 2020) The strongest book, bar none, that I’ve been able to find on America’s Original Sin, completed before Coronatide and our season of #BLM and perhaps (Maybe? Just? Could it be?) the period in our nation’s history of the strongest impetus to meaningful, lived and experienced civil rights since Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” 57 years ago. Utterly original, a nearly insuperable challenge in this four centuries and counting conversation. Not-really-a-spoiler-alert: “Caste” beats “race” hands down as historically, sociologically, economically, and psychologically informative and descriptive.
- Jeffrey Sachs, The Ages Of Globalization: Geography, Technology, And Institutions (Columbia University Press: New York, 2020) The Columbia University polymath weighs in on “if globalization as we’ve known it is over, what’s next?”
- Steven Johnson, Enemy Of All Mankind: A True Story Of Piracy, Power, And History’s First Global Manhunt (Riverhead Books: New York, 2020) Confession: Another go-to author of mine. The “you can’t make that up” but historically accurate tale of how Henry Every, the 17th’s most audacious and successful pirate (a name that means nothing to modern ears), inadvertently was instrumental in making the British East India Company, the Royal Navy, and the first stages of the growing waves of globalization, what they became.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love In The Time Of Cholera (first English translation, Alfred Knopf 1988; my edition Penguin Random House: New York, 2007) What can you say? Magisterial, indescribable. A modern and future classic: Nobel Prize stuff. (And I read Camus’ The Plague a few decades ago, thank-you-very-much and thought I’d successfully put it out of my mind until Covid.)
- Kurt Andersen, Evil Geniuses; The Unmaking Of America: A Recent History (Random House: New York, 2020) How American began to run off its collective rails in the 1970’s, and the arc of connection between cultural seeds sown then and our bitter tribal harvest today. The furthest thing from a harangue: A craftsman-like construction of an argument through facts. Plus he’s an engaging stylist. If diagnosis must precede prescription, a brilliant first step.
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion (Vintage Books/Random House: New York, 2012) Pre-Brexit, pre-our President #45. Haidt is a professor of “ethical leadership” at NYU’s Stern School of Business, but for present purposes he’s a deep thinker about what he posits are the five moral foundations governing our judgments on what’s good, acceptable, repulsive, or worse. Those five spectra are: (a) care/harm; (b) fairness/cheating; (c) loyalty/betrayal; (d) authority/subversion; and (e) sanctity/degradation.
- Marc Levinson, Outside The Box: How Globalization Changed From Moving Stuff To Spreading Ideas (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2020) Some of you may recognize Levinson from his earlier book, The Box, about how the lowly shipping container (introduced commercially, for real, around 1958) revolutionized trade and made globalization as we’ve experienced it possible. This, obviously a sequel, discusses what the next phase may look like, as we re-evaluate the fragility of just-in-time globe-spanning supply chains and zero inventory, but simultaneously appreciate anew the idea-friendly serendipity of encounters between profoundly heterogeneous thinkers.
- William Hennessey, Walking Broadway: Thirteen Miles Of Architecture And History (The Monacelli Press: New York, 2020) As advertised. A “coffee table book” you can put in your hip pocket (if you have capacious pockets). Nearly 250 pages of the highlights along (and just adjacent to) Broadway, New York’s longest street, from Bowling Green at the base of the Island to the Broadway Bridge exiting Manhattan for the Bronx and splitting Spuyten Duyvil from the Harlem River. Meticulously researched, seen with eyes fresh even to those of us who’ve lived our adult lives on this Island.
Full disclosure: Bill is a friend, but a well-qualified one to produce this volume. He’s an art historian who taught at Vassar College, the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Michigan and directed the art museums at each of those institutions. From 1997 to 2014 he was director of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia.