EconFinanceTwitter is great. Here people refer me to papers and stories I would never have otherwise read, and this happens many times a week. As we come to the end of the year, I asked a bunch of EconFinanceTwitter for their best books that they had read in 2016 – econ, finance, fiction, anything – in 140ch. And it’s a cracking list (even if some went >140chs). So, without further ado.*
All that Man Is by David Szalay. Honestly, I only read it because I know the author’s cousin (hi, Eva!) and at first, I wasn’t convinced. But I got really drawn in. Condensed, powerful stories.
I’ll name “Best and the Brightest“, which I just re-read. Powerful analysis of how groupthink can lead technocratic “elites” badly astray.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday is a timely reminder that success can come without self-interest, packed with historical anecdotes.
Really enjoyed Elena Ferante’s novels but I reckon this is the one for me: The biggest story of 2016 isn’t Trump or Brexit or Bowie dying or Dylan Nobel-ing. It’s that our planet has never been hotter. Geoengineering is what we do about it. Morton’s book profiles the practical science of geo-engineering and is superbly written.
Bob Allen, “Industrial revolution: A short introduction“. Masterful summary of why the Industrial revolution happened in England and not in China or India. Peer Vries, “Escaping poverty“. Uncompromisingly critical review of all theories of economic development (geography, factor endowments, culture, institutions etc). Avner Offer, “The First World War: An agrarian interpretation“. How after the repeal of Corn Laws, the control of the sea became a substitute for tariffs and led to World War 1.
The Worldly Philosopher, Jeremy Adelman’s biography of Albert Hirschman. A book guaranteed to make you think-I’ve wasted my life. An extraordinary account of a great life–He was a student in Berlin in the 1930s, combatant in Spain and France in 1940, ran an Underground Railroad for resisters and was in the OSS. All this before writing at least two absolute gems that I refer to all the time as thinking tools–Exit, Voice, Loyalty & Passions/Interests. Hung out with Stanley Hoffman, Gerschenkron and Geertz. My only consolations are a) he was really bad at parallel parking b) he used to collect little insights called his petites pensees that I lean on to justify my life on Twitter.
It has to be Umberto Eco’s “Five moral pieces”. A short collection of essays on war, migrations, ethics, the press and a very actual chapter on how to recognize fascism.
Understanding Trump-ism has for me been a lesson in Sociology. In the things we data driven economist type often downplay: Community, meaning, integration, regulation, religion, and most of all, anomie. Hard to chose just one Durkheim book, and although this is the hardest, it was for me the most clarifying.
No Sense of Place by Josh Meyrowitz. This book was published 30 years ago, and it’s about how electronic media reshapes society. The book’s primary focus is the impact of television, but all the arguments apply even more powerfully to social media. The changes to politics we’re seeing on account of platforms like Twitter and Facebook are just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m going to go with Unraveling Oliver by Elizabeth Nugent.
Primo Levi, The Periodic Table. An old one (but a 2016 BBC serial, so still on brief): 21 short stories, each related to a chemical element, on life as a 20th c. Italian Jew. Simply beautiful.
Rebecca Spang won Enlightenment Econ 2017 book prize with Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution. A great read & reminder that money is always & everywhere political.
Other titles here.
Most of my best reading this year was re-reading of classics. The best was La Peste, Albert Camus’s 1947 allegory of fascism, which I read to improve my French and also for other reasons.
Thick as a brick but very well-written, Gordon deals with one of central issues of our time, with many insights and questions to think about in The Rise and Fall of American Growth.
Milanovic was most influential book i bought in 2016 but need to think abt others. Biggest topic is qe/zirp & post-qe inequality/ rebellion but there really isn’t a dominant book yet..
Favourite 2016 read Nelson: The Sword of Albion (John Sugden) details heroism and sexual obsession alongside Mediterranean politics.
Wende. Murder, love, conspiracy, finance. A 1st novel (auf Deutsch) spans DE turning off nuke power, east-west split, Russia & London. Wonderful!
The Essex Serpent, which is a novel….
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. Have a second and third too, but you probably only want one.
This has been an interesting time to read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. It imagines an alternative history in which Charles Lindbergh, the celebrity pilot, isolationist and spokesman for the America First Committee, won the Republican nomination for president in 1940, defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt, and signed a treaty between the US and Nazi Germany.
This was the year I got into history and I spent a big portion of it making my way through David Kynaston’s City of London. Was a good book to read in a year we argued about the relative importance of sovereignty, democracy and economic output. Another great book was The White Road by Edmund De Waal. It’s about porcelain, which might not seem about economics on the surface, but by focusing on a single manufactured commodity it touched on the great divergence, the industrial revolution and how the goods we consume in the west depend upon the exploitation of workers in the developing world.
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. A clear headed take on the dangers of poorly designed algorithms … lots to ponder
The book that made me think most though I disagreed with a lot of it was Ryan Avent ‘The Wealth of Humans‘. A book, the sweep of which is impressive covering technology, productivity, DM and third world development, monetary policy and the secular stagnation thesis. My second choice is Victor Frankel’s book called ‘the search for meaning‘, an old book but which I only discovered this year. Frankel was a holocaust victim and the book is about how he managed to find some meaning in his life in the face of the terrible ordeal. It’s a book that everyone should read at some point in their lives. It brings perspective. I am only sorry I discovered in only now. Book 3 : the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. My go to book on this fun subject.
Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us, her book on Anders Behring Breivik’s murder of 77 people, mostly children. It came out a couple of years ago, but it still feels very raw (Breivik grew up around the corner from me, and almost everyone knows someone who lost someone, it’s a small country) so I only got around to reading it this year. Doesn’t just tell the story of Breivik evolution into a murderous white supremacist, but of his victims, which makes it that much more emotional. And it feels sadly timely these days.
Hero: The Life & Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. In a world full of morons and bigots…
Trump: The Art of the Deal. Trump’s inconsistency suddenly turns into remarkable consistency when you read the book. Come for the Lols. Stay for the opportunism, reverse psychology and the everyday folk talk.
Going to suggest Trial by Battle: The Hundred Years War by Jonathan Sumption, (though I needed to have read The English and their History by Tombs first, to attack it.) Lovingly and meticulously told story of chaotic times for UK and France that make Game of Thrones look tame.
“Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst” – truest book about what it’s like. “No More Champagne” – utterly fascinating story of Winston Churchill and his battles with his own tendency to spend too much money. “Blitzed” – the invention of methamphetamine and the importance of drugs to Nazi Germany.
Definitely Svetlana Alexievich’s Second Hand Time. Beautifully written recollections on the critical turning point of the last 30yrs (collapse of USSR). Also enjoyed, just finished, Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan – which has a daft subtitle but is very open, honest and balanced.
Matt Desmond: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City“. Rare is the sociologist who writes readable papers and even more readable books. Look through the eyes of Milwaukee’s tenants and landlords.
Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Practical and usable advice that helped me personally in 2016. Not a silver bullet but a great way to frame personal conflict and exchange.
China’s Futures. Because its nice to hear what academics / influential folks in china think about china and not just the departing correspondents.
The Year of the Runaways. it depressing but totally engrossing. Made me feel very alienated from my own country – a book about mostly Sheffield/UK wiithout a single white character. And The Sellout. Marvelously good writing although a bit too clever for its own good. And obviously, this 🙂
The End of Globalization, Harold James. Brilliant look at the economic and historical antecedents of similar populism seen today.
Empire of Things by F. Trentmann. On how we got to like “more stuff” – for history lovers.
Adam Tooze’s The Deluge is unbeatable. Unpacks the 1916-31 era & how it shaped the whole 20th C. Excellent on the contingent events of 1917.
Pounded by the pound: Humoristic magic realism set in the aftermath of Brexit vote UK. Features giant gay £ coins.
“Drink up that freedom! Eat it up! What a country they surrendered. An empire!!” It was the right year for Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich – an oral history of how proud people gave in to despair and paranoia as the world they had known (or thought they’d known) melted into air. The recounting of lives in post-Soviet Russia becomes overwhelming, so it’s not an easy read, but that’s really the point.
Two books: Brazillionaires – both a fascinating picture of the dysfunction that dogs one of the greatest countries on Earth and a rich vein of funny and telling anecdotes about the hyperrich. Also Ben Judah’s “This is London” – a picture of the exciting multinational tapestry that is the greatest city on Earth, endangered by provincial fuckwittery in 2016
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K.Jemisin. Progressive sci-fi.
In a year of madness, I found Mervyn King’s “The End of Alchemy” an insight into the brave new post-GFC world from one of the main architects of the old order. King offers neither an apology nor apportions blame but his call for a radical overhaul of financing is interesting given his strong views on moral hazard in 2007-08. The other book I enjoyed was “The Establishment” by Owen Jones. Righteous (left-eous?) rage and indignation against shared economic interests that maintain income and social inequality that makes uncomfortable reading for those of us who are “the bad guys”.
Kenneth Rogoff, The Curse of Cash. Rogoff’s book touches on a very significant issue, the relation between cash and terrorism. It should be viewed as the beginning of a discussion useful for the whole world.
I liked between debt and the devil.
After Virtue. Technocrats, utilitarians, and liberal relativists have all failed to show what makes a good life. Did Aristotle+Aquinas+Marx get it right?
Rural Rides by William Cobbett. Musings of a C17 horse-going British journalist who follows a paleo diet, bemoans the spread of ‘paper money’ & disparages the idle rich.
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver. Apocalyptic novel based on loony anti-trade president destroying the $’s position as reserve currency. Macro nonsense but wonderful portrayal of Keynesian economist refusing to see reality.
The most entertaining book for anyone who breathed, ate, drank, slept euro crisis is Game Over by George Papaconstantinou. It reads like a political thriller, and those who weren’t following every twist and turn in the euro crisis will learn a lot. Most of all it lets everyone know that policymakers are above all else human, and as such prone to mistakes and egos and kindness and every other part of the human condition.
K Gallagher’s Ruling Capital – a must-read on necessity of sovereign management of X-border flows to counter crises.
My favourite book this year was this one. I read it long before Hillary Clinton stopped being the next president of the United States, but… Cromwell came to power in England at a time of deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. He stepped too far when he executed Charles I and need a way to up his popularity. His pamphleteers in London had been spreading Damned Lies about the Catholic Irish for years, so in order to boost his popularity he launched a brutal campaign to suppress the enemy (see this quote from the time). He ran the brutal campaign for several months before handing the operation over to his son-in-law to finish the suppression. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes .
Innovation? Disruption ? Exciting times ? Limitless opps ? Bull dust – read Gordon’s new book for a reality check.
Me and Kaminski, by Daniel Kehlmann. I’ve never hated a narrator more. From page one onward I wanted to strangle him. I’m glad I didn’t. (Then there’s also Independent People but I’m still not sure I’ve completely processed it yet. Catch myself thinking about it often.)
I remembered one I really enjoyed. Amazing life, horrific ending.
The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin is an incisive look at globalisation; Blunders of Our Governments by King & Crewe a lesson for May et al
The Econocracy, by Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkins. Brilliantly exposes how economics teaching preserves mainstream consensus, to the detriment of independent research and innovative thinking.
Historian’s Fallacies – a useful, entertaining and rigorous guide to thinking clearly about history. Because it’s 2016.
Inspired by the Hamilton musical, I recently re-read Burr, by Gore Vidal. It’s a wonderful historical novel set in the 1830s and looking back over the life of Aaron Burr, who is very much presented as the hero.
‘Metternich – Councilor of Europe‘ by Alan Palmer. You can’t understand modern Europe if you don’t understand Metternich – a C19th Wolfgang Schaeuble on steroids. Palmer brings him alive.
The Rise and Fall of Nations by Ruchir Sharma -really well written and interesting – what makes emerging markets successful from a guy admitting mistakes and successes.
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford should appeal to Finance Twitter. Partly because it’s a novel that uses pre revolutionary American currency arrangements as plot device. But mainly because is an utter, utter joy to read. Britain’s Europe by Brendon Simms leads you to conclude (a) that Brexit may be historically inevitable but (b) the form it is currently taking is a catastrophic violation of over 1000 years of diplomacy and military effort. It also points out that the British Empire (which some fools are rebadging as CANZUK) was created to allow Britain to bear greater influence on Europe, not the opposite. And because I’ve massively flouted my character limit already, American Colossus by HW Brands is rich with allegory for today.
With perfect hindsight, 2016 turned out to be a fabulous year to read a book about extreme perseverance in the pursuit of human rights. I have a bad feeling that good people will increasingly need to turn such a spirit of activism into more concrete action in the year ahead.
If you were perhaps wondering about how sensible intellectuals get crushed by manic populist mobs, read this.
I could say this, but that’s probably self-disqualifying… The Habsburg Empire by Pieter Judson is a fascinating look at what was arguably the most successful diverse society in modern times. Extreme variations in language, religion, and wealth were offset by a commitment to equality under the law, multilingualism, and universal education.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens. While not the last word, a good read on the stealth incursion of algorithms in everyday life. ‘All hail the algo overlords’
The Stranger in My Genes. Memoir of a business news anchorman who received the shock of his life from a DNA test. Story is well told and insightful.
Had trouble picking one of two. But eEverybody should read Svetlana Alexievich’s War’s Unwomanly Face, whether or not you are interested in World War II, history or Russia.
Read several awful econ books. But A Brief History of Seven Killings was a wonderful dive into modern cultural, pol & eco history of Jamaica.
Global Inequality by @BrankoMilan. Milanovic is a great communicator, and conveys effortlessly an understanding of the data, the assembly of which he has dedicated a good part of his academic life. He suggests policy implications which will make you think. And it’s short.
Fiction – The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin deserved Hugo winner and emergence of powerful and lyrical voice. Non fic” Cathy O’Neill, Weapons of Math Destruction.You already know how bad algos are, but important to see it mainstreamed.
I know I was late to Ben Lerner’s 10:04, but I would recommend it to anyone who is later. Everything about the novel is stupendous, but for this crowd the intriguing thing is the games it plays w notions of value: e.g. its “Institute of Totaled Art,” that’s formed of (often imperceptibly) damaged works deemed legally worthless by insurers, in an instant stripped of the commodity fetish which exhibiting them, in a twisted way, gives back.
Off the top of my head… either The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or Chinaman. The latter a fictional search for a mythical Sri Lankan cricketer and just a touch more fun.
* After reading last year’s list I bought and read six books that I might not have otherwise read. This year I have registered as an Amazon Affiliate, and any revenue generated by purchases that come from referrals from this site will be donated to MSF. (This only works for Amazon UK links because it all became too complicated to do this across more than one country.)