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Sunday, January 02, 2005
Books of 2004 (I)

This last year, for uninteresting reasons, I decided to keep track of the date I finished each book I read. Anyway, it does allow me now to know just which they were, and to give short reviews, recommendations or warnings. I always take seriously the views of others on certain books, and rarely have been disappointed when someone has said that they personally found a certain book illuminating or enjoyable, so here's hoping I too can be of some help to anyone who likes the sort of books I do. This is the first post in a series of about half a dozen or more.

Media Control - Noam Chomsky
A compelling read, but seriously flawed, in ways I explain here.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah - Robert Bork
A brilliant account of the culture wars from the perspective of a rejected Reagan Supreme Court nominee, Bork's focus is less on family and crime, and instead on college campuses, activist judges on the bench and the many militant campaigns to which so many have caved in. Some parts of the book - like on the prevalence of euthanasia in the Netherlands and the amazing damage being done to military efficiency by political correctness - are astonishing. As ever with this sort of work, the solutions are laid out with far less detail and confidence than the problems.

Virtually Normal - Andrew Sullivan
Given the high praise I had heard for this book, I was distinctly underwhelmed when I actually read it. Sullivan mixes in some personal accounts of growing up and living as a homosexual with perspectives on the various political attitudes to his choice of lifestyle. The former are very interesting, but much shorter than the rather mixed chapters on attitudes to homosexuality - from militant Foucaltianism to liberal to conservative to prohibitionist. In these chapters, he does a good job of laying out the arguments in each case (indeed, far too good a job of presenting them as reasoned to make convincing his tendency as a blogger to scream 'bigot!' at anyone who disagrees with single-sex marriage). But I thought he didn't do a very good job getting his own ideas across in response to the cases he elucidated. I came away from the book with greater empathy for people who incline towards homosexuality, but also - oddly - more convinced than before that recognising the singular importance of the married 'nuclear' family is a necessity.

The book does, at times, also go on a bit. Perhaps Sullivan doesn't realise that for most people on both sides of the political divide, homosexuality is not so much interesting in itself than as part of a wider struggle relating to family norms. So few are likely to be terribly keen on reading an awful lot of pages about Michael Foucault's attitude to homosexuality.

Introducing Keynesian Economics - Peter Pugh
Does what it says on the tin, really. A fair introduction, explaining well some of the things I notice textbooks seem to consider - not always correctly - to be too obvious to state. Don't expect much depth, though. Samuelson's innovations in turning Keynesian literature into mathematics are scarcely included - and it's this that most students at least would be buying the book for.

The Accidental Theorist - Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman is the great advocate of moderate economics (his politics are a very different story), and this book is great as advocacy of the middle of the road. Good for getting across general principles on such issues as trade and labour standards, and also at explaining specific principles - one essay in particular convinced me that a little inflation is basically benign, while before I read it I would have described inflation generally as bad - the more of it you have, the worse.

You can read 24 of the book's 27 essays here.

Some Of Us - Julian Critchley
Passable, unmemorable account of important figures in the Thatcher years. Some like John Major, were at the centre of politics at the time, others, like Anita Roddick, rose to fame in other ways in those years. Not recommended.

The Bush Boom - Jerry Bowyer
If you read National Review's economics coverage, you'll know what to expect. A convinced supply-sider's readable account of George W. Bush's economic policy, it's subtitle 'How a Misunderestimated President Fixed Our Broken Economy' rather giving away its slant. In fact, it is quite generous to Clinton in places, and takes a very positive approach to most of the economic and tax reforms of the last decade, including - of course - Bush's own big tax cuts. One warning: the book is short - 133 pages, but from page 69 onwards it is all appendices of graphs and data tables.

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