rivkat: Dean reading (dean reading)
([personal profile] rivkat Apr. 16th, 2017 06:26 pm)
Kenneth S. Rogoff, The Curse of Cash: Rogoff argues that, without cash, we’d have a lot less crime, including tax evasion, because the relative cost of avoiding detection would go up. That sounds really interesting, but Rogoff is actually much more interested in the prospect of negative interest rates, which don’t work really well unless it’s difficult for citizens to pile up cash outside of banks. Negative interest rates can be used by central banks to spur growth and, he argues, give them more flexibility than quantitative easing or fiscal policy. (If you read this book without an already extant grasp of the basics of monetary v. fiscal policy, you will be confused.) In order to protect the poor, he argues for a long transition period for smaller bills as well as free checking accounts set up by the government. I had no idea how much money, especially American money, was pretty clearly being used outside the US, especially the hundreds—probably not for good. The same also appears true of the Euro, but Rogoff argues that even countries whose currencies aren’t globalized could benefit in decreasing tax evasion by eliminating cash, or at least large denomination cash. Intriguing, at the least.
 Nigel Cliff, The Shakespeare Riots: Late nineteenth-century Americans and Britons were pretty serious about their Shakespeare. Both claimed him as their inheritance, and most of the book is taken up describing the cultural role of Shakespearean actors and Shakespeare’s plays in the period; it ends in a big riot because of anti-British feeling in New York played out through the bodies of two actors in competing presentations and with competing acting styles, the more emotional and physical American versus the more thoughtful Briton.

Meredith Wadman, The Vaccine Race: After polio, there was still a lot to be done in producing vaccines and also finding new vaccines, for example for rubella, which was taking a huge toll into the 60s. Wadman recounts the rise of human-derived vaccines made in cells whose origin could be traced to an aborted human fetus, which was better than the alternatives: monkey cells because of monkey diseases, and better than adult human cells because they were less likely to carry viruses or cancers. Still, it took a long time for the FDA to accept the superiority of such vaccines, leading a lot of people to be exposed to monkey diseases (think Ebola and Zika for the worst case scenario). And the derivation of the cells from one abortion, long ago, still leads many to condemn these vaccines, but right now there aren’t alternatives that are nearly as effective.

Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: I guess this is supposed to be a retelling of US history with a lot more emphasis on relations with native tribes, other Europeans on the continent, and Mexico, to give it that transAtlantic flavor. I ended up thinking that this pudding had no theme, which in fairness may be the American story. I did get a good reminder that American politicians, particularly in the South, have a long history of suppressing votes; white male voter turnout in many Southern counties in the 19th century was 30% or so despite the supposed enfranchisement of white men, and that was no accident.

Michael Grunwald, The Swamp: The history of human intervention into the Everglades, a story of hubris and ecological destruction, where each generation’s idea of management has turned out to be more destructive than that of the generation before. The last few chapters are about attempts to restore (parts of) the Everglades, but those are so bogged down—no pun intended—in politics that it’s more a story of despair as sugar growers and developers continue to come before nature or even natural bulwarks against disasters. I just looked up the news—mass dolphin deaths and out-of-place mangroves, so it hasn’t gotten better.
 Theresa Brown, The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives: Everyone likes war stories, right? These are ordinary stories from an oncology floor at a teaching hospital, with small victories, small losses, petty patients and graceful ones. If you really like medical stories, this will please, but not otherwise.

Rosa Brooks, How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon: We’re in a vicious dynamic in which cuts for domestic programs and the State Department lead the military to take on missions that go far beyond killing enemy soldiers, and then compared to the gutted civilian sector the military looks more competent/like a better bet. Plus we face significant legal questions about the meaning of endless war, both in terms of the treatment of individuals—when can they be targeted?—and state-to-state relations—when is intervention on another country’s territory justified? If we can go in because the state has failed to protect its own citizens, as in Rwanda or Bosnia, can we also go in because the state failed to protect others’ (as we did in Afghanistan and later with the raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan)? Brooks explores these issues and others, including a lot about civilian-military disconnect, with few solutions but a lot of nuance.

David Oshinsky, Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital: History of one very public hospital—the kind of place you went because when you had to go there, they had to take you in. Some focus on key moments in the hospital’s history, from its treatment of the mentally ill to the AIDS crisis, but the book gains momentum and color as it goes and the sources get better and more diverse; it ends with a really interesting examination of the response to Hurricane Sandy, which closed the hospital for the first time in its existence.

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World: Humboldt was a naturalist at the tail end of imperial ambitions; his ambition was merely to catalog everything he could, and to promote a view of nature as an interconnected web—the foundation of modern ecology. The book tells his story and chunks of the stories of those who encountered him or were profoundly shaped by his once incredibly popular work, from Goethe to Darwin to Thoreau to Simon Bolivar (one of his companions on one of his longer trips).


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