History

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Read: Sepulchre

Kate Mosse’s thing is actually four things: There is the female protagonist(s); there is the south of France, Languedoc; there is the interweaving of the present and the past, two parallel story lines; and, there is the esoteric mystery, the innuendo of the supernatural. In these respects Sepulchre is very similar to the Labyrinth that I have read earlier.

I like the first characteristic, it’s adding a nice variety to the novels I usually read. It’s not a distinctive mark. There a lots of novels with female protagonists. Mosse manages, however, to not write for a stereotyped audience. In principle, anyone could enjoy her works.

I have no strong opinion with regard to the geographic location. Again, it adds some variety to the usual mix. Though it is not like I feel I could benefit from change in this particular aspect.

The two time lines and the parallel development of the plots I indeed like. The parallelism was much more pronounced in Labyrinth. In Sepulchre the link between the two time lines relies much more (actually: only) on the kinship of the protagonists. Hence, with respect to the stylistic devices Sepulchre is less interesting, less refined than Mosse’s earlier novel.

Finally, I could certainly do without the supernatural. It’s completely dispensable here. Some mystery, some unexplained events: yes. Ghosts, or supernatural entities: no.

In sum, still an (quite) enjoyable book. Though I am not sure whether or not I am going to read her next one…

Read: On Classical Economics

The nice thing about a (large) private collection of un-read books is that you can start immediately to read more of a topic as soon as your interest is turned towards that particular niche of you bookshelves.

After having read Robbins’ A history of economic thought I now turned to Sowell’s On classical economics. What was a rather different experience.

On classical economics is a loose collection of independent essays that appear to have a common structure but actually have not. The first half of the essays deal with topics: philosophy, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and methodology of the classical economists; the second half focuses on individuals of the respective time period. Some of the essays are rather dated, the first were published in the 1970s. Though, since Sowell does not refer to (almost) any of the secondary literature on the topic – not in his older essays and not in the more recent ones that make up this collection – you just do not notice that they are from different periods. In fact, you do not notice that Sowell holds views on the topic that may differ substantially from those of the current majority of scholars (unless you already know about them). He just neglects all other research and focuses on the original works.

Consequently, opinions about the scholarly value of On classical economics may differ widely as can be seen in a number of reviews of the text (that can be found by a simple google search of the title). While, e. g., a J. Ahiakpor sees obvious deficiencies J. Ullmer and J. Berdell are much more enthusiastic about it.

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I enjoyed reading the book (if you discount the enormous number of endnotes – I hate endnotes, I much prefer footnotes). On the other hand, the text is too driven by a single opinion and not balanced at all. Thus, you are forced to read more on the sub-topics and diverse classical authors to get the whole picture, the essence of their work and accomplishments. Further, the focus on dissenters of the classical economics of their time is rather biased and leads to a debasing of the accomplishments of classical economics.

Read: A History of Economic Thought

I was not there.

I would have been five and would not have understood a single word. Still, I feel like I missed something.

Not too long ago a few colleagues of mine and I noticed that there are too few courses on economic history and history of economic thought in economics curricular today. Often, there are none. This is bad. Without the historic context we are bound to misinterpret and repeat mistakes. Without the historic context we do not know why we are where we are right now in economic science. Many approaches, assumptions, and conventions that seem obvious and natural today once were not, maybe they should not be today as they constrain our thought and handicap heterodox scholars.

Lionel Robbins must have been a great teacher. “A history of economic thought” edited by Steven Medema and Warren Samuels is a transcript of a lecture series Robbins gave at the LSE between 1979 and 1981. I am glad I have read it.

It is of course not a comprehensive history of economic thought; it is not “the” history, it is “a” history (Yes, please note this subtle modesty). It’s a history of economic thought as Robbins saw it. Although Robbins most of the times explicates the topic in an objective yet passionate way, he does not spare the occasional judgment. Always, however, he warns his audience that he is about to share an opinion and not an historic fact. Of course, the selection of focus is also a matter of personal judgment. In some cases, on the other hand, there is little room for choice. You have to cover the Scots. Nevertheless, he gives credit where credit is due. (And I have to admit that I have been negligently ignorant of some of the finer details.)

As a result of this excellent text I now feel motivated to embark upon further readings in economic history and history of economic thought – what may be a nice diversification to all the quantitative texts I read. I might even give a seminar on it…

Read: The Tenth Chamber

Cooper’s The Tenth Chamber is mixture of historical and crime fiction, its three timelines are set some 30000 year ago, during the medieval ages, and in our current time. The quite compelling story joins a longevity theme with some conspiracy theory.

All in all, the elements of the story are not overly original. There are monks, an old encrypted text, life-span enhancing organic potions with an unavoidable side effect, and a government cover-up. Indeed, I had a feeling of deja-vu when I read the novel. Yet, Cooper’s style is enjoyably suspenseful. There is no padding. The length and the pace of the story are just about right. In short a rather good book, not exceptional but not bad either.

Read: A Brief History of Infinity - The Quest to Think the Unthinkable

Infinity or infinitesimals really are something that can boggle your mind. Similar as zero, infinity was not always there in our (mathematical / philosophical) toolbox. Even though we nowadays use the concept of infinity and its reciprocal the infinitesimals almost nonchalantly, we do so without really considering the philosophy and history behind it.

Brian Clegg provides such a history. And if his book was not part of a larger series the books title would be the first pun: A brief history of infinity. There are others. The book even closes with one. Correspondingly the whole book has a rather light tone; Clegg’s rhetoric is almost colloquial. This makes the book rather enjoyable, the topic could have certainly also presented in a much duller way.

For anyone more generally interested in mathematics the book is, however, a disappointment. The focus is clearly on the history of infinity and not the mathematics or the deeper philosophical questions that are only commented upon en passant. And even the history part is certainly – as the classifier “brief” in the title indicates – not a complete and authoritative treatise. The author may also have padded the text with some material that seems to belong more to his own personal interests. There is surprisingly much space dedicated to Roger Bacon. Or, it is rather not so surprsingly; earlier Clegg wrote a whole book about this medieval scholar. In Clegg’s defense, Bacon really did contribute to the discussion on infinity.

Read: Pyramids

Terry Pratchett’s novels are all just hilariously funny (at least the ones I have read so far). That is why I like to read them; especially on long trips or on the train to the office. They brighten my mood and sometimes they may even be instructive in one way or another. Pyramids definitely has instructive elements. It is a blend of physics, philosophy, politics, and ancient history. There are references to ancient Egypt (obviously), Greek, and Rome sprinkled with references to modern culture.

The references are so plentiful that – I have to admit – I most certainly did not “get” everything. Luckily, others already (ok, the book is some twenty years old) provide some annotations

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