1. The Rule of the Clan, by Mark S. Weiner. The best book I have read this year. After I re-read it, I will write a longer review. Meanwhile, a terse summary of what he has to say:
a) We have seen social orders without a centralized state.
b) However, these decentralized social orders are clan-based, with norms that are not consistent with peace, free commerce, or individual autonomy.
c) Without a strong central state, humans will revert to clan-based systems of social order.
I found his case for (b) to be very strong and interesting. I thought his case for (c) was somewhat weaker. Regardless, it is a very stimulating book, in part because it is very distinct from the economics and public choice literature.
2. Paying for the Party, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton. Remember when I linked to a story about the book? I read the introduction and the two final chapters, and I skimmed the rest. On p. 220,
The finding that regional schools facilitated mobility more than the state flagship is at odds with existing research…William G. Bowen and colleagues use longitudinal survey data to conclude that students are best served when they attend the most prestigious school they can. Our findings suggest a qualification: If the more prestigious school available is a party school, students from less privileged backgrounds may be better off going to a less prestigious school
3. The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark. For me, any book by a respected historian on the origins of the first world war becomes self-recommending. Even though this topic is, as Charles Kindleberger referred to the topic of the origins Industrial Revolution, a “well-squeezed orange.” I am less than half through this one. Clark’s description of the Serbian nationalists makes them sound like today’s Muslim fanatics in Pakistan. That is, they were secretive, organized into cells, integrated with key government agencies that nonetheless denied involvement, with a grandiose ideology, believing that they are the true representatives of a great ethnic power, and eager to instigate a larger conflict.