Top five books I read in 2018

This is the not-for-work list. It’s also mostly based on my subjective sense of how much I learned from the books.

Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat — This is a long book that covers several centuries of Iranian history (beginning in 1501). It is definitely worth your time. At the end I learned a lot more about the brief Pahlavi dynasty than I knew and got a peak into the dynamics of the Iranian nation-state before, during, and after the revolution. The bits on the Qajars were my favorite (while I was reading the book my wife and I watched a number of Iranian movies and documentaries. I highly recommend this strategy).

The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King (former governor of the Bank of England). A great chaser to this is Paul Volcker’s excellent bio.

The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon — this is a great development book.

Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible by  William N. Goetzmann 

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann — This book surprised me. I thought it would be yet another uncritical celebration of scientific progress. But Mann is nuanced and makes a strong case for belief in science’s potential to keep the human project going despite the many current structural challenges — not least of which is climate change. Those into development will particularly enjoy the bits on the Green Revolution. 

I am still struggling to read fiction. In 2019 I will try harder.


Some Readings in Economic Anthropology

Perhaps in a subconscious attempt to distract myself from writing my dissertation prospectus I am currently taking an Economic Anthropology class [and loving it] with Jim Ferguson, author of Expectations of Modernity, among other famous works in Economic Anthropology.

The class has a fascinating reading list that includes works like Debt (by the anarchist David Graeber) and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, among other works in economic anthropology and general anthropological ethnography.

Over the past week we read Karen Ho’s Liquidated, a captivating ethnography of Wall Street, outlining how the recruitment, orientation and work experience of Wall Streeters give them both a false sense of being one in the market and a misguided belief that the real economy is just as liquid as Wall Street.

Reading the book gives one a better understanding of why Wall Street has no qualms with downsizing. Turns out they downsize a lot on the street, to the extent that it is only natural to them that the real economy ought to operate that way as well. It was one of  the most interesting ethnographies I have ever read (out of the five I have read thus far; most of them from some remote part of the world).

Watch this space for more takes on the class reading list as the quarter progresses….