Summer Reading List

For only the second time in the last 10 years I am spending the whole summer in North America (and terribly missing the Jamuhuri). Which means I’ll have a little bit of time for some reading beyond my immediate research work. Here are some books that I have started reading since the beginning of the year or plan to read this summer. I’ll write reviews on a few of them over the next two months.

Fiction: 

We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote – Ahmadou Kourouma

Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangaremba (I am deeply embarrassed to say I’ve never finished reading this classic)

Stoner – John Williams

Political Economy:

The Settler Economies (Kenya and Zimabwe, 1900-63) – Paul Mosley

Medieval Africa, 1250-1800 – Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore

Democracy in Africa – Nic Cheeseman

Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival – Derek R. Peterson

Economic Crises and the Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes – Thomas B. Pepinsky (If you are a Comparativist, read Pepinsky often)

The Mind of the African Strongman – Herman J. Cohen

Political Order and Political Decay – Francis Fukuyama (Volume I was epic. Very few people do the big picture stuff the way Fukuyama does)

Bonus (time permitting):

The Firm – Duff McDonald (It’s crazy how many of my close friends work for McKinsey or are alums of the firm)

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Philosophical Breakfast Club – Laura J. Snyder

reality check

Recently I have been reminded over and over again of the fact that in the sixties South Korea, Ghana, Kenya, the Congo etc had roughly similar per capita GDP (I just started reading economic gangsters and have attended two very interesting lectures by Francis Fukuyama). Assertions of this nature are usually accompanied by accounts of what happened post-60s that made South Korea several times richer than its African counterparts in the present day. But an equally important question to ask is how different pre-60s Korea was from the African countries? (Korea’s long history with some form of organized polity, the nature of Japanese colonization, geographic location near the economic giants Japan and the US, relative importance in cold war politics, etc etc).

These are real issues with real consequences. Briefly stated, the differences between say the Congo and Singapore extend beyond those between Lee Kwan Yew and Mobutu Sese Seko. Pre-independence history and realities (including culture and forms of socio-economic organization) played a significant role in determining the respective trajectories of the  post-independence states of Asia and Africa.

While I am not a believer in historical institutional determinism, I find the reality of findings such as this hard to ignore. The short of it all is that everything is endogenously determined – institutions, quality of leaders, rates of capital accumulation, savings etc etc.