[Brief personal history: before doing my decade on a financial bucket house dealing desk, I had fancied myself some sort of wordsmith, on account of my being an Oxford graduate who, um, liked reading books (the pretension of the young still amazes me). So I worked unpaid at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, learned that 90% of the 20,000 attendees thought they had a novel in them – adding to the 5000 published yearly, 99% of which would be rubbish; had a year editing reference books in Aylesbury*; realised that almost any career in the world is more creative than publishing; became a secretarial temp in London; almost starved, grabbed the job on the dealing floor (a far more creative career); abandoned the notion of reading as a career, wisely.
But the stint in publishing and amongst supposedly well-read Oxbridgians had left me with reading paranoia – a feeling that everyone else has read more than me. I would put down the weekend Review sections – each book review being intended to display the reviewer’s own erudition, of course – with a gloomy sigh. During my largely solitary time in Aylesbury, I worked my way through the Western Canon, guided by the Harold Bloom book of the same name. Hence Cervantes, Dante, Shakespeare, Joyce, Dickens, Elliot, Austen, Hardy and even a little Montaigne were devoured.
I only learned later that most people read far less than you suspect. Oxbridge graduates, in particular, have seldom done the primary texts, and learn more about bluffing than wisdom. A useful preparation for life, I grant you.
Anyway, when I earned the chance to study at the LSE (2006-7) and read Global History (motto: all the world, for all of time), I leapt at the chance, hoping to conquer finally this paranoia. After 12 years of tough ‘real’ work, I was also convinced that a proper adult could read WAY more than a soupy undergrad, and tried to measure exactly how much. So I wrote down what I read, each day on Excel.
It turned out that it depends. Novels, 100’s of pages a day no problem. Journal of Economic History – 20-30 pages per hour, and you often need to reread. And after 5-6 hours, the brain goes fuzzy, particularly if it is addicted to short term dealing desk thrills. I’d stop for 20 minutes to gamble on the FTSE. Nevertheless, the 15 months surrounding that time and subsequent underemployment utterly sated the urge – for now. See below for a list.***]
This year has been far less fertile, in terms of Proper Books – as you can see from the list to the right, which covers since June. The Internet and Google Reader have overtaken old technology. I don’t regret this – the best blogging is like being able to to eavesdrop upon the thoughts of great professors. It is like spending casual time with them, rather than just their once-a-decade Tomes. This has hugely enriched my learning. Above all, an the subject of the financial crisis, books are way too late, and even newspapers too leadenfooted. Only blogs will do.
As it is the end of the year, I found myself wondering what I thought was the best blog post of the year**. There have no doubt been plenty of Important Posts like Mark Reckons’ work on expenses, and the tabloid news-breaking tittletattle of the likes of Guido and Iain Dale. I found Tabarrok’s TED talk on the future of economic growth hugely inspiring for an Optimistic Liberal. But most blogs are not meant to stand alone and be remembered.
It is evolving arguments that have mattered for me. So, personally, the most important posts were those that launched me on the road to what ended up being A Balancing Act. Around the start of the year, some of the best Economics professors in the US started tearing into each other on the subject of fiscal stimulus. Thousands of posts flew about. I found myself filing them under “Stimulus Piece”. I thought the best were by Brad De Long, Andy Harless, Paul Krugman, in particular in their attack on what seemed like a mad approach from Eugene Fama, a contender for the Nobel Prize. Here are some:
Harless on Fama: Is he Serious?
DeLong on ‘The intellectual train wreck that is the Chicago School“. Great comments.
DeLong on Fama: Are there ever wrong answers in Economics?
Paul Krugman’s “Dark Age of Macroeconomics”
I will add more when kids and domestic duties allow. These posts, and all those linked to, indicated all that is best in the blogosphere, in my view; ferociously intelligent people arguing passionately about things that really really matter, and trying to influence the debate. It is still going on – read this by BDL, this from Krugman worrying about when the stimulus ends, oh, and this from Mankiw, of all people, explaining why exploding monetary base does NOT mean hyperinflation.
*which I understand is AngloSaxon for ‘armpit’. Or should be
**20 years ago, there would have been more books in my list. My favourite book of the year? Nigel Lawson, The View from Number 11. Followed closely by Denis Healey’s autobiography.
*** I was so nerdishly interested in trying to boost my studying productivity that the measuring became a sort of mania. The final result: over June 2006-Sep 2007, about 33000 pages, or about 120 per working day, including some novels and rubbish like Bob Woodward. This is clearly pretty slow: look at Marginal Revolution, and search “What I’ve been reading”, Tyler Cowen’s regular (fortnightly?) account of what he thinks is good. As far as I can see, he get through 100+ serious books per year, two per week, on top of writing and teaching, and who knows how much electronic stuff. I know when I’m beat.
This is the stuff over 150 pages:
100 myths about the middle east, The Rise of the Western World, Max Weber Protestant Ethic, Introduction to Political Philosophy, Book on Marx by Wheen, Sheldon, C. D. 1953. The Rise of the Merchant Class in Tokugawa Japan, 1600-1868: An Introductory Survey. New York : Augustin., * Brewer, J. (1994): The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783, London (Routledge). DA480 B84, The lever of Riches, Globalizing Capital, Over to you Mr Brown, European financial control in the Ottoman empire; a study of the establishment, activities, and significance of the administration of the Ottoman public debt by Blaisdell, Growth Recurring – Jones, manias panics and crashes , Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization, The Rise of Financial Capitalism, The Long 20th Century, Caveat by Alexander Haig, Globalization in World History, Grand Slave Emporium, Totman, C. 1981. Japan before Perry, A Short History. Berkeley: University of California Press., Epstein Freedom and Growth, Economy of Europe in an age of Crisis, History World 6 Glasses, The worldly philosophers, China History, States and Sovereignty in the Global Economy, The Great Divergence, History Middle East, Wealth and Poverty of Nations, European Miracle, Suite francaise, novel, One Percent Doctrine, terrorist by John Updike, White Man’s Burden, Patrick Obrian, Time of Gifts, CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS, A concise history of world population, Lords of the Horizons, reOrient, The Age of Capital, Cromwell, The premodern Chinese economy, Christopher Clay Gold for the Sultan, The Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson, The City of London by David Kynaston, Blanchard Macroeconomics, State of Denial, The Birth of the Modern World, Diane Purkiss on the Civil War, Classical world, Nixon in the White House, campbell diaries, Braudel Mediterranean, dombey and son, plus countless small articles.
I wish I had learned speed reading!