Evan Soltas
Aug 31, 2012

Notes on Books

Summer is drawing to a close, so I thought I'd write a few brief notes on what I read for my own enjoyment this summer -- both for my own memory and in case readers would like a recommendation.

Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis
I can't quite believe I hadn't read this book before, given my interest in economics. And I had high expectations, having read some of Lewis' essays in periodicals -- but wow, this was a joy to read. Lewis is, above all, a master of character development. Through his colorful anecdotes of the Salomon Brothers trading floor and training program, he brings Wall Street in the 1980s to life, managing not just to convey the quirky individuals, but more importantly, through them the big picture of how the global financial industry came into its own during this period. Highly recommended.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
I am a big fan of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited -- it's probably one of the best novels I've ever read, capturing the decay of traditional English society during the interwar period. Scoop is a parody following the accidental war correspondent John Boot in "Ishmaelia," an invented land analogous to Abyssinia. Though I wouldn't write the book off entirely for Waugh fans, it was not nearly as excellent as Brideshead and was therefore a bit of a let-down for me. Some of the jokes, and at some points even the plot, did not strike me as holding up well over the years, quite unlike Brideshead -- which seems a classic rather than a period piece. Recommended conditionally.

Keynes Hayek by Nicholas Wapshott
This was a fascinating and surprisingly quick read, though the credit to Wapshott is in my opinion limited. Wapshott seemed at his best in the beginning of the book, which looks at the development of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Augustus von Hayek in their youth and during the early phase of the Great Depression. The book serves best as an overview of the history of economic thought during the 1920s and the Great Depression, largely through the fascinating summaries and excerpts of Keynes' early work. Beyond that point, the quality of the book begins to sag, and I felt myself asking whether Wapshott's contribution as an author did not go far beyond collecting the inherent interestingness of the original materials and biographies. When Wapshott must do his own analysis in the second half of the book, in its discussion of American and British history after Keynes' death, the book struggles. Recommended conditionally.

Earlier this summer, I also read Edward Glaeser's Triumph of the City and Stephen Solomon's Water. Those reviews are available here and here, respectively.