Book Reviews

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We need to give some thought about how best to structure this...

  • 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang (Penguin, 2011).  This is utterly brilliant.  It does what it says on the tin: it tells you 23 important things, each expressed in a short and clear statement, each of which contradicts a common belief or practice in the area of economics; and each of which is backed up with clear analysis, facts and references.  Many of the problems we face are rooted in the way we do capitalism: this points out the problems and offers compassionate and humane solutions.
  • Doctoring the Mind, by Richard P Bentall.  Informative and frightening.  It covers the nature of mental illness and the history of treatment, with clear and sensible recommendations for how to improve care for people with mental illness - all very important topics, covered with extensive reference to the sources.  It makes some effort to be readable, but doesn't entirely succeed here: there is too much detail in many places, driven by the author's concern to be true to the facts as we have them.  But, if you are interested in the subject, it is worth persevering.  I would love to see a popular version published with just the stories and summaries.
  • Review - Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright.
  • Review - Humankind: A Hopeful History, by Rutger Bregman.
  • Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing, by Jacob Goldstein.  A fascinating and entertaining account of the story of money, from its origins right through to computers and Bitcoin.  Civilization depends on efficient trade, and this depends on money: all the wheels keep spinning, as long as we believe in the value of the money we are using.  But things have gone wrong with currency many times over the centuries, so we really need to understand what went wrong and how it was fixed in order to understand the modern world and how we might be able to improve it.  A rare kind of book - both important and readable!
  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein.  This is possibly the most frightening book I (Paul) have ever read. To be honest, I have a poor track record when recommending books: time and time again, I rave about a book, then friends come back a week or two later, complaining that it is quite unreadable. Not so here. With this book, I rave about it, and they go and read it, and come back and say it is even better than I claimed - see the Amazon reviews. I have asked various people who ought to know about such matters to let me know where and how Klein has got it wrong with this book, and nobody has offered anything to undermine her message. A few reviews claim it is inaccurate, but when you look at the contested details they are all minor, making no difference to the message - generally, the issue is that small details are left out or reordered to make the narrative easier to follow.  I thought I was reasonably well read, with a fair grasp of modern history and economics, but (as a result of reading this book) I now see modern history in a completely different light. Economic theory really can shape the world we live in, for better and for worse. We need to understand what is happening at the economic level if we are to play a part in shaping it for the better.


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