Books Recently Read

Posted on 3 August 2014

Read recently (i.e. last couple of months)

  • The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm. (Feb 2014). Brilliant, thought-provking and insightful. A fascinating narrative, that raised interesting, complex questions – all delivered in lapidary prose.
  • The Unwinding by George Packer (May 2014). I picked this up by accident in bookstore in DC Union Station. It hit me like a bolt between the eyes. The personal stories read like novels, the vignettes on famous personalities are rapiers that cut open the follies and predilictions of the age, and the overall sweep is poignant, powerful and profound. An extraordinary, special achievement. Read this book.
  • This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Reinhardt and Rogoff. (May 2014?) Quite interesting. Felt rather like an extended series of papers rather than a book. Quite a lot of good data.
    • 3 types of crises: External debt, domestic debt and banking.
    • Financial crises (default episodes) recur repeatedly but are often spaced substantially apart leading to “this time is different”
    • Takes a long time for a country to graduate to having a good borrowing rating and this counts for a lot.
    • Countries with a high rating don’t default (that much).
    • 2008 crisis was most severe since 30s in terms of amount of debt in default.
    • Generally see substantial increase in debt through a crisis and this is paid down via inflation
  • Lords of Finance. The Bankers who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed. (June 2014) Much more enjoyable than I had imagined. More of a narrative history of the period with lots of great anecdotes and excellent analysis of what went wrong. Much better (in many ways) than “This Time is Different”.
  • The Assassins’ Gate - America in Iraq by George Packer. (July 2014) Brilliant - almost as good as “The Unwinding”.
  • The Master Switch - The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu. (July 2014). Pretty good though ultimately felt a bit disappointed - the earlier sections felt a lot more detailed and solid than the latter.
  • Under the Skin by Michael Faber. (July 2014) Disturbing allegory that is surprisingly powerful. Very well executed and all the more impactful for its (in)humanity.
  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber. (July 2014). Engrossing but not that substantive. His misanthropy which infects the start gradually mellows. The ending is dissatisfying: as if the author had simply run out of steam rather than reached any necessary conclusion.