Tag Archives: Heather Boushey

2017 Roundup and list of Books Reviewed

This year I continued daily posts, which I have done for just under four years now.  Overall, traffic to the blog was up about 18% over 2016.

As always, the coverage is mainly review and commentary on topics of interest to me, including “the new way of work”, robots, dinosaurs, cryptocurrency/blockchain, quantum cryptography, internet of too Many things, computer software in general, and so on.

This year I continued weekly posts noting and commenting on books I have read.  Most of the books were recently published, with a few older ones.   (Listed below.)

Throughout the year, I offered a number of “great names for a band”, in tribute to Dave Barry who pioneered the genre.  Most of these are “sciency”, inspired by technical articles I read and commented on.

Countershading
Banded tail
Dinosaur bandit mask
Paleocoloration
Beryllium hydride
Biomimetic Robotic Zebrafish
Chicxulub    [Note:  pronounced ( /ˈtʃiːkʃʊluːb/; Mayan: [tʃʼikʃuluɓ])]
The Chicxulub Event
We Are Children of Chicxulub
Thanks to Chicxulub
Brought to You By Chicxulub
Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
Kuiper Belt & Braces
A Belt of Kuiper
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Fog World Congress
Penguin Guano

Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa


Books Reviewed in 2017

Overall I posted 79 book reviews, 58 fiction and 21 non-fiction.

In fiction, these include old favorites (Donna Leon, Charles Stross, Thomas Perry, Tim Dorsey, Ian McDonald, Gregory Maguire, Tom Holt).

Some new favorites include Richard Kadrey,  Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Straub.

I really liked Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, and Touch by Courtney Maum, but my best reads for the year have to be

Joe Ide,  IQ and Righteious.  <<links>> Righteous by Joe Ide

In non-fiction, I liked Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell and Eugenia Chengs Beyond InfinityHow America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein is both good and important.

<<links>>

But at the top, I’d probably pick

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

List of Books Reviewed

Q4

Fiction

First Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
The Adventurist by J. Bradford Hipps
Artemis by Andy Weir
Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Willful Behavior by Donna Leon
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
Righteous by Joe Ide
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Border Child by Michel Stone
Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Non-fiction

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Books Reviewed Second Quarter

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Books Reviewed Q1 2017

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
Wonderland by Steven Johnson
Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson


That’s all for 2017!  Happy New Year!

 

Book Review: “After Piketty” edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

(Note:  I had a goal to read this massive tome by the end of 2017, and I made it!  This post will cap the book reviews of 2017.)

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century made a big splash when it appeared in 2014, with me and with lots of people.  His surprisingly readable tome took a sweeping view of capitalism over the last few centuries, and documented broad patterns of inequality in the distribution of wealth.  Piketty also puts forward a grand theory that suggests a simple economic mechanism that results in the wealthy becoming richer and richer, creating massive inequalities in the distribution of wealth and income.

Piketty’s 2014 work was a splash of petrol on the hot discussions of inequality around the world, offering some sexy academic ooph to back up our intuitions that the 1% are the only winners, and increasingly call the shots about everything.

But is Piketty right?

With such a broad topic and sweeping theories, there is certainly scope for finding flaws and caveats.  After Piketty (AP) is a collection of scholarly essays commenting on and criticizing Piketty’s magnum opus.  Luckily, it largely succeeds in being as readable as Piketty himself.

So, what do these senseis have to say?


First of all, almost all of the authors in this volume are just as concerned as Piketty about the implications of economic inequality for both the economy and democratic society.  Whether economic inequality is increasing or not, and whether “r > g” has anything to do with it or not, extreme inequality of wealth has many pernicious effects (probably).

That said, these writers identify many weaknesses and omissions in Piketty’s original work, many of them extremely important.

It is important to note that Piketty’s “r > g” isn’t a “law” or a specific economic mechanism, it is “a historical generalization drawing on his empirical analysis” (per Gewall, [1], p. 471) Therefore, Piketty can be legitimately critiqued on many, many grounds: historical, empirical, theoretical, and logical.

For starters, Piketty’s definition of “capital” is debatable, as is his treatment of “human capital” including slavery, women’s work, and colonialism.  Considering that his grand theory is about the relationship between total capital and national income, alternative calculations of total capital are extremely salient, to say the least.

Similarly, in addition to inequalities of wealth (capital), there are inequalities in income (i.e., pay or lack thereof for labor. Income equality has many complicated causes and effects, and may partially offset inequalities in wealth. or might magnify them.  Piketty’s simple model glosses over important sources of unequal income, including the so called “fractured workplace”, possible effects of technology, and globalization.

Many of the articles in AP discuss data that is not covered in Piketty’s long term data set. Piketty’s original dataset has long term data from 50 countries, and so omits much of the world, essentially, the formerly colonized countries and China. Similarly, powerless and exploited groups such as women, slaves, and displaced aborigines are not effectively represented in the accounts of wealth and income.

“[O]ur understanding of what determines inequality is shaped by the places where we can measure it.” (per Erenoncourt, [1], p. 507)

Many of the articles criticize the “political” part of Piketty’s political economics.  As Elisabeth Jabobs puts it, politics is “Everywhere and Nowhere” in Piketty.  The very notion of capital is a social and legal construct, and policies can have very large and long-lasting effects on inequality. Thinking about “r > g” as some sort of abstract generalization about wealth over time misses the entire political history that defines and maintains the value of that wealth.

Piketty’s original work assumes that inequality is bad for democracy, but has little to say about why and how that might be true.  He also says little about the feedback between wealth and political power, which enables elites to cement their advantages through laws and institutions.  In short, he gives us “political economics” without the politics.


Overall, this volume is a very useful companion to Piketty’s book. It is certainly important to understand the limits and weaknesses of Piketty’s broad approach, especially since much of many of critics were simply dismissive based on ideology (or the fact that he is French).

After reading AP, it isn’t possible for anyone to blithely accept “r > g” as anything other than a shallow generalization about one aspect of economic inequality.  However, if anything, Piketty’s main point is strengthened by this book: inequality is increasing, and this trend is dangerous to democratic society.

Piketty’s own chapter praises this multidisciplinary response to his work.

As he says, part of his goal was to break down disciplinary barriers, and AP is a good example of what can be done.


I think that My greatest disappointment with AP is that the authors did not really take up Piketty’s own inclination to include popular culture into his research. In his book, Piketty discusses how economics are portrayed in novels (e.g., the quest to marry into inherited wealth).  It would be interesting to incorporate other sources, especially contemporary fictions.

There are many possibilities.

For example, examining American radio, TV, and film from the 1930’s to the present would show shifting cultural attitudes about social mobility, working life, and material wealth.  (For instances:  The Honeymooners versus the Kardashians.)

Popular science fiction tells much about the evolving culture.  The long running Start Trek and Star Wars series  depict changing ideology about wealth and politics.

Another interesting example would be contemporary video games, which incorporate a variety of economic systems in their virtual worlds [2, 4]. These “games” are particularly interesting because they invite players to enact roles in different political and economic frameworks.  The design of these virtual worlds reveals contemporary ideology and anxieties about wealth (as well as identity and social status).  They also can broaden the imagination of the participants, and allow experimentation with alternative political economic rules.


  1. Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2017.
  2. Castranova, Edward, Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality, New York, Palgrave Macmillen, 2007.
  3. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2014.
  4. Williams, Dmitri, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Li Xiong, Yuanyuan Zhang, Nick Yee, and Eric Nickell, From Tree House to Barracks. Games and Culture, 1 (4):338-361, October 1, 2006 2006. http://gac.sagepub.com/content/1/4/338.abstract

 

Sunday Book Reviews