Discover more from Richard Hanania's Newsletter
What I've Been Reading
Books and Recommendations
Regarding my reading habits, I almost never read paper books anymore, with a preference for the iPad or phone. Some people find this strange, but as someone who hates clutter and loses things all the time, e-reading technology has been a godsend.
I also get books from Audible. A subscription costs about $15 a month, and I recently discovered that it also entitles you to unlimited access to a free audiobook library that is quite extensive. Thanks to Kindle and Audible, I probably read 2-3x more books than I would otherwise have time to. All hail Bezos.
Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin. I consider behavioral genetics to be the crowning achievement of the social sciences. If you have read Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption, you can skip the early parts of Plomin. Harris explains the science better and is a more interesting writer, and her main findings hold up. Plomin is worthwhile for more recent developments, particularly GWAS studies, and his critique of Harris’s emphasis on peers. Here he is on Sam Harris.
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. A work of literature and philosophy as much as history. See here for some of the more interesting parts.
In God's Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire by Robert G. Hoyland. The author argues that the standard story of the Arab conquests is based on the work of historians with an agenda writing centuries after the fact. Relying only on contemporary or near-contemporary sources, Hoyland puts the Arab conquests into their historical context, seeing them as less purely motivated by religion and more a continuation of a longer tradition of Arab plunder of more settled land, with the weaknesses of the Byzantine and Persian empires creating new opportunities for the eventual victors.
Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants by H.W. Brands. Fascinating story of the three most important American politicians of the first half of the nineteenth century who never became president. Their debates and ideas dominated American politics between the time of the founding and the Civil War.
To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq by Robert Draper. The closer you look at the decision to go into Iraq, the more deluded its main architects appear to be. What struck me about this book was how awful the critics of the war from inside the administration look too. Colin Powell, to take the most prominent example, is hailed as a hero for being more reluctant to invade Iraq than Bush and Cheney, but he let himself be used as the most credible spokesman the administration had in convincing skeptical members of the public. Few on either side of the debate have suffered negative career consequences, and this lack of accountability helps explain why U.S. foreign policy continues to be so misguided. See this thread.
Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein. A good intro to the research on the polarization of the last few decades, perhaps the main story of American politics. You may decide to skip if you’re familiar with this work, but even if you’re not it’s useful to have all the data brought together in one place and summed up into a larger argument.
The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire by William Dalrymple. Most people are under the impression that India was conquered by “The British.” In fact, it was a British corporation, pursuing policies that were sometimes at odds with those of its government. Thread.
The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties by Christopher Caldwell. Interesting analysis of how the civil rights movement and its way of viewing the world came to dominate American political culture, and the connection between government policy and political correctness, often seen as a purely cultural phenomenon. Don’t agree with much of the analysis pertaining to the economy and class and generational warfare.