Johan Fourie's blog

I'd rather be a comma than a fullstop

What I’m reading

with 4 comments

I’m not one of those people who actually finish a book. In fact, I can’t really remember when last I did. It’s not that they’re boring; it’s just that there’s always something more interesting, more appealing, with new ideas and hypotheses and font types. Actually, that’s only a part of the reason I don’t finish books. It’s really because I want to avoid that split-second of silent sorrow when you’ve just finished the last sentence: that realisation that you’ve come to the end, that there’s no more, that, no matter how much you’ve enjoyed the book, there’s no more to explore, to find, to discover. That, aside from a place and my bookshelf, it’s job is done.

It’s also is a great way to keep bookmark makers in business. So here is the list of books that I’m currently “reading”:

“Why Nations Fail” by Daren Acemoglu and James Robinson is a really easy-to-read introduction to the primacy of institutions in explaining the divergent growth trajectories of countries. Extending the franchise is key, the authors argue, to explaining why some countries prosper and others fail to. The book is not without criticism, especially from those in political science, but it should be compulsory reading for any student of economic development.

“1494” reveals the untold story of how a personal struggle between queens and kings, churchmen and explorers split the globe between Spain and Portugal and made the world’s oceans a battleground. Stephen Bown (author of “Merchant Kings” which I’m also “reading”) shows why history is sometimes stranger than fiction.

I am an optimist and so are the authors of “Abudance”, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They argue that through technologies improving exponentially fast, we will soon be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman has already won several awards and is an intriguing read for anyone interested in how humans behave (thus, all the social sciences). Kahneman posits two “systems” of thinking: System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities–and also the faults and biases–of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behaviour.

“Economic Development in the Americas since 1500” is another story about the importance of institutions in economic development. A compilation of Stan Engerman and Ken Sokoloff’s research over the last two decades, this book will become a compulsory reference for anyone interested in the economic histories of the Americas and their lessons for other developing regions.

“Africa’s Future” by Duncan Clarke is dense but fascinating account of Africa’s past challenges. Although Clarke is clear that the book is “not an economic history”, he writes a mega-economic history that explains  why from Roman times to 1500 CE Africa went backwards, evolving slowly, growing later, improving recently, and how its modern and archaic economies coexist uneasily today.

“The Clash of Economic Ideas” by Laurence White brilliantly integrates the rise of new economic ideas and their implications for economic policy during the twentieth century. This book will become a standard reference for scholars in the History of Economic Thought, but also for politicians and policymakers hoping to understand the successes and failures of past economic policies.

Finally, “End The Depression Now” is Paul Krugman‘s latest book about the failure of austerity measures to boost business confidence, production and employment. Growth is the only way to pay for the rising debt, and the only way to achieve growth is through Keynesian government investment. Good news, I guess, for President Hollande.

And if all this economics (and history) is too much, consider the following two books:

Les Padfield is a scout for Bolton Wanderers. “Scouting for Moyes” is a compilation of short, hilarious anecdotes about his experiences scouting new players. (This is the only book I actually did finish reading.) The book ends with him visiting South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

This is the book I most look forward to reading. (It’s still in the mail.) If you enjoy Joel Stein’s column in Time magazine, then this should be compulsory reading. Here’s the blurb: “The smudge looked suspicious. The doctor confirmed: “That’s the baby’s penis!” Joel’s reaction? Pure panic. “I pictured having to go camping and fix a car and use a hammer and throw a football and watch professionals throw footballs and figure out whether to be sad or happy about the results of said football throwing.” And so begins Joel’s quest to confront his effete nature whether he likes it or not (he doesn’t), by doing a 24-hour shift with LA firefighters, going hunting, rebuilding a house, enduring three days of basic training with the Marine Corps, and going into the ring with UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture. Seeking help from a panel of experts, including his manly father-in-law, a racecar driver, Boy Scouts, former NFL star Warren Sapp and some celebrities, he expects to learn that masculinity is not defined by the size of his muscles but by the size of his heart. This is not at all what he learns. ”

I purchased all these books through Book Depository, a UK bookstore, which ship them free to South Africa.


Written by Johan Fourie

May 9, 2012 at 11:52

4 Responses

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  1. Thanks, this is useful. And comforting to know that I’m not the only one who hardly ever finishes books! Next time introduce a rating for each book – that which cannot be quantified in some way is only of limited value (usually).

    Nic Spaull

    May 10, 2012 at 11:02

    • Ek dink die boek “Abundance” sal moontlik tot my spreek. Google bietjie Richard Rohr se “site”. Daar is veel te se vir terugkeer na die integrering van kop, liggaam en gees in ons samelewing. “Man made” klink interessant. Daar is veel te se vir die swart kultuur se inisiasieprosesse wat manlikheid (wanneer dit sinvol toegepas word) vier!


      May 10, 2012 at 19:37

  2. I’m happy to read that my style of reading has an employment and production multiplier among bookmarkers makers with probably the same level as yours. 😀

    Manuel Bautista

    May 9, 2012 at 17:39

  3. The Number deals with prison gangs in South Africa; its also pretty good!


    May 9, 2012 at 12:45

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