2023 Reading

Some books I read & liked this year:

The Oceans and the Stars, Mark Helprin.  Subtitled ‘a sea story, a war story, a love story’ and set in the present era, this novel centers around Stephen Rensselaer, a talented naval officer who should have been an admiral. But his support of a new kind of warship antagonizes the president of the United States, who ensures that Rensselaer is assigned to a career-ending post commanding the only example of that type that will ever be built. While supervising the Athena‘s fitting-out in New Orleans, he meets a lawyer named Katy Farrar and falls in love with her.  But on Athena‘s first mission, Stephen will receive definitive orders that conflict strongly with his conscience.

Last Ships from Hamburg, Steven Ujifusa.  Between 1890 and 1925, a large number of Jews–estimated at 2.5 million–fled Russia and Eastern Europe to the haven of the United States.  This is the story of two men, both themselves Jews, who played a major role in enabling that immigration.  In Germany, Albert Ballin was managing director of the Hamburg-America line.  He put major focus on the immigration business, improving conditions in steerage class and providing shore-side accommodation and transport as well as ocean transportation; he even persuaded the German government to give his company control of part of its border, giving Hamburg-America a huge advantage over its rival North German Lloyd.  In the US, Jacob Schiff..the immensely wealthy managing partner of Kuhn, Loeb…contributed large sums and much energy to help with the housing and assimilation of these new Americans.

The Valley of Decision, Marcia Davenport.  This 1942 book could be subtitled An Industrial Romance, as could the 1945 movie starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck.  It is centered on a family-owned steel mill in Pittsburg from 1873 thru the late 1930s.  Outstanding; I reviewed both the book and the movie here.

Rust, Eliese Colette Goldbach.  Like Valley of Decision, this book is focused on the steel industry, but it is a memoir rather than a novel and is set in the current era. The author graduated had graduated from college and earned an MFA degree (which she never received owing to failure to fill out the proper form), and had never thought about becoming a steelworker. But seeing a friend’s paycheck from the mill convinced her to give it a try.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, as Viewed from the Early 1950s.  There were numerous SF stories in the early 1950s speculating about the future impact of “thinking machines” and robots.  I reviewed some of the most interesting ones here.

The Mysterious Affair at Olivetti, Meyrle Secrest.  The story of this Italian company’s early pioneering efforts in computing.  Its Olivetti P101, introduced in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair.  Prefiguring Apple, the design of the product gave strong emphasis to its visual appearance–the P101 won the Compasso d’Oro industrial design aware–and ease of use. Memory capacity was 240 bytes, stored in a magnetostrictive delay line–one of the interesting memory technologies developed prior to the availability of the microchip RAM–and programs could be stored on magnetic cards.  About 44,000 of these systems were sold.

In addition to the interesting company history–surely unfamiliar to most Americans–the book argues that Olivetti was the target of a CIA plot to cripple its computer business in order to protect the American computer industry…something that seems to me to be most unlikely.

The Social Leap, William von Hippel.  The author argues that the development of human mental capacities was driven to a considerable extent by the need to learn from other people, not only the improvement of purely individual intelligence.

The Culture Transplant, Garrett Jones. The subtitle is ‘How migrants make the economies they move to a lot like the ones they left,’ and data is presented suggesting that attitudes brought by migrants on many dimensions of values and behavior are very long-lasting.

Lydia Bailey, Kenneth Roberts.  I actually read and reviewed this book in 2022, but it is highly relevant today in view of the depredations against shipping committed by the Iranian regime through their proxies, the Houthis.  Published in 1947, Lydia Bailey is set shortly after the American Revolution and portray some aspects of American and world history that are not well-known by most people today…the Alien & Sedition Laws, the Haitian revolution, and the war against the Barbary pirates.  Indeed, the history of the Alien & Sedition Laws is also unpleasantly relevant given the multifront attack currently going on against free expression.  I reviewed the book here.

The End of the World is Just the Beginning, Peter Zeihan.  The book is subtitled ‘Mapping the Collapse of Globalization’, and the author argues that our present highly-interconnected world was made possible only by America, and that America has lost interest in keeping it going.  He sees global trade as having been primarily driven by the protective influence of the US Navy, which protective influence he sees as being substantially withdrawn.  Recent events in the vicinity of Suez do tend to fit with that point of view.

The Tyranny of Experts, William Easterly. A critique of top-down international development and anti-poverty efforts.  Many examples are provided.

Americana, Bhu Srinivasan.  Subtitled  ‘A 400-year History of American Capitalism’, the book focuses particularly on the relationship between government and business–and offers some unique perspectives. (Have you ever thought of the voyage of the Mayflower in venture capital terms?)

Shameless book promo

I’ve started writing again after a ten-year pause, so it’s pretty much like starting from scratch and I can use all the help I can get. The first two books of a three-book science fiction series, Insurgents and Awakening, are available on Amazon now, and the third, Survivors, will be up in a week or two. (The books work as stand-alone novels; you don’t have to read them as a series, though I think they’re more fun that way.) All three are/will be available in paperback and e-book editions, and the e-books are free in Kindle Unlimited.

There’s an excerpt from Insurgents here and the first chapter of Awakening here, if anybody’s interested.

I hope ChicagoBoyz readers will find the trilogy interesting, since it’s meant to be the chronicle of a totalitarian society’s collapse over a period of several generations.

If anybody happens to read one, I would be very grateful for a review.

D-Day, June 6th 1944, Plus 72 Years

To commemorate D-Day, here is a current view of Omaha Beach from Wikipedia —


And here are a pair of columns I’ve written previously on D-Day in 2014 and 2013.

This is a review of three very good books on D-Day —

History Friday — Books to Read for the D-Day 70th Anniversary
6th June 2014

And this column is about the sacrifices of British Royal Air Force early warning radar unit, the 1st Echelon of 21 Base Defence Sector, that landed at the Les Moulins Draw, on Omaha Beach, Normandy about 5:30pm on 6 June 1944.

Royal Air Force at Omaha Beach
6th June 2013

Why I read City Journal.

This book review of three books, is why I read City Journal. I don’t know where else you get these insights as well done.

Today, 50 years after its issuance, some liberals “bravely” acknowledge that 1965’s so-called Moynihan Report, in which the future senator warned about the dire future consequences of the collapse of the black family, was a fire bell in the night. But at the time, and for decades to come, Moynihan was branded as a racist by civil rights leaders, black activists, and run-of-the-mill liberals. “One began to sense,” Moynihan wrote, that “a price was to be paid even for such a mild dissent from conventional liberalism.”


As an aide to Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey in the 1990s, Greg Weiner knew Moynihan, and he picks up on the crosscurrents that made the senator such a fascinating figure in American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Weiner describes how Moynihan distinguished between two types of liberalism. Pluralist liberalism, with which Moynihan identified, emphasized situation and circumstance in making policy. This was the position, Moynihan wrote, “held by those, who with Edmund Burke . . . believe that in . . . the strength of . . . voluntary associations—church, family, club, trade union, commercial association—lies much of the strength of democratic society.” But Moynihan saw another kind of liberalism developing, one caught up in an “overreliance upon the state.” This statist liberalism produced the bureaucratic “chill” that “pervades many of our government agencies” and has helped produce “the awesome decline of citizen participation in our elections.” That decline has continued to the present day, producing record-low turnouts in the recent New York and Los Angeles elections.


Steele’s new book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized our Country, explains why Moynihan’s fears of statist liberalism have been realized and why Moynihan has had no political or intellectual heirs. While generations of immigrants have passed African-Americans on their way up the social ladder, black leaders continue to excel at trying to leverage grievances into more entitlements. African-Americans, explains Steele, courageously won their freedom only to sell themselves into a new sort of bondage—to perpetual victimization and federal subsidies. The doors to modernity, which demand that individuals make something of themselves so as to advance in the marketplace, opened for blacks in the wake of the civil rights movement—only, explains Steele, to have blacks retreat into a group identity based on cultivating grievances.

They all sound like great books and I will read at least one of them.

Nature and Nurture.

I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

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