imaginary family values presents

yesh omrim

a blog that reclines to the left


Short reviews of long books

3 July 2009

I read a couple of books recently that are so thick and comprehensive that a proper review of each would be, well, thick and comprehensive. In the interest of saying something about them before October, I will dare to review them improperly.

A Splendid Exchange: Watching my seven-year-old and four-year-old trade Pokémon cards, I remember Adam Smith’s remark about “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange”. This book traces the history of that propensity (and of attempts to regulate it) in the Western world and everyone who traded with it, and even dips into the prehistory; it starts with commerce in obsidian arrowheads and copper ore, and ends with the riots disrupting Seattle’s World Trade Organization talks.

1491: You learned about the American Indians in school, right? Mumblety-mumble thousand years ago, their ancestors all came over the “land bridge” from Siberia to North America, right? And there they lived as nomadic hunters and gatherers surrounded by pristine wilderness, right? And so at the time Columbus arrived, the New World was thinly populated, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I will resist the temptation to elaborate by restating my reviews even more succinctly: Good books. Read. Grunt.