Latest book arrival

Way late in the day, UPS delivered Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed. A steal at less than $11 on Amazon and, judging from the first two pages, yet another page turner, but this one about the financial crisis of the 1930s. Oh why do they keep publishing so many interesting books… Yes, they. It’s always their fault.

Today’s reading – Dimitrios

I have not read anything for fun yet today-:(. Of course, there is always bedtime, and Good Omens is waiting for my patiently by my bedside.

I am reading a very interesting book on networks, a forthcoming textbook on the intersection of network theory, economics, and sociology. The authors have made it available online for comments, and I have downloaded and am reading it in tandem with a colleague as a winter break project. But it’s too early to comment on the book, apart from saying that it is very good, so far, and I am definitely looking forward to the time that I can buy it as a nice hardback.

No matter how convenient the downloading of PDFs is, nothing beats a properly printed volume in one’s hands. I challenge Apple to come up with an iTablet or whatever they will call it (the rumors about it have been coming fast and furious lately) to make me change my mind!

Current reading – Dimitrios

I have tried goodreads.com and shelfari.com for tracking the books I read and would like to read, but I simply don’t visit these sites often enough and the sheer number of books I am currently (pretending to be? trying to be? hoping to be?) reading boggles my mind when I look at even the partial list I have on goodreads.com. From now on, I will try posting short snippets about my reading here and I will try to make these updates regular.

The book I am reading these days at bedtime is a paperback M got me for Christmas this year, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (1990, reading the Harper 2007 paperback edition). It’s quite unusual to find a book written jointly by two successful writers, let alone as inventive and funny writers as these two are! I am currently on page 68 and I have found that every night it beats the alternatives (and they are legion, just counting the two tall piles next to my side of the bed).

Some of these books in the legion, likely to be finished (but we’ll see… as always with me, no bets are safe on finishing books) are:

  • The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin, Tor Books 2009. Science fiction about a future with fantastic nanotechnology that revives the dead but also an economic arrangement that has people as corporations with the majority of any given young person owned by the state and various corporations that financed the person’s schooling. Currently on page 74. The writing is pedestrian but the idea of incorporated individuals is intriguing. I am not holding my breath about the romance between the 20th entury tycoon who is revived 300 years later after being frozen to avoid death by lymphoma and the young woman who handles his rehabilitation. Of course the romance will have a good end. However, predicting the outcome to this society of the entrance of this pre-incorporation man, who has no intention of playing by the society’s incorporation rules, is harder, so I will keep reading.
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes, 2008 (reading the US Pantheon hardback edition). The Romantics discover science. Joseph Banks lands in Tahiti and writes in his diary what might be the first anthropological study. Humphry Davy does chemistry. Astronomical discoveries abound. This is a wonderful book, mellifluous and fascinating in its topic. I am savoring it, which is why I am only on page 12.
  • The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, Knopf 2009, translated from the Swedish by reg Keeland (original published in Sweden in 2006). The author was a journalist who worked too hard. He burned the candle from both ends so fast that he died at age 50 in 2004 shortly after giving the manuscript of this book and two others (it’s part of a trilogy). It’s too bad, and not only because it’s sad for anyone to die so young. The book is a fast-paced inventive thriller with a most unusual female hero. I was alerted to it by the Economist magazine, of all sources. Currently I am ready to start a new section on page 161, and waiting for a good chunk of time (waiting since the day after Thanksgiving, sadly) because once I start reading it goes really fast and demands my attention completely. Not great literature, I have to say, but a real page-turner.
  • Family Album by Penelope Lively, Viking 2009. An understated English novel with deep emotional undertones. It recounts a family gathering that shows every sign of becoming tumultuous. I have only read a few pages and will likely restart, but the book shows promise and will probably merit the very good words I read about it in the Economist when I am done with it.
  • The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000 by Chris Wickham, Viking 2009. I got this in the summer on the recommendation of Tyler Cowen in marginalrevolution.com. I cannot hope to match Cowen’s super-fast reading, but I can still benefit from his recommendations. I have managed to reach page 176 on two trips and I should manage to finish this book (and maybe one or two from the preceding ones) on our forthcoming quick trip to warmer climes in January, shortly before the semester starts. Wickham gives a perspective on the decline of the Roman empire and how what the Romans had established pervaded the succeeding societal structures that I had not encountered before. Just reading a few pages makes me feel I understand the development of what we now know as Europe much better than I did before.

I’d better end here. I could go on and on, and this long list of unfinished books is embarrassing enough as it is. My promise is to post here daily about my recreational reading. It’s this, or being so swamped with all the work and web-design projects I have scheduled for myself that I will not be able to read for fun and general illumination at all. So I promise: more on my non-work reading tomorrow. An the day after. And so on for the whole new year.

A look back at 2009

This year we did not send out a Christmas letter with our cards. This post is an attempt to remedy this deficiency, for the few of our friends and family members who might occasionally visit this blog and for the sake of reminiscing.

The year started with the two of us busy in San Francisco. I was there for the Allied Social Science Associations annual meeting, and Marianne came along to enjoy SF and our few vacation days at Applewood Inn right after the conference ended. Since we wrote about this trip at length on this very blog, I will immediately move on to subsequent happenings.

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I taught a graduate course, “Mathematics for Economists II”, in the Spring, a graduate Macroeconomics course to cover for C who was on sabbatical (I did get help with guest lectures on this one), and I ran the graduate research seminar. A moderate-to-heavy schedule, made heavier in the first half of the semester by the ton of extra work relating to the hiring process. That went well, time consuming as it was, and Temple’s economics department got two great new faculty members.

A big event for me was the publication of the book I wrote together with four Temple economics graduate students. The book is called A Toolbox for Economic Design, and it was published in March by Palgrave Macmillan. We’ll have to wait a bit to see how it goes with sales, as the only report I have received from the publisher was dated April, a bit too close to the publication date to read much into it. Yet the book has already done its service for two of my co-authors, Karen and Lisa, who got a little boost in their job searches from having been co-authors.

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The Spring semester also saw the graduation of my student Lisa with her shiny new economics Ph.D. She also received a job offer in the Spring, and started with her new tenure-track job at a local college in the Fall.

Near the end of April Marianne learned that she was selected Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year at Arcadia and that she received a sabbatical for the whole 2009-2010 academic year so that she can focus exclusively on her forthcoming textbook that she has under contract with Prentice Hall (a unit of Pearson these days). It was major congratulations time! Add to that the fact that Marianne’s doctor is now convinced that her past troubles are truly in the past, and it was a top-notch Marianne year!

Our main vacation in the summer was a week in Ocean City, NJ. We shared a place with dear friends and had a blast. We liked it so much that we repeated the experience on a much smaller scale in Wildwood Crest the first week of September, this time with dear family members. This was the first occasion that I drove to work from the shore to do my first class of the semester, an evening graduate Micro class, and then drove back at night.

Work held a couple of surprises for me in the Fall semester. First, a colleague who teaches the “Math for Economists I” graduate course broke his ankle and I covered his class on short notice for six weeks. Also, I applied for a sabbatical and just learned recently that my application was successful. I will be on sabbatical in Spring 2011, studying hard ways to incorporate the notion of trust in economic theory better than it has been incorporated so far.

M here. Dimitrios neglected to mention my big trip to Disney (since this was something we did not do together, it did not stand out as a highlight of the year). It all started when I mentioned to my nephew Dominick that I had never been to Disney World. So he, his wife Margherita, her mother, and their nearly 3-year old Caterina took me with them in October.

We had a fantastic time! What a great place to go to forget all your grown-up troubles.

The weather gave us a big snowstorm in December, and we went to visit our friends and neighbors Reiko and Troy for some tobogganing with them and their children in the midst of the blizzard.

Marianne-in-blizzard-2009-12-19.jpg Dimitrios in the snow