Recent Reads

Some stuff I've read lately:

John Kenneth Galbraith's The Underdeveloped Country and The Affluent Society. These books are interesting couterpoints to one another. The Underdeveloped Country is a transcript of the Massey Lecture given by Galbraith in the 1960's on developing nations, the duty of the developing world to those nations, and the likelihood that the affluence gap will widen without concerted efforts to counteract passive economic forces. The Affluent Society is Galbraith's classic long essay on capitalism in societies where subsistence has been left so far behind that the economy's engines rely on the creation of superfluous wants by a robust marketing industry, where the needs filled by the marketplace are psychological rather than physical, and where expenditures on public spaces and institutions lag far behind private ones.

Michael Ignatieff's The Rights Revolution. This is another Massey Lecture transcript. Michael Ignatieff has had a resurgence of late as a parachuted Liberal candidate in the last federal election and as a candidate for the coming Liberal leadership race. This book is loaded with interesting insights into Ignatieff's political philosophy. It is an account of a decades-long movement toward the primacy of individual and group rights in politics, and of the pitfalls and payoffs of that movement.

Sarah Vowell's Take The Cannoli. I first noticed Sarah Vowell when she voiced Violet in The Incredibles, a dubious credit in the career of this interesting writer. Take The Cannoli is a collection of essays that Vowell wrote for NPR's This American Life. I found the poignancy of the opening essay, "Shooting Dad," (listen to Vowell here at minute 4:30) truly heart-wrenching. There is something about the last two lines in the essay that makes me well-up every time. I found most of the other essays don't end nearly as well; in fact, Vowell seems to have a tough time closing her ideas. It is only in the rambling middle sections of each essay that she really shines. The title essay, "Take the Cannoli," is an ode to her fixation on The Godfather and its explicit Sicilian moral code. The appeal of an alternative to a religious moral code was magnetic, especially in the post-theist state of mind Vowell found herself in during college. In her words: God was dead and I had whacked Him.

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