Much belated book reviews

by Elias Blum

Facebook has just reminded of the fact that 5 years ago today I posted about a bunch of books that I had ordered. So let’s have a look at what I bought, whether I actually read them, and what impact they had on my thought and action.

“What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” (Michael Sandel). Read it cover to cover. Thought it made a very good argument. Helped me to distinguish between a ‘market economy’ (qualified good) and a ‘marketsociety’ (bad). Raises the question of which areas of life should, and which shouldn’t, be open to market forces, and which areas should be reserved for other means of distribution (state provision, familial communality, social co-operatives etc).

“Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet” (Tim Jackson). Read most of it. Bottom line is that we cannot expect unending growth on a finite planet. There comes a point where economic theories that focus on making a ‘bigger pie’ fall apart, and we have to think about how the pie is cut.

“The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicanism” (William Everdell). Read it cover to cover, several times, and still dip into it occasionally. It became for a while one of my favourite books. Strongly recommended as an introduction to how civic republican thought maps onto questions of institutional design.

“Dialogue on the Government of Florence” (Francesco Guicciardini, translated by Biancamaria Fontana). Read it cover to cover, many times. There’s something so immediate, and yet also strangely distant and other-worldly, about these Italian civic-republican dialogues. We live in a very different world, with very different institutions and assumptions, yet the problems are the same – and we are less well equipped to deal with them, than Florentines were 500 years ago.

“Distributism” (Anthony Cooney). I have not really done this book justice. I think it has sat on my shelf for 5 years, never really appreciated. So I’m going to dust it off and add it to my ‘bedside’ pile.