Historical Impromptus

Notes, Reviews, and Responses on the British Experience and the Great Enrichment

[Amazon Link]

This is a grab-bag collection of articles, book reviews, and interviews from Deirdre McCloskey (DM), accumulated over decades. The Kindle version is mere $5 at Amazon, and since I am a DM fanboy, I snapped it up.

It covers decades, some bits going back to when Deirdre considered herself to be Donald. And (consumer note) a lot of this stuff is generally available on the web.

Let's be honest: some of the contents (I think it's fair to say) will be of limited interest to the dilettante reader. By which I mean: me. We get DM's side to some pretty wooly academic debates, mostly without any context or dissent. Much of DM's original research was on British economic history, and things get into the weeds pretty quickly on (for example) coal mining issues, the breadth and depth of seams dictating how practically they could be extracted. Also some stuff about swamp-draining… . Friends, I don't care and I don't feel a bit guilty about not caring. I gave long stretches of the book the looked-at-every-page treatment. I would not pass even a cursory quiz on the topics.

But everything else is good, driven by DM's punchy prose, unrivalled in my usual non-fiction reading. Specifically, DM's book reviews are fun and occasionally illuminating. Example: reviewed Thomas Friedman's 1999 book The Lexus and the Olive Tree for the Minnesota Journal of Global Trade, and she quotes him making a stunning prediction:

China's going to have freedom of the press Globulation will drive it. Oh, China's leaders don't know that yet, but they are being pushed straight in that direction.

Well, over 20 years later, and we're still waiting. Apparently the push wasn't as pushy as either Friedman or DM thought it would be.

So I won't be reading Tom Friedman soon. But DM's glowing review of Niall Ferguson's The Square and the Tower caused me to put it on my TTR list.