Romance of the Rails

Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need

[Amazon Link]

Randal O'Toole loves railroads, but he's not blindly in love. As the subtitle implies, there's very little case to be made for thinking that passenger rail is a good solution at any level: intra-city, commuter, cable car, light-rail, whatever: it almost never makes a lot of economic sense.

The first part of the book is an interesting history of American "mass" transportation, how it evolved to its state today. Then it looks at the current sad state of affairs: rail service propped up by hefty taxpayer subsidies; proposals that overpromise ridership, underestimate costs (and often get greenlighted anyway); deferred maintenance; aging infrastructure. Even the hyped "Northeast Corridor" (Boston-Washington) doesn't survive O'Toole's analysis.

Note that our fair state is about to get into this boondoggle: N.H. Capitol Rail Project Advances to Next Stage. Aieee! Somebody buy copies of this book to spread around Concord!

Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2019

Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.

I read a lot of good books this year, and it was hard to limit myself to 10. So this selection is somewhat arbitrary, and I could have come up with a different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list.

In order read:

[Amazon Link] Stubborn AttachmentsA Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Tyler's philosophical/economic pitch for a broadly libertarian society: economic growth seasoned by a healthy respect for individual liberty should be our primary social goal.
[Amazon Link] ThemWhy We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal by Ben Sasse. Senator Sasse is worried about the country's future, as well he should. Although his diagnosis seems to point the finger at economic dynamism at times, his suggested solutions are heartfelt and mostly correct.
[Amazon Link] Love Your EnemiesHow Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks. Yes, another what's-wrong-with-America-these-days book. But filled with good advice for those of us who have political opinions and might want to discuss them without engendering hard feelings.
[Amazon Link] The Coddling of the American MindHow Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. Not just another set of rage-inducing anecdotes about leftist campus snowflakes! Greg and Jonathan take a sympathetic look at how Young People These Days wound up so desperately unhappy.
[Amazon Link] Why Free Will Is Real by Christian List. Good news everyone! I think this is the best discussion of free will I've seen. I don't need to read any more books about it, I'm pretty sure.

I probably shall, though. Because I have no choice in the matter. (That's a joke, son.)

[Amazon Link] The Smallest MinorityIndependent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics by Kevin D. Williamson. Kevin's f-bomb-laden tirade against the forces of conformity. It goes in surprising directions.
[Amazon Link] Bad BloodSecrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Kind of a mainstream pick, this best-selling book describes the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder, Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes. She had a reality-distortion field at the Steve Jobs level. Alas, without a product to eventually back it up.
[Amazon Link] The Conservative Sensibility by George F. Will. His magnum opus. Deserves to be read more slowly than I did. (I had it on a two-week loan from the library.) You won't agree with everything, I didn't, but you'll find that following Mr. Will's arguments is worthwhile exercise.
[Amazon Link] Panic AttackYoung Radicals in the Age of Trump by Robby Soave. Another Young People Today book. Robby teaches us the ideology of intersectionality, and does a lot of shoe-leather reporting. (As a young person himself…)
[Amazon Link] Lost in MathHow Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder. Dr. Hossenfelder provides a contrarian (and funny) look at the state of theoretical physics. Her thesis: the field has been led down the rabbit hole by esthetic concerns about theory. She unpeels the esthetics with a philosopher's skill. She also interviews a lot of her fellow physicists.