More vacation books: Poor Economics, Starship Troopers, Water for Elephants, Lesterland, Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That.

Poor Economics is a book that attempts to summarize the state of developmental economics and explain how it may inform interventions to improve the lives of the global poor. The book is cast around around two different theories of economics that address “poverty traps.” Each postulates a specific shape of an income curve - a curve that determines whether poor people can get out of poverty without outside help. The book returns to this theory as it goes through a number of practical developmental concerns - like health, education, entrepreneurship, all that stuff. It’s a great book, well grounded in the reality of the field, yet eminently readable and interesting.

Starship Troopers, like Neuromancer from last week, spawned a genre (or at least a sub genre). I felt guilty reading other books in the genre without reading Heinlein’s take on it, so I slogged through it. It’s violent, with a kind of reverence for military service that seems passé (if not downright ridiculous) these days, and the main character is pretty unsympathetic. It also has this utterly ridiculous view of women that I will not discuss more because it made me angry. I was warned, and I read it anyway. As I said with The Forever War, you should just go read Old Man’s War instead.

Full confession: Water for Elephants is the Kindle lending library, and I would not have read it if that was not the case. It’s a perfectly serviceable novel recounting a young man’s experience joining the circus. Really not much to see here.

Lesterland is Lawrence Lessig’s new TED book on corruption, which accompanied his TED talk. Republic Lost, which came out last year, was a much better and more compelling representation of his arguments. I guess the goal is to appeal to people who wouldn’t sit down to read all of Republic Lost. But in any case, it’s short, still a bit repetitive, and less compelling than watching his talks or reading Republic Lost. 

I picked up Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That, which is a book about modern art, on a whim at SF MoMA. It was a good reminder that Amazon reviews are my friend, as I was super disappointed in it. The author picks a hundred works of modern art, and attempts to explain their significance, including whether a five-year-old could have created them. The writing about the actual art movements and artists was interesting, although the format is super distracting - apparently, one needs at least 4 different text boxes per two page spread to explain art. However, the premise totally doesn’t work. About half the time the answer is “Yes, your five-year-old could have done that, but it wouldn’t have meant the same thing!” That explanation certainly the virtue of being true, but is a) annoying, and b) repetitive - I would rather the book abandoned the premise entirely. I don’t think I was the audience for this, though. I actually like (most) modern art.