More Books and Bookshelf Musings

   

Mussolini’s Italy:Life under the Fascist Dictatorship by by R. J. B. Bosworth 

Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott

Been busy writing a book review and a long and serious post, so here is something more lighthearted and tangible in the meantime.

Having recently purchased the Bosworth bio of Mussolini, I went back and bought his history of Italian Fascism. While doing that, I came across Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which had either been highly recommended in a discussion over at Chicago Boyz blog or perhaps in an email by one of the Chicago Boyz themselves ( maybe Lex will help me out here).

However, a long discussion by my amigo Adam Elkus on Facebook about his emerging organizational system for his books coupled with an hour long search to try and find a book I needed to cite in the review I was writing have made me realize something: I no longer have any organization to my books.

Sure, there’s still a semblance of a core – a Soviet/Russian bookcase, an antique/antiquarian bookcase for collectible editions 80-130+ years old, three shelves of strategy and war, two and half on Nazi Germany, two on Richard Nixon, an “Ummah” shelf on Islam, al Qaida, Central Asia and the Mideast but after that it starts getting messy. Once methodically organized, diplomatic history and diplo memoirs are spread across two rooms, four bookcases and three packing boxes in the garage; the Vietnam War is on two shelves in two different bookcases plus a half dozen or books so shelved at work; ancient history and classical philosophy have metastasized to occupy parts of three shelves in two different rooms; American history, European history, Japan and China,  sociology, general science, politics, biographies, neuroscience, intelligence community, economics are everywhere and anywhere. Your guess is probably almost as good as mine.

And then there are book piles randomly stacked horizontally on top of shelved books and bookcases or stacked by my computer desk or on/under/next to my nightstand. I no longer recall what books I have loaned out or to whom vice given away as gifts.

Bibliomania….A Gentle Madness …..

 

26 comments on this post.
  1. Lexington Green:

    Mark, it could have been me.  Seeing Like A State is a great favorite, and a quick glance at old emails shows I have mentioned it repeatedly.  I am eager to hear your thoughts in response.  One comical element is Scott’s dismissive and insulting repudiation of Friedman and Hayek in the first few pages of the book.  Of course he has the exact same message, but political correctness and the esteem of his colleagues requires him to ritually execute two thinkers who are better and wiser than he is, and taught largely the same lesson.  I wrote to Scott about this, for the Hell of it.  No response, of course.    
    .
    “And then there are book piles randomly stacked … I no longer recall what books I have loaned out or to whom vice given away as gifts.” Same here.  Mine are still mostly organized, but there is a large unstacked overflow that is heaped up.  Same thing on the loans and giveaways.  

  2. zen:

    “One comical element is Scott’s dismissive and insulting repudiation of Friedman and Hayek in the first few pages of the book.  Of course he has the exact same message, but political correctness and the esteem of his colleagues requires him to ritually execute two thinkers who are better and wiser than he is, and taught largely the same lesson.  I wrote to Scott about this, for the Hell of it.  No response, of course. ”  
    .
    Much thanks Lex.
    .
    heh. Attribution to the unpopular or supposedly ideologically opposed seems to be a stumbling block in academia – it is like some people can be empirical only up to a point. A questioner pointing out “But that is the same thing X said!” is always good for eliciting angry, stony silence
    .
    Right now I am reading A3.0 which is going fast because I was privy to much of the writing process, and Atkinson because I will owe Callie Oettinger a review for sending me the copy so quickly. Seeing Like a State looks good and calls to mind that the value is always in the planning (thinking), never in the plan. A top down plan is a set of ever expanding foreclosed options, frozen in time and it is hostile to critical information ( feedback from reality) that undermines people’s willingness to follow it, so criticism must be crushed

  3. Lexington Green:

    “Attribution to the unpopular or supposedly ideologically opposed seems to be a stumbling block in academia … .”  A similar bit of academic knife-work occurs in the early pages of James Belich’s Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1783-1939. It is a pretty good book, long, detailed, great maps.  It gets some things wrong.  But the thing it gets very wrong is an inexcusably wrong misstatement of the thought of Jim Bennett and Alan Macfarlane, which preceded his and which is better than his.  He is making an argument about what he calls the “Anglo-World” and he must first call his predecessors racists and make it clear that they are beyond the intellectual pale.  I did not rely on his book for anything specific, so I omitted it from our bibliography.  I thank God I did not go into academic life.  What small, vicious, insular, crowd-driven people so many of them are.  
     

  4. larrydunbar:

    “What small, vicious, insular, crowd-driven people so many of them are.”
    *
    On the other hand, you probably almost made Lou Dobb’s head explode when you said that America 3.0 was going to be driven by technology. Not really something a Conservative wants to hear, eh?

  5. larrydunbar:

    You have to hand it to him, Lou Dobbs is really one of those great professionals.

  6. larrydunbar:

    Take one for the Team, eh?

  7. Lexington Green:

    Larry, I have no idea what you are talking about.  I am a conservative and I obviously have no problem hearing what I am saying.  And who is taking what for what team?  

  8. prbeckman:

    The issue of the organization of books is one of the great metaphysical challenges. If you have a specific research project in mind then that creates a direct, practical organization model. But absent that I think the organization can become a creative enterprise. I’ve always appreciated the Surrealist method of the “juxtaposition of disparate images” and I think it works very well with books. We can stack them next to each other creating opportunities for associations that we would not otherwise have imagined. And that’s why I don’t like organization by subject: it may be easier but it prevents the discovery of unexpected associations.

    I went down to Monticello a few months ago for the first time and one of the things they pointed out was Jefferson’s bookshelves. Instead of having single-unit bookshelves, he devised wooden boxes that could be stacked on top of each other. When he needed to travel and bring books with him, a box could be pulled off the stack and a lid nailed on it and it could be shipped out.  

    I think there should be a field focused on “Biblio-aesthetics” that looks at the organization of books. 

  9. zen:

    Did this Belich character libel Jim by name or was it a broad attack to discredit all previous scholarship a la Said/”Orientalism” sort of worthless polemical bullshit?
    .
    If you are a white male academic in certain subfields of history (or it was so back when I did my first master’s) or all of anthropology and sociology you can only get published in journals by engaging in ritualistic bows to PC nostrums about gender, race, sexual orientation, “otherness” and oppression. I recall a guy from grad school who was finishing his PhD and he had an excellent economic history monograph on H.H. Harriman’s financial manipulations with Manchurian railroads. He was completely unable to find a journal or academic press anywhere to accept it. Then he put in some completely irrelevant crap about gender roles and Chinese women and colonialist European railroad companies that had absolutely nothing to do with Harriman and BAM! the same monograph was immediately accepted

  10. zen:

    I’ve always appreciated the Surrealist method of the “juxtaposition of disparate images” and I think it works very well with books. “
    .
    I must be the Salvador Dali of home libraries 🙂 
    .
    ” 
    I went down to Monticello a few months ago for the first time and one of the things they pointed out was Jefferson’s bookshelves. Instead of having single-unit bookshelves, he devised wooden boxes that could be stacked on top of each other”
    .
    I did not know that, thank you. Now that you mention it – if you go to the Library of Congress and see their Jefferson collection, which is in a large circular glass cabinet kind of display, I recall many of the books being clustered frequently like they would fit in a box.
    .
    ” 
    I think there should be a field focused on “Biblio-aesthetics” that looks at the organization of books. “
    .
    I used to know some dbl history/library science ppl but have lost contact with them. They were made to take design courses in the Art department ( for museum type displays and to learn to construct exhibits) 

  11. Piercello:

    I sometimes find serendipitous pairings of books by moving (I box by size as well as by subject), which is how my copy of “The Population Bomb” ended up next to my copy of “Hiroshima.”  That relationship tickled my sense of humor enough that it has outlasted another two moves.
    .
    And “Seeing Like a State” is high on my long list of “to be read” as well.  Thanks for the reminder. 

  12. Grurray:

    “I think there should be a field focused on “Biblio-aesthetics” 
    *
    Taleb wrote this about libraries in the Black Swan: 
    “Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
    People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head. Note that the Black Swan comes from our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises, those unread books, because we take what we know a little too seriously.
     
    Let us call an antischolar— someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device— a skeptical empiricist.”
    *
    “When he needed to travel and bring books with him, a box could be pulled off the stack and a lid nailed on it and it could be shipped out.” 
    *
    This is why I read ebooks. Easy carriage and reference. One of Groucho’s one liners:
    “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”
    Reading on the run adds to the urgency of the topic at hand
     
     
     

  13. J. Scott Shipman:

    Zen,
    .
    This post will be kept and passed along as the collection grows. Notwithstanding the modest collection in my study, I have those “stacks” everywhere I can get away with it and maintain domestic tranquility 🙂
    .
    I read Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed a couple years ago. Good book, but would have been a better long essay I suspect. 
    .
    Churchill recommended having books just to “handle them” on occasion—much as Grurray says above, though I don’t see opting for ebooks anytime soon. Finally, the unread book in my library (particularly the gift books) often accuse me—and it doesn’t help when I reread some beast I read when I was in my early 20’s…

  14. T. Greer:

    I have not read Scott’s <i>Seeing Like a State</i>. I do recommend his essay, “The Trouble With the View From Above” – apparently a distillation of threat book’s main themes – to almost anybody and everybody who wants to understand the basic assumptions of my political philosophy. Fantastic essay.

  15. larrydunbar:

    “Larry, I have no idea what you are talking about.  I am a conservative and I obviously have no problem hearing what I am saying.  And who is taking what for what team? ”

    *
    Sorry Lex. Having seen Lou Dobbs before, I thought he swallowed pretty hard on your answer about what was going to drive America 3.0. If a person on the Right and Liberal, such as J.Scott Shipman had given him such an answer I am afraid he would have called bullshit, but because you were a Conservative, he let it pass. Sort of biting the bullet on that one.

    *
    To a Conservative, technology isn’t a driver–it’s a tool. A driver needs spatial recognition along with the ability to steer.  To a Conservatives, technology needs customers, and Conservatism is the driver. 

    *
    I mean, if you boys let technology do the driving, eventually, it is the customers who are going to do the driving, and I think they are going to want the environment to be just a little more “open” than Conservatives will allow. 

    *
    My guess is that one of the authors of the book you co-wrote is a person on the Right but Liberal, and it is his  “technology is the driver” B.S that you are using as talking points. It seems to be working, at least with Lou Dobbs, so I say go for it 🙂

  16. Lexington Green:

    Technology drives the change.  Culture causes the continuity, and determines what use is made of the technology.  
    .
    Interesting about Dobbs.  I have never watched his show.  I did read his book and read a bunch of material by him in preparation.  Whatever he may think, he was kind enough to let us on his show, and he was very civil to us.   

  17. Lexington Green:

    T.Greer, the essay is a distillation. The book is good and worth reading.  

  18. J. Scott Shipman:

    Lex, T. Greer, Concur, though if pressed for time, the distillation conveys the foundations of his thinking. I read it and have shared. Many thanks! 

  19. Grurray:

    “I mean, if you boys let technology do the driving, eventually, it is the customers who are going to do the driving, and I think they are going to want the environment to be just a little more “open” than Conservatives will allow.”
    *
    I thought that was the point:
    *”Despite the major changes underway, driven mainly by technology, and the new structures that we will inevitably have, the American way of life will still be recognizably our own, part of the “changing same” that has continued for centuries. If we imagine Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or Alexander Hamilton magically restored to life a generation from now, they would recognize the country as the same at bottom, though certainly many details would be shocking. Further, our anticipated world-to-come may have more congruence with the world of family farms and small businesses that these Founders knew than it will to mid-twentieth century America.”
    *

    The entrepreneurial companies of Silicon Valley are the most visible example of the new entrepreneurism made possible by the information revolution, but they are just a fraction of the new activity made possible by technology and deregulation.
    *

    As power decentralizes, the newer, more flexible modes of production become more possible, and the areas that are most receptive to them will gain an influx of productive people, enriching them and impoverishing the areas they leave. This will become a virtuous circle, promoting the constitutional and structural reforms we will describe below.
    *
    (all above copied from Kindle) 
     
     
     
     

  20. Lexington Green:

    Grurray, the point is that it is the COMBINATION of the technology with the ongoing cultural framework that will characterize America 3.0.  The Americans are unusually well equipped to make the most of these changes.  So we say.  Perhaps I will long enough to know if I was right!  

  21. Madhu:

    Hi all, I’ve been taking a break on blog commenting except for my usual SWJ comments. 
    .
    To be frank, I don’t have the time anymore (I didn’t before, I just stopped reading as much fiction as I’d like). It’s either blog reading and commenting or all those fiction books piling up. Neatly in my case. When there are too many, I take them to my office, give them away, or give them to relatives that like the look of books on bookshelves as a decorating idea but don’t bother to buy many books. 
    .
    I wanted to congratulate Charles on his Pragati article but can’t find the post around here so I’ll just hope he checks in here. Nice job, Charles. 

  22. larrydunbar:

    ” If we imagine Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or Alexander Hamilton magically restored to life a generation from now, they would recognize the country as the same at bottom, though certainly many details would be shocking.”

    *
    Really? They would recognize the country at the bottom? I think what they would recognize the most would be the greed and hunger for power at the top.

    *
    As for the bottom, I think, as those in power from only a few generations ago decided to make a great experiment out of our educational system (and country) by opening education up to us at the bottom, I have my doubts they would recognize the bottom at all. One look a Palin and I think their heads would explode.

    *
    Of course then you would have to say, wait, this consumer economy you are looking at is one that was strategically formed by those in power several years ago (Nixon and killer Kissinger). It was a corrupt leadership that eventually killed the middle class that those educated.

    *
    Someone would then have to explain to them that Nixon/Kissinger and those that followed them decided to make us the nation-state that would consume anything that industry could cheaply build using economies where labor is cheap and life is tightly control by the military. I am not sure they would recognize the mess that was created out of all of that, but you do have a point. Some things change, and some things don’t ever change.

  23. Lexington Green:

    Read the book, Larry.  It will help us communicate in a way that we engage each other.  

  24. larrydunbar:

    “Read the book, Larry.  It will help us communicate in a way that we engage each other.”
    *
    Do you really think so? I mean, theology is one domain that is probably one bridge too far for me, dimensionally as well as directionally So the way we are engaging here is a non-theology way. 
    *
    I doubt this is the way the book follows, so I doubt it will help us communicate in a way that we engage each other here.

  25. Grurray:

    Larry,  you may be surprised.  There’s very little partisan content in the book. Many of their descriptions of recent economic and cultural history aren’t too far off from how you feel. It may provide a better understanding of how exactly we get to the future.

  26. Grurray:

    “Perhaps I will long enough to know if I was right!  ”

    Just lay off the refined sugars, refined grains, corn and soy.
    Only grass fed/ free range meat.
    Mega livestock farms, GMO, HF corn syrup, etc are all America 2.0 solutions that have outlived their usefulness