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Category: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Digest of Justinian (Translated by Charles Henry Monro)

[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who only recently realised it’s “servandus,” not “servadus.”]

The Corpus Juris Civilis was a monumental achievement. Justinian I of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire set out to collect and condense the disparate laws that had evolved in Rome, and then set them down in a coherent, authoritative text. He didn’t literally do it himself—he was the project’s executive (having imperium, at that), with the low-level work being delegated to an army of lawyers and legal scholars and clerks or what have you. The result was actually three texts: the Codex Justinianus, the Institutiones, and the Digesta, or the Digest. The Digest is, I believe, the largest—essentially an encyclopedia of Roman law, organized by topic and consisting of edited excerpts from renowned archaic jurists: Gaius, Ulpian, Julianus, Paulus, and so on.

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Book Review: Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy
(Dani Rodrik)

I find that my hit percentage on economics books is about 50%.  One out of every two books I read is excellent, and the other is awful. Very little seems to be in between.  Unfortunately for me, this book is in the latter group.  It is supposed to be, I think, an effort to show that a mainstream economist can be less than totally enthused about unlimited free trade and “hyper-globalization,” without being on the side of Trump or “illiberal democracies,” and without giving up his neoliberal ID card.  But Straight Talk on Trade is just a mess.

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Book Review: The Arms of Krupp 1587-1968 (William Manchester)

The late William Manchester, master of twentieth century popular history, made his reputation with this book, published in 1968.  There will never be another book on the Krupp family like it, and not just because it’s so long, nearly half a million words and a thousand pages.  It is also because the Krupps are largely forgotten today, fifty years later—and because Manchester personally talked to nearly everyone in, and connected to, the Krupp family at its height, and those people are all dead.  Just as dead is the firm itself, since the sole proprietorship that was “Krupp” no longer exists in that form or has any connection to the Krupp family.  Sic transit gloria mundi, if “gloria” is the right word.

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Book Review: Ancient Law: Its Connection with the Early History of Society, and its Relation to Modern Ideas
(Henry Sumner Maine)

[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who is most definitely not a lawyer, nor a historian.]

Henry Sumner Maine was an Englishman of the High Victorian era, i.e., the late 19th century.  His Popular Government, a book discussing the properties and deficiencies of broad-suffrage democracy, is often recommended by reactionaries in the vein of Mencius Moldbug.  He included Popular Government in a list of three books constituting the canon of his so-called “Froude Society” (of which I am apparently a deacon).  But while Maine’s work has reactionary implications, it is never polemic. Maine was a sober-minded jurist and historian. The present book, his Ancient Law, is probably his best-known work, and the one most representative of his broader oeuvre. Maine tends to be a bit of a dry writer, but he never fails to deliver on the subject matter, and the book is a pleasure to read.

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Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
(Matthew B. Crawford)

This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school.  It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others.  I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life.  The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshattering.

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Book Review: American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Bradley J. Birzer)

Charles Carroll, once famous as the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the last signatory to die, is no longer much in the public consciousness.  If asked to name a signatory, most people would say “John Hancock,” since he wrote his name in big letters.  Thomas Jefferson would also come to mind; perhaps also John Adams, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, especially for those who watched the John Adams miniseries on HBO a few years back.  Not that long ago, though, Charles Carroll would also have sprung to mind, and Bradley Birzer’s goal is to, if not restore Carroll, at least clear away some of the dust that has covered his memory.

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Book Review: To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (Ross Douthat)

Ross Douthat has a job that is, I would guess, either enviable or unpleasant, depending on the day—that of being the only regular conservative contributor to the New York Times.  A frequent focus of Douthat’s is that most counter-cultural of doctrines, orthodox Roman Catholicism.  If you want to suffer, you need only visit the comments section in the Times for any Douthat column, especially one on Catholicism.  Exposing yourself to the firehose of bile and stupidity there will show you what Purgatory will be like, although perhaps Purgatory will be an improvement.  Undaunted, Douthat now offers a full-length book on the changes being brought about by Pope Francis.

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Book Review: The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter (David Sax)

Although no author likes to have his book lumped with another, this book is an excellent complement to Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants.  Both books discuss, from different angles, possible practical reactions to the modern dominance of digital toys and tools.  Today, when companies such as Facebook and Google are increasingly under fire from across the political spectrum, David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog reminds us of one possible response—not attack (although I am personally all for attacking such companies), but a return to the active use of pre-digital things.  He takes us on a persuasive tour of analog offerings, and makes a compelling case for their continued persistence and growth, even if he seems unaware of some of the less socially beneficial results of that trend.

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Book Review: Infantry Platoon And Squad ATP 3-21.8 (United States Army)

As will surprise nobody who is paying any attention, I am preparing for war.  Why hide it?  Although only a fool or someone with a distorted moral sense would actually wish for war, what we wish has little to do with it.  Intermittent war is the natural state of man, whatever Steven Pinker may say, and as Trotsky said, more or less, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”  What follows today’s Age of Stupid will, we can be certain, not be endless tides of more stupidity, because that is impossible.  And to get from here to there, whatever “there” is, will most likely requiring passing through what the Chinese call “interesting times,” in which hot, flying metal will play a prominent part.

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Book Review: The Revolt of the Masses (José Ortega y Gasset)

Oh, but this is a fascinating book.  Written in 1930 by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, it is one of those books that is occasionally mentioned, especially recently, but rarely actually read.  1930, in Spain, was the hinge of fate, and it has been nearly a hundred years since Ortega wrote.  That means we can see where he was wrong, and where he was right, and what he wrote says to us today.

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