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Review: Schabas, The Natural Origins of Economics

August 4, 2006
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Review: Schabas, The Natural Origins of Economics

The economy is ubiquitous in modern life. From the choice of what type of automobile we drive, to where we live, and which books we read, the economy influences nearly every decision we make. Yet, despite its importance to our daily lives, economists have often struggled to define the organizing principles behind its unpredictable behavior. In a recent review in the Times Literary Supplement David Thorsby praises Margaret Schabas’s The Natural Origins of Economics for its detailed look at the historical struggle to gain an intellectual perspective on the economy. A quote from the review: Although early economic thinkers drew much inspiration from nature…the concept of the economy as an autonomous entity did not start to take shape until the first half of the nineteenth century. The transformation mirrored a transformation that was occuring in the political economy itself, from an intellectual discourse deriving its inspiration from the natural sciences to one oriented towards the behavior of individuals, in which nature was relegated to the sidelines. Margaret Schabas’s fascinating book, The Natural Origins of Economics, charts the progress of this transformation, beginning not with Bacon and Descartes but with the origins of formal economics in the moral philosophy of the . . .

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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

August 3, 2006
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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

If you’re reading this then you’re probably already aware of how much digital technology has insinuated itself into our daily routines. But just how much could we, or should we, devote to our online lives? The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal recently ran a review of two books about the increasing popularity of “virtual realities” including our own Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: Mr. Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds argues that virtual reality is a thriving place with millions of inhabitants world-wide. And it bears close watching… Synthetic Worlds explains the trend, obvious to anyone who has dipped into the online subculture over time, that virtual worlds are populated differently now than they used to be: they began as the province of nerds and outcasts but are now approaching the mainstream—as reflected in recent media reports and the increasing share of quotes in such coverage drawn from the housewife and married-dad demographics. Read an interview with the author, or check out his blog. . . .

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Review: Gennari, Blowin’ Hot and Cool

August 1, 2006
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Review: Gennari, Blowin’ Hot and Cool

The July 28, 2006, issue of Financial Times ran a review of John Gennari’s Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and its Critics in which resident jazz critic Mike Hobart doesn’t hesitate to rain praise on Gennari’s latest work: This is a book about jazz in which the music is in the background, for John Gennari’s main concern is a critique of jazz criticism from the 1930’s to the present. Densley researched, broadly partisan and compiled with a wry sense of humor, Blowin’ Hot and Cool still manages to reveal much about jazz, and more about the lives of its musicians than many recent hagiographies.… His account opens in the 1930’s, with two patrician figures of great infulence: John Hammond and his English acolyte, Leonard Feather. Negotiating a racially segregated world of thrill seekers, jitterbugs, and the communist party’s popular fronts, they fought for racial integration and jazz as an art, yet fell out over the authenticity of modern jazz. In the process they discovered Count Basie and Billie Holiday, recorded Bessie Smith, and persuaded Benny Goodman to drop schmaltz. Our excerpt from the first chapter talks more about Feather and Hammond. Gennari also outlined a soundtrack for the book. . . .

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Review: Ebert, Awake in the Dark

July 31, 2006
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Review: Ebert, Awake in the Dark

Roger Ebert’s forthcoming book Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert; Forty years of Reviews, Essays, and Interviews, details almost a half century’s worth of cinematic expertise from a man the Library Journal calls one of American cinema’s “most respected and influential movie critics.” More from the LJ review: The book clearly summarizes Ebert’s pantheon of best films, or at least movies that have meant the most to him. Also included are appreciations and interviews with notable actors and filmmakers. Always alert to trends and defending film as an art form, Ebert never fails to connect with his readers. With Awake in the Dark, both fans and film buffs can finally bask in the best of Ebert’s work. No critic alive has reviewed more movies than Roger Ebert, and yet his essential writings have never been collected in a single volume—until now. The reviews, interviews, and essays collected here present a picture of this indispensable critic’s numerous contributions to the cinema and cinephilia. . . .

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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

July 31, 2006
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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

In the July 21, 2006, issue of the New York weekly Forward, Allan Nadler finds Steven B. Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism a “book rich with delightful details” about Strauss’s life and thought; details which, Nadler argues, complicate the intensifying perception of Strauss as a figurehead for “a particularly nasty version of neoconservatism.” A short quote from Nadler’s review follows: A professor of political science at Yale and the author two previous books on Spinoza, Smith focuses on what Strauss called the “theologico-politico problem”—that is to say, the centuries-old unresolved conflict between the dictates of human reason and the doctrines of divine revelation.…In demonstrating the complexity of Strauss’s thinking, Smith succeeds admirably in rescuing the philosopher from what he calls “the hostile takeover” of the neoconservatives, particularly by disociating himself from President Bush’s simplistic view of the world. As such, this clear and lucid presentation represents an important corrective to the contemporary distortion of Strauss’s legacy—and not a minute too soon. We also have an excerpt from Smith’s book. . . .

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