The Common Good

In the Stacks, May 31, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.

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Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

The Great Divergence

By Timothy Noah, Reviewed by Benjamin M. Friedman

Timothy Noah summarizes the causes of widening economic inequality in the United States, and offers policy recommendations for fixing it.

In “The Great Divergence,” the journalist Timothy Noah gives us as fair and comprehensive a summary as we are likely to get of what economists have learned about our growing inequality. Noah is concerned about why inequality has widened so markedly over the last three to four decades, what it means for American society and what the country can — and, he argues, urgently should — do about it. As he makes clear, what has mostly grown is the gap between those at the top and those in the middle. As a result, his book resonates more with the recent focus on “the 1 percent” than with more traditional concerns about poverty.

Land of Promise

By Michael Lind, Reviewed by David Leonhardt

An economic history of the United States.

Whatever their political party, American leaders have generally subscribed to one of two competing economic philosophies. One is a small-government Jeffersonian perspective that abhors bigness and holds that prosperity flows from competition among independent businessmen, farmers and other producers. The other is a Hamiltonian agenda that believes a large, powerful country needs large, powerful organizations. The most important of those organizations is the federal government … Michael Lind’s “Land of Promise” uses this divide to offer an ambitious economic history of the United States.

Those Who Have Borne the Battle

By James Wright, Reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich

Despite the bumper stickers, the gap between soldier and civilian is wider than ever.

For James Wright, both ends of the arrangement — how we constitute our forces and how we honor those who serve — contain much that is unseemly and disconcerting. A public disengaged from military service has lost an important check on Washington’s inclination to use force, with the result that the troops professed to be held in high regard are repeatedly misused and abused. Meanwhile, the vacuous symbols like bumper stickers and pregame ceremonials that have supplanted substantive engagement between citizens and soldiers invite mockery and derision.

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