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Regular readers will recall that I have blogged about Stephen Broadberry, usually in the context of his critique of Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail“. More recently I was alerted to a critique of Mark Koyama & Jared Rubin’s “How the World Became Rich” by Peer Vries (who I had never heard of before). I had some familiarity with Koyama prior to his book’s publication (I’d even blogged about him), but not Rubin. Within Vries’ review is this quote:

“To claim that one knows for example that GDP per capita in China in the year 980 was 840 1990 international dollars whereas in Japan in the year 1150 it was 572 such dollars, as Broadberry, Guan and Li do, is to practice science fiction.”

The footnote for that sentence reads

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In my last review of a scifi novel I mentioned that I should have read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” earlier, and now I finally have. I first heard of it from a foreword in Orwell’s “1984”, which was explicitly inspired by We. There’s a good reason I was assigned that & “Brave New World” in school rather than We, and it’s not just because those were originally written in English rather than Russian. In his attempt to make the novel feel not contemporary (even if the whole genre was about heightening recent tendencies in industrial society to an extreme), Zamyatin adopts the very alien voice of a true-believer in the dystopian futuristic One State keeping a diary intended for the “Integral” spaceship he’s building to spread the One State to foreign planets. The chapters (which always begin with keywords, except when their author fails to come up with any) are fortunately short (and the book as a whole was only about 200 pages), but their inaccessible nature makes it far from a page turner. Even as builder D-503 gets corrupted by the subversive woman I-330 (everyone has a name consisting of a letter followed by 3 digits), he doesn’t become a normal person more relatable to the reader. He just falls apart at the seams and his writing becomes more difficult to understand, with more paragraphs ending in ellipses than any book I can recall.

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I first noticed that his twitter account was gone, not long after he’d previously been temporarily restricted. I was unaware until it was pointed out to me that he’d also deleted his blog, which makes it worth blogging about. There was good stuff at that blog, and even aside from linking at my own blog I’ve repeatedly referenced his “Getting Your Owl” in comments elsewhere. Twitter is relatively ephemeral, and there are people who regularly delete their own tweets, but blogs are another story and I’m saddened when blogs shut down (even worse if they disappear, so even the archives are inaccessible and old links are broken). Of course, chronicling the end of blogs constitutes the most common type of my most recent posts other than book reviews.

This review will be lackluster not only because Scott Alexander covered Joseph Henrich’s book so extensively it required five posts (one, two, three, four, five) but also because I was moving data including notes on the book back & forth between computers while reading and lost much of them in the process through carelessness. I still figure it’s better than nothing, for my own purposes at least.

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Although there are further sequels, Second Foundation is the last of Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy compiled from earlier stories published in magazines. While I started with a later prequel, I have no immediate plans to proceed to the sequels and will alternate back to non-fiction for the next book, treating this like the last entry in a single fictional work. I did bring up the question in my previous post as to whether “The General” should have more sensibly been lumped in with the first book while “The Mule” should have been grouped with the stories of Second Foundation. One thing I neglected at the time is relative size: The Mule was a longer story than The General published in multiple parts (and The General was already significantly longer than the individual stories of the first book). Second Foundation is also divided into two with the second story (“Search by the Foundation”) being significantly longer than the first (“Search by the Mule”). I can see reasoning for grouping the stories as originally collected: Foundation & Empire has two stories of the worthiest opponents the Foundation faced, even if the second story serves as a sort of reversal of the first. Second Foundation doesn’t actually have any representatives of the First Foundation as protagonists in the first story, instead focusing on The Mule & his lackeys with the Second Foundation as effectively the secretive antagonists to them. They retain that status well after The Mule is gone in the longer second story which brings back the First Foundation as protagonists out-of-their-depth like the Mule’s men had been. Search by the Mule only takes place 5 years after The Mule, which is a much shorter time than usual between Foundation stories (even if the continuation wasn’t as immediate as I expected), whereas Search by the Foundation takes place decades/generations later (a more similar gap). So chronologically, The Mule and Search by the Mule could have been grouped together, but even a story as long as Search by the Foundation might not be long enough to make up a novel by itself and Asimov stopped writing short Foundation stories after that (not counting “The Psychohistorians”).

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The first Foundation novel was a true anthology, entirely consisting of short stories, only the first of which was newly written for the book rather than previously appearing in a magazine. Foundation and Empire moves away from that in that it’s still multiple stories, all of which appeared in print earlier, but there are just two of them and they are each of novella length with ten internal chapters. Each is now named after an antagonist to the Foundation who engages in the most successful military attack so far, but the first of these (“The General”) is more in keeping with the earlier stories than the other (“The Mule”). Arguably, The General should have been included in the first Foundation collection, serving as the final story in that mold (even if it’s a much longer version of one) which states definitively what is to happen with each “Seldon Crisis”. The Mule is not only almost double the length of The General (and it was published in two parts, in two sequential issues of the magazine), it ends on a cliffhanger to be resolved in the stories of the final entry in the trilogy. Thus it arguably should have been included with them (though I admittedly haven’t read them yet), forming a single coherent novel like Prelude was and unlike the short stories separated in time format.

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Last month I reviewed Prelude to Foundation, and now I’ve finally gotten to the original. The two books were written many decades apart, but even if I’d started with this book I still wouldn’t be in the order everything was written: the first section (“The Psychohistorians”) was only added in 1951 when the stories from the 40s were collected into the Foundation trilogy. Even aside from that, the last story in this book was actually published before the story which precedes it (and is referenced in it since it takes place earlier). Thus I shouldn’t be faulted too much for starting with the prequel.

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The subtitles of the books by Gananath Obeyesekere and Marshall Sahlins are, respectively, “European Mythmaking In The Pacific” and “About Captain Cook, for Example”, which isn’t quite as funny separated from the title. I didn’t title this “Gananath Obeyesekere vs Marshall Sahlins” because I haven’t actually read the earlier works by Sahlins that Obeyesekere initially criticized. I suppose ideally I should have first read those, then read the bulk of Obeyesekere’s book, then Sahlins’, and then gone back to read the sections of the republished edition of the former responding to Sahlins, but my delay in writing in this post is related to my flagging interest in the subject.

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I’ve linked to What’s Wrong with Social Science and How to Fix It before, but as with Sid Jha on Robert Moses, I keep forgetting who wrote it and where to find it. In this case I should give a hat-tip to “The Chaostician” in the comments at Astral Codex Ten for reminding me.

The only Isaac Asimov I had read prior to this was his non-fiction essay Not as We Know It: The Chemistry of Life (which I still like to link to) and a critical review of Orwell’s 1984 noting how it should be too dysfunctional to be an effective surveillance state. My plan had been to start with the original Foundation novel, but that was checked out at the libary while this was available and since Asimov himself seemed to endorse a chronological reading order (although I had only heard that this was significantly worse than the original series) I figured it was ok for me to do so as well. I had fretted earlier that I was behind in my classic scifi, and perhaps that is true insofar as I read Dune long before I read Foundation when Herbert was responding to Asimov (and may well have copied the technique of epigraphs from an in-universe text preceding chapters, as the Encyclopedia Galactica gets used here). But it’s fortuitous that this was the next work of fiction I read after The Dispossessed due to the striking similarity between the premises of the two novels, and that surprises which didn’t work on people who’d read the preceding Foundation stories could still work on me.

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I didn’t say anything when he first announced it over a week ago and others were taking note, because I wanted to link to his new site once it was up. Here it is. I actually removed EconLog from my RSS feed years ago because of the influx of new bloggers I never read filling the feed with boilerplate libertarian/classical liberal politics I don’t care about (it was also only recently that I found I was no longer banned from commenting there, though the site update appeared to make their search function much worse). You might then ask (if I still had readers to ask) why I don’t remove EconLog from my blogroll, but I haven’t removed anything in a very long time even though most of them are defunct. I do think I should add Caplan’s new site, even though nobody actually relies on blogrolls now that everything transmits virally over social media instead.

I’ve planned on reading Ursula Le Guin’s “ambiguous utopia” for a while now, as I most recently discussed in my last review of a scifi novel (which also happened to feature an anarchist society of exiles on a moon orbiting their despised former government while still exporting food or other resources to it), and got some extra motivation when I read this while writing that review. In a way it’s fitting that I had a digression from scifi into cultural anthropology, since Le Guin herself was the daughter of anthropologists and the stateless societies they study could have helped to inspire her.

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A while back somebody I can’t remember linked to a review of Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker” which explained Robert Moses’ success as a combination of his idealistic reformer streak (and public image) with a cynical side focused on power. I could never remember where to find it, and after the last time I asked about it and somebody linked it I forgot again. Well now (I think) I’ve managed to find it again at the Substack of Sid Jha, in two parts (which I hadn’t remembered before). I didn’t check out more of Jha’s writings before, but I see he’s got shorter takes on more books like this one with two opposite perspectives on WW2*. As I type this I’m in the middle of Ezra Klein’s podcast with Alex Tabarrok on how it’s impossible to build anything quickly in America, often blamed on the reaction to Moses’ excesses (associated with Jane Jacobs) resulting in federal regulations tying funding to neighborhood level veto-points.
*I’m now spending more time on Youtube series about that as well, making me feel more like one of those awful normies abetting the decline of the text-heavy web in favor of inferior recorded media optimized for smartphones & virality.

The subtitle is “An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology”, and I actually first read an excerpt in a larger anthology I discussed in the comment to my last post. I wasn’t sure if I would just make another comment or two below that, since this one is a slim volume, but I ended up taking enough notes to merit an entire post (though it’s not especially organized). Marshall Sahlins claims that he wrote it quickly and without the usual scholarly practice of adding lots of citations & endnotes. That’s more fitting for me than his peers, since it’s not like I have access to an academic library to look up his citations anyway. Plus, the whole thing is a shorter & quicker read. He does at least distinguish himself from critics he designates as leftists (even though I know Sahlins as a lefty who denounced the Milton Friedman Institute at his own University of Chicago. In a way, this is keeping with his arguments against the Marxist anthropologist Marvin Harris of “Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches”, who tried explain cultural variation via economics. (more…)

As promised at the end of my last book review, I started reading the late E. O. Wilson‘s only novel before he died, and thus before the big hubbub about an unusually stupid op-ed denouncing him in Scientific American, resulting in an open letter whose signatories started dropping off under pressure (like the Harper’s letter*). It’s not that long a book, but I read it very inconsistently thanks to the distractions of the internet and under the assumption I wouldn’t have to worry about having to return the book due to others requesting holds.

*I had forgotten Gelman chimed in on that one, and just recently linked in a post-script to a response to the Wilson controversy by a creationist (as a way of mocking the outlet publishing anti-Darwinism).

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