Category Archives: literature

The Year of Reading Differently

Edward Stourton on the travails of reading in the digital age.

I wish I got more time to read.

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Hop-Picking Diary

George Orwell lived as a tramp and went hop-picking in the late summer of 1931 to sustain himself.  He kept a diary of those times.  It makes fascinating reading, providing, as it does, an observant and heart-felt portrait of a destitute’s life in England in the interwar period.  A blog of that diary is here.


Innovation Starvation

Neal Stephenson’s take on how the Internet is starving innovation.  His notion is that isolation spurs creativity: if there is no one to tell you that something cannot be done or that it has been done before, them perhaps you are going to go ahead and do it anyway and do it extremely well.

He ties up this lack of creativity with high risk aversion in the corporate sphere.


Distributional Ethics and Economic Justice

In which I excerpt a conversation between Baruk, master alchemist, and Kruppe, petty thief and spymaster, originally recorded in Toll the Hounds, the eighth installment in The Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Baruk’s comments are in green.

K: Kruppe asks this: witness two scenes.  In one, an angry, bitter man beats another man to death in an alley in the Gadrobi District.  In another, a man of vast wealth conspires with equally wealthy compatriots to raise yet again the price grain, making the cost of simple bread so prohibitive that families starve, are led into lives of crime, and die young.  Are both acts of violence?

B: In only one of those examples will you find blood on a man’s hands.

K: True, deplorable as such stains are.

B: There are countless constructs whereby the wealthy man might claim innocence.  Mitigating circumstances, unexpected costs of production, the law of supply and demand, and so on.

K: Indeed, a plethora of justifications, making the waters so very murky, and who then sees the blood?

B: And yet, destitution results with all its misery, its stresses and anxieties, its foul vapours of the soul.  It can be said that the wealthy grain merchant wages subtle war.

Fantasy often gets a bad rap, but I enjoy Steve Erikson’s forays into history, economics, politics and ethics, made all the more enjoyable by his highly literate style.


Has Neal Stephenson become too accessible?

A review of Neal Stephenson’s latest, Reamde.  I’ve never read him, but have only heard good things about him.  Now, after reading this review, I really do want to read him, but preferably his earlier stuff.