Art Carden  

Recent Reading: Fiction Edition

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1. Foundation. I'm working on reading more fiction, and I'm trying to check off some of the classic trilogies and series in fantasy and science fiction. About a year ago, I read C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (which was brilliant) and gave up on the Dune trilogy about halfway through the third volume.

I won't give spoilers, but here's the Wikipedia page. This is a bit of a slog in parts, but it offers a fascinating story: a "psychohistorian" named Hari Seldon explains that the decline of the Galactic Empire is inevitable and begins the Foundation in order to preserve art, culture, and technology through the resulting chaos with the goal of shortening the chaotic interregnum. I found this especially interesting in light of my recent reading on forecasting and statistics as well as what I've read in Karl Marx on supposed "laws of history." Are there immutable laws of history around which individual purposive action is just noise (my view: no). I'll be very interested in seeing how this develops through volumes 2 and 3.

2. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived. About a year and a half ago, i started a dip into the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" novels. These are mostly brain candy, though there's much of intellectual interest in the rise of the Sith, the recovery of ancient wisdom, and the tension between the light and dark sides of the force. My venture into the Expanded Universe began in earnest with the Darth Bane trilogy, which was captivating and brilliant. Deceived discusses the rise of Darth Malgus. Malgus is a pretty bad dude, but he lacks the complexity of later Sith like Darth Vader and Darth Bane. I suspect the inevitable sequels will rectify this.

Most of my Star Wars "reading" is actually listening to books on CD. Our local public library has a pretty extensive selection of audio books, and these are fun to listen to in the car on short commutes and long drives.

3. Atlas Shrugged (again; warning: CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS). I'm teaching what we call an "Oxbridge Tutorial" on the Moral Foundations of Capitalism in Spring 2014. This will be central to the course. I've been tinkering with an article on Atlas for years. After I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov and read Crime and Punishment about a year ago, I understand Rand-the-novelist a lot more. As for Rand-the-philosopher and Rand the thinker with a sound grasp of general equilibrium economics and public choice theory, I refer you to co-blogger Bryan Caplan's excellent posts from 2005 (start here). There is much to like in Atlas, but there are two passages I find most gripping and most heartbreaking: the tunnel disaster and the death of the young man Rearden (non-)affectionately called "Non-Absolute." Can you figure out why?

On the Pile, Fiction: Volumes 2 and 3 of the Foundation Trilogy, Orson Scott Card's Ender quadrilogy.

On the Pile, Non-Fiction: a pile of Hayek books for a Liberty Fund seminar in August, a small mountain of papers about food security for a paper about food security and the expansion of Supercenters like Walmart Supercenters and Super Target, Gavin Wright's Sharing the Prize, many others.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Steven writes:

You really should stop after the first two books of the Ender series. The last two books are pretty bad.

Jon Murphy writes:

I agree with Steven on the Ender series.

But, if you are into sci-fi, check out "Roadside Picnic" by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (http://www.amazon.com/Roadside-Picnic-Rediscovered-Classics-Strugatsky/dp/1613743416). It's fairly short, but extremely well-written and a bit philosophical.

I'll give you the dust-cover description:

"Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a “full empty,” something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems."

Rich Berger writes:

I have gone back to reread books that I read 40+ years ago and I have been surprised by my reactions:

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke - I loved this book when I first read it but found his apology for benevolent dictatorship and his naive scientific dismissal of religion objectionable.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Still ingenious and funny.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions - read this in conjunction with a philosophy of science class in college. Just started, but very interested to reread a book that has become almost a cliche over time. I am curious to use his template to evaluate current day Keynesianism, which seems to be a paradigm ripe for overthrow.

mickey writes:

Some of my most recent reading in no order: The Invisible Hook by Peter Leeson, Everything Voluntary by Skyler Collins, Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt and Looking Backward: 2012 - 2162 by Beth Cody. I am currently busy with Realizing Freedom: Libertarian History, Theory and Practice by Tom Palmer. I haven't decided on my next book but maybe Anarchism and Justice by Roy Childs, Lauren Ipsum by Carlos Bueno or Zheng He by Matt Buttsworth.

Also, I made the good decision to visit the blog by David Friedman this morning and skipped around a talk of his and discovered and added Drakas! by Stirling and Forever War by Haldeman to my Amazon wishlist.

Dave Tufte writes:

1) Dune. Hmmm. I think the big problem with this "series" is that people view it as a series. Many people get disillusioned like you did, because the latter books are very different from the earlier books. I too fell for this (once upon a time), so it took me perhaps 10 years to read all the Dune books ... and I found the stories pretty compelling in the later books.

2) Are you doing fantasy? I have been rereading Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books (basically, these were the Game of Thrones of the late 70's and early 80's). I had not looked at them in 30 years, and I'm finding them compelling once again.

3) Do you know that Foundation was one of the books that inspired Krugman? Me too.

Nick J writes:

I love the Foundation novels and I love his earlier Robot novels as well. These are the "Caves of Steel", "The Naked Sun", and "The Robots of Dawn". I'd describe them as a mix between a hard-boiled detective novel and a retelling of Plato's allegory of the cave.

Jerrod Anderson writes:

You should check out "The Man Who Sold the Moon" by Heinlein. Interesting when thinking about it in the context of establishing property rights.

MingoV writes:
... gave up on the Dune trilogy about halfway through the third volume...

There never was a Dune trilogy. Dune was a stand-alone novel. Its tremendous popularity, sci-fi fans clamoring for more, and expectations of great profits led to the sequels (that were not as good as Dune).

Tom E. Snyder writes:

I agree with mickey on Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt and Looking Backward: 2012 - 2162 by Beth Cody. The latter is available for $0.99 in Kindle format. Don't have a Kindle? There are free apps available for your computer and Android device.

Art Carden writes:

Thank you all for the suggestions. I've read Time Will Run Back and actually had a friend from HS who is now a filmmaker talk about making a movie out of it. I'm not sure where that stands.

Harold Cockerill writes:

Got to stick Larry Niven on any list. The Ring World books and The Mote in God's Eye are very entertaining.

Tracy W writes:

Am I the only reader who wasn't that impressed with Dune in and of itself? Though I can't recall exactly why I was disappointed now.

For SF, I recommend Heinlein, endlessly inventive in terms of social imagining (apart from his tendency to default on nudism).

Shane L writes:

For a whopping big ambitious sci-fi series with warm and complex human characters, try Tad Williams's "Otherland" series. Some very clever stuff.

Issac Asimov's Robot series is much lighter and lots of fun, with cool sci-fi ideas in there too.

Any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is hilarious and insightful too, lots of little bits of wisdom about politics and economics ("tax the rat farms").

...All these recommendations coming, though, from one who did not like Atlas Shugged at all, alas!

Brian writes:

Thank you, Space Trilogy is Brilliant, I don't know why it gets ignored so often when people talk about great Sci-Fi.

I absolutely loved That Hideous Strength and it's my favorite dark fiction book of all time. Even after 70 years it is still original. I personally whish there was a whole sub-genera dedicated to the style.

I never understood why so many people love Atlas Shrugged. I was only able to get trough half the book and stopped reading because it was so bad and I read a lot of bad poorly written sci-fi.

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