A History of Future Cities
by Daniel Brook
Published in February 2013
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
A History of Future Cities is a book which covers the history of 4 cities which have shaped the modern world, and solidified relations between the east and the west: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.
These 4 cities all have several things in common: they were created by authoritarian forces in an attempt to rapidly modernize the area around them, they hosted large and very diverse populations, and they all became pillars of capitalism in their regions.
I was initially recommended this book by Mark Frazier, one of the world’s (retired) leading Special Economic Zone Consultants, and it took me more than two years to get to reading it. That was my loss.
I have the privilege of having travelled to 3 out of 4 cities (I haven’t yet been to Mumbai), and especially enjoyed reading the book for that reason. I could clearly remember many of the places and sights described.
The book starts with St. Petersburg, then chronologically jumps around between the cities, covering the key highlights of their histories. Brook draws many comparisons between the history of the respective cities, pointing out counter-intuitive details. For example, I would have never drawn the comparison between Peace Hotel’s appeal to vice in the 1920s and Dubai’s tolerance of prostitutes and alcohol. Neither would I have ever considered comparing Peter the Great to Mohamed bin Rasheed, although the comparisons are logical.
As a SEZ consultant, I also found the sections about Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in Shanghai and the creation of the Freeport in Dubai to be of particular interest.
This book is a must read for anyone in the SEZ industry, and stands as one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
The Borderlands of Science
by Michael Shermer
Published in November 2002
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The Borderlands of Science is a good book written by Mike Shermer, an author I respect, and have followed for many years. While it contains many great gems, I found that many sections of the book were long and irrelevant to the central thesis.
The central theme of the book explores the legitimate fringe sciences, and discusses the ways that fringe non-science practices (like hypnosis) eventually become mainstream science.
I particularly liked the initial chapters describing the author’s experiences with remote viewing, hypnosis, and other borderlands phenomenon. Later chapters, about the history and biography of various scientists, also were interesting. There is a great chapter about Alfred Wallace, a scientist who helped Darwin discover the theory of evolution but nonetheless had many “quacky” superstitious ideas about spiritualism.
I found that many parts of the books steered off topic. In particular, the last few chapters go into the “Mozart Myth of Genius” which describes ideas as being spontaneously generated as opposed to slowly and socially formed. I disliked the chapters about the Darwin-Wallace debate over who got credit over the theory of the evolution. These chapters were very long and I didn’t see how they were connected to the central thesis.
This book would have been great if shortened to simply include the relevant passages, and the irrelevant details in the later chapters had been omitted. Nevertheless, it was a good read, and gave me much food for thought.
The Analects of Confucius
by Confucius and his students
Published in 479 BC
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Recently, I have spent a lot of time studying non-Western history. My main focus has been the Middle East, however I am now shifting east to study ancient China. I’ve watched a dozen documentaries, mostly about the three mythical dynasties (Xia, Shang, and Zhou) and also about the Spring and Autumn Period. I recently listened to the entire History of China Podcast until the Song Dynasty, a show which I strongly recommend: https://thehistoryofchina.wordpress.com/
The Analects are a collection of Socratic dialogs between Confucius and his students. It reminded me a lot of “The Republic” and “The Death of Socrates,” and made me wonder if the two were somehow connected, perhaps through a more ancient tradition or through trade.
Unlike the Tao Te Ching, which is very vague and self-contradictory, the Analects are simple and straightforward. They eschew the questions of metaphysics, and instead focus on a range of down-to-earth issues such as friendship, what it means to be upright, morality at work, and matters of state.
There is no overarching narrative, although there are many reoccurring themes. If I had to pick three central themes / lessons from the Analects they would be:
1: Work hard to improve yourself in every way possible, and try to be elevate those around you without being narcissistic
2: Choose your friends carefully because foolish friends will cause you to act foolishly, and wise friends will help you be wise
3: Respect and honor your family, history, and origins
Some people have claimed that the teachings of Confucius constitute a religion, however that worldview perplexes me. Confucius never mentions anything mystical or supernatural, and always remains focused on questions of morality and good behavior. I think he is much more comparable to one of the Ancient Greek philosophers.
The Analects have many hidden gems and small universally applicable sayings. Some of my favorite are:
Confucius said, There are three types of friends who improve you, and three types of
friends who diminish you. Friends who are straightforward, sincere, and have learned much improve you. Friends who are fawning, insincere, and crafty in speech diminish you.
The Master said, The righteous man blames himself for lacking ability; he does not blame others for not recognizing him.
Take loyalty and trustworthiness as the pivot and have no friends who are not like yourself in this
Overall, I recommend the Analects both as a historical document (which is how I choose to read it) and as a self-help book. It is easy to understand, although knowing about the historical context greatly helps.
After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split
by Lesley Hazleton
Published in July 2009
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
Its been a long time since my last book review. I’ve been very busy these last few months with the Adrianople Group (https://www.adrianoplegroup.com/), and haven’t been able to read as much as I would like to. I also have been taking a break from books and listening to more podcasts lately.
Incidentally, its been nearly two months since I finished the book, which is probably the longest time I’ve waited to review a book. As such, this review will be shorter than normal.
This is one of the best history books that I have ever read.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Islam, and is willing to do the necessary homework. This book is a masterfully crafted narrative of the events as they are commonly understood by Muslims. As such, it is light on archeological material and discussion of sources, however it is not intended as a detailed book.
I do not recommend this book to people who aren’t already at least roughly familiar with the circumstances before the rise of Islam, the Quran, or the life of Mohamed. I very strongly recommend it to anyone who is already deep in the study of Islam.
None Dare Call it Conspiracy
by Gary Allen
Published in 1971
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
None Dare Call it Conspiracy is a mediocre conspiracy book from the early 1970s. The central thesis of this book is that a communist conspiracy was in motion to help the Soviets achieve a “slow victory” over the West.
I first heard about this book through Infowars. Alex Jones mentioned that this was the book that got him to start thinking in a conspiratorial way, so I naturally had to read it.
Roughly 1/3 of the short book is devoted to arguing that conspiracies are possible and likely. I found this argument to be extremely obvious and uninteresting - I obviously accept that conspiracy theories are plausible as I am reading the book.
This book had vague accusations, and I now know where many of the modern conspiracy tropes originate. Everything from the Rothschilds to the JFK assassination is briefly covered.
The central thesis is roughly analogous to that of the John Birch Society - that communists are subverting the American government to hand it over to the Soviets.
What you will not find in this book is evidence or specific history. Many conspiracy books do a decent job at explaining the specifics and citing the sources. Many more are completely superfluous. This book falls into the second category.
I do not recommend this book, and would instead suggest G Edward Griffin to readers interested in diving into the conspiracy world.
The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century
by Ian Mortimer
Published in October 2011
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
I had very low expectations for this book because it is written in the style of a tourist guidebook for time travelers. I thought that the history would be simple, and the writing pedantic and condescending. Also, this is a book for novices to the Middle Ages who have little or no background to the period, not amateur historians. Nevertheless, I had heard good things about this book, so I decided to read it anyways.
Boy was I wrong. This book is an amazing started guide to the late Middle Ages, and is suitable for both initiates as well as adepts of medieval history.
The book is written in the style of a guide for time travelers, and is mostly in the second person. Despite this, it was very well written. The time travel aspects aren’t the main focus of the book, and the style was well used to draw contrasts to the modern world. I think that the format added to, rather than subtracted from, the history. Similar attempts I have read at making “time traveller’s guides” turned out really badly, so I suggest not letting bad experiences with those temper your will to read this book.
The information conveyed primarily centers around daily life in the 14th century. Chapters cover different topics ranging from travel, to food, to telling the time, to manners. It is fairly extensive, and gives a good idea of what daily life in the late Middle Ages would be like.
The historiography is also very good. Many popular history books such as “How the Irish Saved Civilization” or the endless stream of “Hitler books” have terrible historiography. They do not cite sources, don’t mention archeology, and mix conjecture with data. This book has very good historiography considering its broad appeal. It covers a specific period from 1300 until 1400, so doesn’t mix information from different eras. It also does a good job at hinting to the reader where the information comes from (which, like most books covering the period, mostly comes from Chaucer).
I especially liked the chapter about the markets. I had simply no idea what kind of goods and services would be available in a medieval market. Ignorantly, I clung onto the RPG-esque idea that I could have gone to a flea market to buy foods and armor. Instead, I would have been able to buy ingredients such as spices, or armor materials such as leather. I found learning about how supply chains worked in the 14th century to be very interesting.
I recommend this book as a starter for anyone who isn’t familiar with the period, but wants to dive into the history.
The Hollow Earth: The Greatest Geographical Discovery in History
by Raymond Bernard
Published in 1964
Thibault’s Score: 1/5
I lost IQ points while reading this book.
Every now and then, I like to keep my ideas fresh by reading something really weird and conspiratorial that I find ridiculous. I read authors like Graham Hancock and Anatoly Fomenko, both of which I found interesting and mind expanding even if I disagree. This book was not a well researched alternative view, it was the mad ravings of a crackhead.
This book was written at the height of the New Age era by Walter Siegmeister under the pseudonym Raymond Bernard in 1964. Walter Siegmeister was a founder of the new age movement, and an alternative medicine “expert” who died at the ripe old age of 62. He supported the idea of an “alternative reality” and advocated a one world communist government.
This book attempts to explain the “proven” phenomenon of flying saucers by arguing that the earth is shaped like an apple, and has two massive holes at either pole. These holes are the entrance to an underground world which is home to plants, animals, and alternate human civilizations. These underground alternate human civilizations have a lot of technology like flying saucers. He argues that this underground world would be able to resist nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The book opens with an account of Admiral Byrd, who was the first man to fly over both the North Pole and the South Pole. Byrd says in his journal that, after flying over the North Pole, saw “iceless land, lakes, mountains covered with trees, and even a ‘monstrous animal.’” This could have well been Canada, and he might have seen a bear or seal.
This account (which was likely of Canada) is the only evidence in the first half of the book. From that the author extrapolates underground civilizations with flying saucers. I don’t know about the second half of the book, because I stopped reading it.
I want to stress that I am not giving this book a 1 star because I think that the content is crazy. Reading highly alternative and esoteric authors is very important. I am giving this book 1 star because it isn’t well researched and is poorly written.
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
by John Brooks
Published in 1969
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Business Adventures is a collection of 12 true news events written as narrative stories set in the United States of the 1920s through the mid 1960s. The stories come into two categories: legal and regulatory history, and business history.
The legal and regulatory histories are quite dull, and include a very cursory overview of the US income tax. I’ve already read a lot about the income tax in the United States, and found this particular story to be kind of annoying to read because he leaves out too many critical details. I suggest skipping over all the chapters dealing with regulators instead of businesses.
The rest of the book is pretty interesting. I enjoyed the chapters dealing with the Ford Edsel and the Texas Oil Inside Trading the most. The chapter on the Ford Edsel deals with Ford’s greatest failure, where they waste millions of dollars on a massive marketing campaign that proved useless. I enjoyed hearing about the endless waves of useless market research that included doing opinion polls to see if people would associate automobiles with sexual terms.
I enjoyed this book, and recommend it to people who are already interested in business.
by Ludwig von Mises
Published in 1944
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
In the last days of WW2, Mises wrote a book about the creeping government bureaucracy that he saw as a result of the war effort. He feared that the bureaucracy would persist after the war, and slowly become totalitarian. America was at war with fascist socialism in Germany and Soviet socialism in Russia, but at home, was also falling prey to the same forces.
The book exposes the problems of incentive and give an overview of the socialist calculation problem. Mises makes it clear that non-market forces act in fundamentally unnatural ways, and must therefore constantly be supervised by semi-totalitarian controllers. The behavior of these controllers becomes increasingly totalitarian as the bureaucracy struggles to survive.
In the Shadow of the Sword
by Tom Holland
Published in 2012
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
This book is the best history book that I have ever read, hands down.
I recommend this book more than any other history book that I have read so far.
It is a book that gives detailed context for the rise of Islam, and instead of covering the events surrounding Islam proper, outlines the times right before.
Fantastic read, 10/10
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.