I still have several books to review, but here are a few more reviews in case you are looking for some good summer reads. Be sure to check out my previous summer reviews, and be on the lookout for my final set of reviews, which should hopefully be out sometime next week.
Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (by Quinn Slobodian) – This book is excellent and does a great job of expanding upon our understanding of neoliberal thinking. Specifically, Slobodian attempts to trace the history of the Geneva School of neoliberalism, which I believe to be fairly underappreciated in the U.S. given the utter hegemony of the Chicago School. The book is too wide-ranging to adequately summarize here, but the core message seems to be that a large segment of neoliberal thought – particularly Ordoliberalism – supports strong regulatory regimes and rules-based economic systems. This is actually not all that surprising, but it is often forgotten by extreme libertarians and those who view Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom as the sole canonical work on free-market and neoliberal thought. The book also does a masterful job of highlighting cleavages within the European neoliberal community, and it explains how neoliberals clashed amongst themselves on issues ranging from regional economic integration to apartheid and international organizations. I frequently find these kinds of intellectual histories quite tedious (for example, I struggled to get through Bew’s Realpolitik), but I was consistently impressed by Slobodian’s writing and scholarship and highly recommend this book.
The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can’t Do (by Edward Tenner) – This is a good, though not great, book that critically evaluates purported increases in technological efficiency within different domains. What makes the book difficult to review is the very scattershot approach taken by Tenner. The thesis, as you may have guessed, is that lots of seemingly efficiency-enhancing moves work to undermine efficiency in the long-term. The book breaks down this dynamic in a range of fields, such as education, information, and health, and contextualizes the efficiency paradox to each. For example, Tenner cites the now-famous studies that seem to show that hand-written notes are superior to typed notes at supporting information retention. Many of the anecdotes in the book are not new, and I think any reasonably engaged and well-read individual will find few of the examples all that interesting or novel. However, I did appreciate Tenner’s discussion of the role of second and third order effects on efficiency-enhancing tools and his cogent point that sometimes inefficiency leads to efficiency (for example, inefficient R&D spending eventually yielding an efficiency-enhancing tool). In short, this book is worth reading, but you can probably get by just reading the introduction, first chapter, and conclusion.
A History of Air Warfare (edited by John Olsen) – Olsen has edited a great volume that is quite comprehensive in scope, covering both the history of air combat as well as the development of tactics, technology, and even potential avenues of future development. Of course, each chapter is a bit hit and miss, as they are all written by different authors. The overall quality is still quite good, though. I think to really get something out of this, one either needs to know nothing about air warfare or a significant amount. This is because most of the commentary is historical and not very analytical, so it might be a slog for those with a fairly good grasp of the topic but not particularly enthralled by the study of airpower. However, each chapter is full of little nuggets of insight and novel information, ensuring that both complete novices and those well-read on the topic have much to gain from reading this book.
The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won (by Victor Davis Hanson) – This book has generally good reviews, but I was quite unimpressed. The Second World Wars is primarily a high-level look at the Second World War, focusing on things like logistics, industrial output, and theater-level strategy. I actually think this is a nice way to organize a book about a conflict so immense and complex, and I also think that it makes the book a good general reference point for those interested in the conflict. For all its strengths, though, this book is painfully conventional: Hanson does not try to hide his ideological convictions and utterly fails to engage with revisionist histories of the period. Moreover, he draws from no foreign language sources, which is frankly inexcusable for a book purporting to document a war involving so many belligerents outside of the English-speaking world. There are also several inaccuracies in the book, such as Hanson’s bizarre assertion that the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor contained only two battleships. I ultimately think that this book is still worth reading, especially if you are simply looking for a comprehensive and fairly detailed overview of WWII. For those that already have a strong background in the war, however, I suspect that you’d be fine to pass this one up.