At the intersection of the Random Book Project and our current predicament.

#5: Guido de Ruggiero, The History of European Liberalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961, reprint of OUP original from 1927). No price. How did I get it: Been carrying it around with me since graduate school. Why: Rereading this classic account of “the experiment” in classical liberalism, to remind me how we got here, and how easy it is/would be to foul it up, and end “the experiment.”  De Ruggiero’s work was published as a rebuff to the fascism which had taken over Italy at the time. Relevant conclusion: classical liberalism cannot be assumed. It has to be worked at by each …

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NBN Interview with Jonathan Schneer: The Lockhart Plot

History in the making can be messy. As a tale told years later by historians, it is usually a clean narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and a mostly logical and foreordained end. Much of that messiness gets lost. Not in Jonathan Schneer’s new book, The Lockhart Plot: Love Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin’s Russia (Oxford UP, 2020). Schneer’s recounts the story of a young British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, sent to Soviet Russia soon after the October Revolution in 1917. Initially seeking some sort of accommodation with the Bolsheviks, Lockhart ends up plotting to overthrow the regime. The plot–set for …

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NBN Finance Interview with Tom Levenson: Money for Nothing

Modern finance isn’t really all that modern. Three centuries ago, Great Britain’s need for money to fight its wars, the appearance of joint stock companies, and the emerging quantification of all aspects of life converged to create new notions and forms of money and investments. And then there was a spectacular bubble in 1720. The South Sea stock rose and fell quickly, but the financing structures remained and last to this day in evolved form. In his new book Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich (Random House, …

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NBN Interview with Gene Ludwig: The Vanishing American Dream

Gene Ludwig cares. The former banker, government regulator, and serial entrepreneur cares deeply about the hollowing out of the American middle class over the past several decades, not least of all in his hometown of York, PA. So he gathered the country’s best and brightest in 2019 for a conference at Yale Law School to come up with specific policy proposals that can reverse that process. The details of what has happened make for difficult but necessary reading. In The Vanishing American Dream: A Frank Look at the Economic Realities Facing Middle- and Lower-Income Americans, (Disruption Books) the policy proposals to rebuild …

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The 2020 election in historical context.

Heading into our presidential election, it is worth reminding the electorate how unusual our circumstances are. I am not referring to the country’s extreme political division and dysfunction, but instead to our framework of classical liberalism where individuals matter so much in a system of governance that they are actually asked to vote on the leadership of the country. From a historical perspective, that is an extremely rare approach to the management of complex societies. But to many of us, it does not seem abnormal at all. In fact, our system of representative democracy within a legal and financial system …

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NBN Interview with Joshua Greenberg: Bank Notes and Shinplasters

What is money? Really, what is money? It turns out that the answer is not so simple. During the course of the 20th century, most of us have gotten used to the notion of a single medium of exchange based on Federal Reserve notes which we call dollars. They look the same, feel the same, and have the same use everywhere in the country. We are so comfortable with that medium of exchange that we are now increasingly doing away with the paper and accepting a digital version of said money. The convenience of having a single and stable currency …

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NBN Interview with James Pearce: The weaponization of history in Russia.

History matters in Russia. It really matters, so much so that the state has a “historical policy” to help legitimize itself and support its policy agenda. In The Use of History in Putin’s Russia (Vernon Press, 2020), James C. Pearce examines how the past is perceived in contemporary Russia and analyses the ways in which the Russian state uses history to create a broad social consensus and forge a national identity. Listen to the NBN interview here.

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Random Book Project #4: Men’s clothier staging

Saw these three books as staging in the window of a men’s clothing store that declared bankruptcy this week. Store founded in 1818; think sheep. These books had been de-accessioned once, which is how they got into the window. Because this store is in the downtown business district and therefore likely to close permanently, these books will probably be tossed.   Gamle Pybus appears to be a Danish translation of the 1928 novel Old Pybus by English writer G. Warwick Deeping (1877-1950).  Pictures from the Life: Paul Gerhardt, an 1881 English-language translation of the 1845 biography of the 17th century German …

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Random Book Project #3: The Sinews of American Commerce (1941)

#3: Roy A. Foulke, The Sinews of American Commerce (New York: Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 1941). No price. How did I get it: The book was recently given to me as a housegift by someone who knows that my proclivities run in this direction. Why: The book is classic deaccessioning material. It is a commissioned history to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dun & Bradstreet, a business information and credit research founded in 1841. Published in August 1941, just before the outbreak of direct US involvement in World War II, the book is a testament to a muscular, unapologetic capitalism …

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Random Book Project #1

I’m launching something I call the Random Book Project. Its purpose is to give additional “life” to some of the books that I have collected over the years and are gathering dust on my shelves. These books are disappearing in the digital age. They are left in a decreasing number of public and university libraries, before they are ultimately “de-accessioned.” Some hardbacks end up as color coordinated staging in steak houses and boutique hotels. The Random Book Project attempts to give these books at least a minimal digital presence for works that Project Gutenberg and Google Books will likely skip. …

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