* Books Briefly Noted: Geoffrey Parker’s Success is Never Final: Empire, War, and Faith in Early Modern Europe is another book more likely to be cited than read and whose abstract generalizations are vastly more interesting than the particulars in which they’re mired. The important generalization is that success often carries within it decadence and decline through rigidity, over-extension and arrogance, and such principles apply across a wide range of fields from the national to the individual. One is reminded of Beowulf, a poem usually read as a tale about eventual destruction of the mightiest warrior by the ravages of time and nature. Perhaps that is why we seek “happily ever after” in fiction: as a veil on or eliding against the inevitable.
The specifics regarding early modern and late medieval European machinations can verge on the scholastically tedious; this is a book best sampled like hors d’oeuvre, rather than a full dinner. Learning about the spread of the artillery fortress is much less interesting than its effects on warfare and statecraft. But the last chapter, which is on the nature of law and its uses as seen specifically through the prosecution of sexual crimes by sixteenth-century “Kirks,” or tribunals, in Scotland, says a great deal in a short space. This is not the only essay in Success is Never Final with little if anything to do with the putative topic, but such minor sins can be forgiven.
* Those of you who are following markets—or just paying any attention to any contemporary news media whatsoever—are probably aware that we’re in the middle of a financial crisis that might be the worst since the Great Depression. The best commentary so far, however, comes by way of Megan McArdle:
From a senior who majored in English:
“Is it wrong to feel schadenfreude about my classmates who majored in Economics to get “safe” jobs at Lehman and Merrill Lynch?”
I heard about it second hand, so I’m paraphrasing, but this gave me hope for America’s youth.
* XKCD represents graphically why you should avoid the Amazon Kindle.
* Richard Woodward at the Wall Street Journal attempts A Nobel Undertaking: Getting to Know Le Clézio, who won the latest Nobel Prize in literature. After reading Woodward, I feel pretty good about not getting to know Le Clézio well.
* American Journalism Review argues that “A smaller, less frequently published version packed with analysis and investigative reporting and aimed at well-educated news junkies that may well be a smart survival strategy for the beleaguered old print product.” They should call such a beast a “magazine,” which could be a storehouse of useful or interesting information. Perhaps one based in New York would do well.
* Speaking of newspapers, see The New York Times recursively on Mourning Old Media’s Decline. A sample:
For readers, the drastic diminishment of print raises an obvious question: if more people are reading newspapers and magazines, why should we care whether they are printed on paper?
The answer is that paper is not just how news is delivered; it is how it is paid for.
More than 90 percent of the newspaper industry’s revenue still derives from the print product, a legacy technology that attracts fewer consumers and advertisers every single day. A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it.
Ironically, by linking to this article I’m exemplifying the problem the article itself discusses. And the biggest issue actually gets saved until the end: “The blogosphere has had its share of news breaks, but absent a functioning mainstream media to annotate, it could be pretty darn quiet out there.”
The same is true of literary essays and analysis.
* Competent elites: happier and more alive? Maybe, but though I’m intrigued, I also can’t help think about sample size, cause/effect, and comparative problems. I might also title the article, “Competent elites: Happier and more alive and more arrogant?”
* How to lose friends and alienate people, global edition, courtesy of Clive Crook:
There has not been another attack – and Edward Alden, a former Washington bureau chief for the FT and now a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, recognises that foreign terrorists find it much harder to get in. The trouble is, so does everybody else, including people that the US needs. On balance, Alden argues, the new regime has done more harm than good even in narrow security terms, to say nothing of the wider human and economic costs. Few who read his compellingly argued and meticulously researched book will be inclined to disagree.
The cure might be worse than the disease. For more on related topics, see Schneier, Bruce.
* Although this has nothing to do with books, Freakonomics reports about the positive externalities of binge drinking for social security, among other unusual ideas.