I've come down with a bit of a head cold, which means extra time for reading while I tried to rid myself of the bug. Here's what I'm reading:
Anthony Scott, The Evolution of Resource Property Rights (Oxford 2008). Scott is among the pioneers of modern resources economics, publishing important work on fisheries in the mid-1950s. This recent book is the culmination of all his work, running the gamut from water resources to forests and minerals. He has a very impressive grasp of the legal structure of property rights in resources, with one glaring exception: he conflates common property with open-access. But for that problem, this book could have been written by a law professor (which at least in this context is intended as a compliment).
Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 (Viking 2009). Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution says this is one of the best history books he has read, ever. So far, I'd have to agree. Wickham amasses impressive archaeological and documentary evidence to challenge the conventional wisdom that the "Dark Ages" were a period of cultural decline. I'm learning a lot from this book.
Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, Violence
and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded History (Cambridge 2009). An innovative history of political economy that distinguishes how different kinds of political structures deal with the problem of social ordering to control violence. Most societies, which the authors call "natural states," limit violence by political manipulation of the economy to create privileged interests. These privileges limit the use of violence by powerful individuals, but doing so hinders both economic and political development. In contrast, modern societies create open access to economic and political organizations, fostering political and economic competition. The book provides a framework for understanding the two types of social orders, why "open access societies" are both politically and economically more developed, and how some 25 countries have made the transition between the two types. In several respects, this book is a culmination of problems Doug North has been examining for the past 40 years.