Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I've Been Reading

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Random House 2010).

A tremendous romp through the history of domestic life, full of interesting stories and surprising facts - at least in the first half of the book. By the second half, Bryson seems to have run out of original and insightful stories to tell. So, instead, he turns his focus to social historical tales that tend to sell lots of books. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the second half of the book is less a history of the domicile itself, and more a series of vignettes on the social history of sex, muck, stink, and disease. It is no less readable for that, just a bit less insightful and edifying.

Paschal Larkin, Property in the Eighteenth Century (H. Fertig 1969 [1930]).

To be honest, I read this book as background for the Property Theory Seminar I'm teaching this semester. In any case, it's a fine work, full of useful insights into Locke's theory of private property, and how his theory was received in the century following his death. Among Larkin's more surprising (though unfortunately unsupported) assertions, is that Locke eventually backed away from his own labor theory of property acquisition.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury 2010).

This is the book that won the 2010 Man Booker Prize - a very rare occurrence for a comedy. Although he is virtually unknown in the US, Howard Jacobson has always been prized in the UK as a serious and wise writer of funny books. I am just starting in on this one, and my hopes are very high.


I've also just started reading Melvin Urofsky's highly esteemed biography, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (Pantheon 2009). It's engagingly written, and while Urofsky clearly likes his subject very much, the biography seems less hagiographic than many others I've read about Supreme Court justices.

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