Recent reading

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill), David Cay Johnston — A good book from 2007 about how government and wealthy elites collude to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense, even more relevant now than when it was written. Johnston writes from a somewhat progressive perspective but it reads just as well through a Public Choice lens. This paragraph for example:

Regulation by detailed rules has not worked. A century ago the reformers of the Gilded Age believed that if we just got the rules right, a just society would follow. Instead, the rules became ever more finely diced, creating unintended opportunities for mischief and often creating loopholes and favors for those whose conduct the rules were supposed to constrain.

The book stretches on a bit too long in my opinion, but it’s a good reminder that advocacy for free markets is often the complete opposite of advocacy for big business.

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions, Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde — Two neuroscientists explain how the brain works in the context of magicians’ sneaky methods. As the authors say, magicians having been doing amateur neuroscience for centuries, making this a surprisingly useful approach. It’s a good primer and engagingly written.

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, Grant Morrison — Everything you’d want from a Grant Morrison history of superheroes, up to and including his own recent work and his inspirational spiritual journey in Kathmandu. Morrison manages to bring out the best in every era of superheroes.

Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, Brad Thomas Parsons — I like that we’re seeing more cocktail books that are focused on specific topics rather than being generic compilations of recipes. In this one bitters get their due. When I started tending bar a few years ago it was a struggle just to find orange bitters; now artisan bitters have flooded the market and craft cocktail bars make unheard of varieties their own. Parsons’ book provides a brief history of bitters and then provides fifteen recipes for making them at home, concluding with a well-selected mix of cocktail recipes. I haven’t tried making any of the bitters yet but I have enjoyed making some of the drinks. Highly recommended.

Portland’s 100 Best Places to Stuff Your Faces, Jen Stevenson — This is a very fun self-published guide to Portland restaurants from local food writer Jen Stevenson. The production values are high and the recommendations are spot-on. I eat out a lot and I’ve only been to sixty of the spots she suggests, so I have some new places to visit. I’d give this to anyone looking to explore the local food scene.