Michael Cordell's Blog

2018 Quarter One Reading List

01 Sep 2018

Table of Contents


David Graeber - Debt

The first 5,000 years

Debt is not a book whose message can be boiled down to a few bullet points. It is a lengthy study of the power of debt, and how it shapes human society. As the author states in the introductory chapter, “This book is a history of debt, then but it also uses that history as a way to ask fundamental questions about what human beings and human society are or could be like — what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question.”. Consider the morality surrounding debt and credit. If someone was unable to pay their debts, or even is just deeply in debt, that person is often viewed as weak of character. On the other side: we similarly view usury, or even more mildler forms of lending, in a negative or at least distasteful fashion (think loan shark or Shakespeare’s Shylock). On top of this, Graeber layers the interplay of debt and religion. Why do Christians refer to Jesus Christ as a redeemer? On the same note, why does Christ cast out the money lenders in the Cleansing of the Temple. Why are Jewish people associated with money lending (usually negatively) Graeber notes that this likely arose out of the exclusion of Jews from other professions in the middle ages combined with interesting interpretations of Deuteronomy 23:19–20 ? At the same time that money lending is often portrayed negatively by religion, through out the middle ages in both eastern and western cultures, the local church or monastery often functioned as a money lender. It is these types of close examinations of society and debt that make this book worthwhile.

Graeber spends the first part of the book as an anthropological study of debt, examining some of the questions, along with fundamentals such as the origin of money. The second half of the book is a methodical history of debt from early 3500 BC to current times. I recommend this as a simply because of its depth and the way it challenged my conception of debt and societal mores.

Interesting Bits

Key Ideas (spoilers)

Alan Murray and Jeffery Birnbaum - Showdown at Gucci Gulch

Showdown at Gucci Gulch chronicles the tax reform effort in the early-mid 80s during the Reagan administration. This was a notable law making effort as it closed many tax loopholes while removing roughly 4M lower income people from the tax rolls. All of this occured during a repbulican administration who had recently passed a seperate tax act in 1981 which many argued increased loopholes and was approaching anti-reform. Written by two Wall Street Journal reporters in 1987, roughly a year after the Tax Reform Act passed, the book is a time capsule for that political period. It is also a great insight into policy making and the legistlative process. It follows the reform effort from early failed efforts to the final bill coming out of conference comittee. Despite the fact that this might appear to be a rather dry subject, the book wraps it in a readable narrative with compelling political characters. You appreciate how difficult policy making, and particularly tax policy making is. I picked this one up because of the 2017 tax “reform” and I was struck by the parrallels in some of the proposals and yet very different final outcome.

Interesting Tidbits:

Richard Rothstein - The Color of Law

The Color of Law is an examination of the explicit policies and laws that lead to segregation in American housing. Often times, the policy failures were as much about the actions not taken, such as a failure to


Pierce Brown - Golden Son and Morning Star

These are books two and three, respectively, of the Red Rising trilogy, which as a whole are a very entertaining piece of science fiction. Taking place about a thousand years from now, people have colonized other planets and the human species has become stratified into a color based caste system. The Golds are the preeminent group: ideal specimens of physical and intellectual prowess that dominate the rest of the race through an entrenched aristocracy. On the other end of the spectrum are Reds, laborers who mine helium to support the vast network of planets. In between you find specializations in each color, Silvers (bankers), Blues (pilots and navigators), Greens (programmers), Greys (soilders), Yellows (doctors), etc. The story follows Darrow, a Red, as he seeks to infiltrate Gold society and topple the system that oppresses his people.

I won’t go beyond the above synopsis because I think this is a great series and much more would spoil these three entertaining books. From a style perspective I would say this is a blend of Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, with a sprinkling of A Song of Ice and Fire. The book out does Hunger Games because it is more “gritty” and its lead character has much more agency within the story and makes more pragmatic choices. The series as a whole outstrips Ender’s series because it doesn’t lose momentum in the way that Ender’s did I don’t think I made it past the third book in the Ender Game series. . The third book is just as good as the first, and these two specifically you can finish in a few days.

Strong recommendation on these series for any SF lover, and general fiction enthusiasts should enjoy it as well.