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Views from the Center


Whether for intellectual enrichment or purely for leisure, it's not summer without summer reading. Thus, we've polled our experts for their favorite page-turners, and here they are. Running the gamut from global politics to big data to the Pulitzer-winning story of a Haitian slave-turned-general, these are the narratives, analyses, and exposés that have caught our fellows' attention this summer.


The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

From Nancy Birdsall:

"Compelling and fun read. The buzz about it among economists well-deserved. The authors try to be optimistic about the job-stealing robotic age now upon us, not wanting to be Luddites. But the policy prescriptions they suggest require a progressive, activist, highly effective government — something most of the world’s people, especially most of the world’s poor people, do not enjoy."


Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization, by Branko Milanovic

From Michael Clemens:

"If you're concerned about inequality, and you want to take the next step after reading Thomas Piketty, this is the book. Milanovic goes further in time (back to Ancient Rome!) and in space (global, not just domestic inequality). And he has clear and nuanced lessons for politics and policy."


Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer

From Michele de Nevers:

"[The book is] about the slow and steady rise of a network of organizations—conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, university departments and NGOs—dedicated to the radical libertarian causes of their plutocrat funders. The New York Times calls the movement “a private political bank capable of bestowing unlimited amounts of money on favored candidates, and doing it with virtually no disclosure of its source.” The result is the wave of elections that brought conservative politicians into office and ultimately led to the Citizens United decision that removed limits on anonymous and corporate funding for elections."


The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism, by Robert Paarlberg

From Kim Elliott:

"In this provocative book, Paarlberg explores the souces of Americans' unusually high consumption of food and energy. He argues that the US is also exceptional in its weak policy response to the associated obesity-related health problems and the threats from climate change. Paarlberg fears that the political response is likely to continue to be to adapt and cope, rather than to confront these problems head on. And that will have disproportionately negative effects on the poor, both at home and abroad."


Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O'Neil

From Amanda Glassman:

"Scary reading about the dark side of big data. How the variables that modelers put into their algorithms for decision-making have implications for access to credit, health insurance costs, who gets out of jail, and related choices. How humans are still important and should pay closer attention to 'the black box models that shape our future.'"


The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss

From Charles Kenny:

"Pulitzer prize-winner for biography a few years ago and a gripping read. It is about Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the father of the Alexandre Dumas and the inspiration—as the title suggests—for the character Edmond Dantes. The General lived an amazing life—born in Haiti, son to a slave and minor French nobleman, he rose to be a General in the revolutionary army before dying in obscurity. His rise was helped by Revolutionary France’s abolishment of slavery and embrace of racial equality, his fall by Napoleon reversing those advances. One more reason to wonder why the Emperor is so widely admired."


The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear: A Novel, by Stuart Stevens

From Todd Moss:

"Stevens, a former senior political advisor to Mitt Romney, takes us on a rollicking and hilarious ride through a fictional Republican convention in the midst of a blazing New Orleans summer. We follow a flawed campaign operator who cheats and lies and manipulates everyone around him to win delegates for his boring sensible candidate battling against a brash and dangerous blowhard."


In the Light of What We Know: A Novel, by Zia Haider Rahman

From Theo Talbot:

"An extraordinary debut novel about Zafar, a charismatic, brilliant young British man of Bengali origin. It’s a mediation on big themes: the impossibility of perfect knowledge (enter Gödel’s incompleteness theorem), the new Great Game in post-invasion Kabul, the hypocrisy of the white saviour in international development, the roots of the 2008 financial crisis, the role of class and ethnicity in modern Britain, and, in the end, the search for home. Some fiction wears its erudition lightly. Rahman’s book is unafraid to wear it heavily and in full—but remains an utterly absorbing page-turner, as impossible to summarise as it was to put down."


We hope you enjoy these summer selections. For more reading recommendations from CGD, subscribe to our weekly What We're Reading newsletter here.



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.