Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, which in academia is defined as “the months when you can read, write and research without the ever-present fear of neglecting students.”
Professors tend to take their book-reading — even their pleasure-book-reading — very seriously. This doesn’t mean that a professor’s summer reading list consists only of academic tomes. It means that summertime is an academic’s most precious commodity, and it shouldn’t be wasted replicating, say, Osama bin Laden’s dubious tastes in international relations literature.
So after careful consideration, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has assembled/ordered the following five books to peruse in the next few months:
1. Thomas Oatley, “A Political Economy of American Hegemony: Buildups, Booms, and Busts.” Oatley might be the most interesting international political economist writing today, and this looks like it will be his most unusual book. Its core argument is that the only way to understand key elements of the American business cycle is to appreciate the role that military buildups play in generating the boom-bust cycle of the U.S. economy over the past 65 years. I don’t know if I’ll agree completely with Oatley, but I’m looking forward to having my mind blown.
2. Robert Putnam, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” My wife and I have very disparate reading tastes — she reads a lot of fiction, and I read a lot more nonfiction. So she and I have a tradition: We try, every summer, to pick at least one book that piques both our interests. The selection toggles between fiction and nonfiction. This year, Putnam’s exploration of how the structure of economic opportunity has changed — and not for the better — was the first one to engage both of us.
3. Aleksandr Hemon, “The Making of Zombie Wars.” All work and no zombies make Dan a dull boy. All work and no zombies make Dan a dull boy. All work and no zombies make Dan a dull boy. All work . . .
Okay, that’s quite enough of that.
I’ve been having good luck as of late with summer zombie fiction, as both “Zone One” and “The Girl with All the Gifts” proved to be superior reads, which means that by zombie genre standards they were prize-worthy. We’ll see if Hemon’s latest is the equal of those efforts.
4. Richard Dobbs, James Manyika and Jonathan Woetzel, “No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends.” Spoiler Alert: The four flows are urbanization, the changing pace of technological innovation, the graying of the population and globalization. None of these are exactly shocking, but as someone who has read the McKinsey Global Institute reports that inspired this book, I’m curious to see how/whether the authors actually integrate myriad drivers of change. And although I’m wary about where this book has been mentioned, that does not mean it is uninteresting.
5. John Maynard Keynes, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.” One of the ongoing debates in international relations is whether the implicit and explicit bargains surrounding the end of the Cold War were punitive toward Russia, thereby helping to breed the resentment and paranoia that governs Russia’s current relationship with the West. The unsettling parallel is to the grievances that the Treaty of Versailles fostered in the defeated Central Powers. Keynes’s book, written soon after the conclusion of Versailles, proved to be a prescient warning about the disorder that treaty would eventually create. And as someone who teaches a course in how classic texts in international relations still speak to ongoing events, it seems summer-read-worthy.