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What I read on my summer vacation

Enormous thanks to Dylan Matthews, Suzy Khimm, Justin Fox, and John Sides, all of whom made it possible for me to take some much-appreciated vacation. And what did I do on my vacation? Read books, mostly. In particular, these books:

Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager, by N+1. Quite unexpectedly, my favorite book written about the financial crisis. It's not a thrilling narrative, and it's not studded with juicy scenes. It's just a chronicle of a very smart guy trying to figure out what's going on and explain it clearly. Highly recommended. If the anonymous hedge fund manager is out there somewhere and wants to shoot me an e-mail, he should.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. Felt like an Infinite Jest rip-off -- or maybe homage? Imagine if David Foster Wallace had been an absurdist comic writing a romance rather than a tragic supercomputer creating a Sierpinski Gasket in the form of a novel.

Common as Air, by Lewis Hyde. I didn't finish this one. It's about how the Founding Fathers thought about intellectual property, and since I don't like books that are about how such-and-such historical figures thought about so-and-so, I should've known I wouldn't take to it.

Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick. Convinced me that chaos theory is a lot less interesting than Jurassic Park led me to believe. Had a lot in common some of the financial crisis books (notably Michael Lewis's 'The Big Short') in its efforts to profile the type of person whose willing to upend dominant assumptions and embrace radical new ideas. Oh, and speaking of Michael Lewis...

Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis. No, I'm not expecting. I'd read Michael Lewis talking about his favorite t-shirts. But this book is pretty thin. Even the title is lazy: The book isn't a guide to fatherhood, and there's nothing accidental about any of it. Didn't feel like I got my money's worth.

Filibustering: A Political History of Obstruction in the House and the Senate, by Gregory Koger. Reread this in anticipation of a panel I'm on later this week. The writing is very academic, but the two main points are good: First, filibustering (or obstruction, if you prefer) used to be more common in the House than the Senate, and that changed when the House eventually became too dysfunctional and changed its rules. People who say the Senate was "meant" to be more obstructive don't often address that. Second, filibusters has become more effective in the Senate because the majority is less willing to take the time to break them. That implies that filibusters are less of a problem for marquee issues like health-care reform, where the majority will take the time, and more of a problem for small actions like nominations, where the majority won't take the time.

Eating the Dinosaur, by Chuck Klosterman. The worst of his books, but still one of his books, and so still fun to read. The second half is better than the first half. I liked his point that the introduction of New Coke and subsequent wave of nostalgia for Classic Coke was, purposefully or not, one of the greatest advertising coups of all time.

Lost in the City, by Edward P. Jones. Very beautiful and very sad. Particularly recommended for people who live in DC.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 30, 2010; 8:55 AM ET
Categories:  Books  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Wonkbook: Volcker's tax plan; Europe fights U.S. on FinReg; 10 years till recovery?
Next: America is complicated


and i thought you would have let us know what kind of beers you sampled and what kind of fish you caught?

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 30, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad you recommended "Lost in the City." An astonishing collection that too many people in D.C. have not read. "All Aunt Hagar's Children," another collection of short stories by Jones, serves as a companion volume in some ways and is just as good.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | August 30, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Disappointed to see your thoughts on chaos theory. I remember it being a lot more interesting than Jurassic Park made it seem, once you see the math laid out properly (and it's not that demanding really).

I'd put it up there with quantum mechanics and relativity as the three most bizarre and counterintuitive results in math/physics.

Posted by: Russell_A | August 30, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't know what you were expecting from chaos theory that you were disappointed. Was Jurassic Park your only source of "knowledge" on the subject?

Posted by: albamus | August 30, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that's some testosterone fest.

Posted by: scarlota | August 30, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Edit: I got that "Your comment is being reviewed" message, which usually means it's not going to post, because I used the word rhymes with "boosh" to describe Chuck Klosterman. This is a seriously restrictive comments system.

I'll chime in with being pretty fascinated with chaos theory. Also, "Sierpinski Gasket", along with any mention of fractals, makes me think of Jonathan Coulton's "Mandelbrot Set". I love Jonathan Coulton.

I have to admit a heresy for someone of my age group: I listened to three or so chapters of the Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs audiobook (read by Klosterman) on an airplane recently, having never read any of his work before, and turned it off. He seemed like a total and complete d*uche. His stories and theories, at least what I heard, didn't entertain me as much as make me hate him.

Posted by: MosBen | August 30, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I should also say that I'm totally a person that thinks a lot about children's cereals, Saved By the Bell, etc., and not in a snotty way, either. I was fully expecting to love Klosterman, but man, I literally could not take it any more. What an annoying dude.

Posted by: MosBen | August 30, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Really surprised you compared Super Sad True Love Story to Infinite Jest. I think DFW was in an entirely different writing league than Shteyngart.

Posted by: slyc | August 30, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

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