an experiment in public reading

An island of stone money?

The Island of Yap plays host to one of economics' most interesting stories. It's said that the inhabitants of Yap used gigantic round pieces of limestone as a form of currency. I've encountered this story in a few popular books and even a podcast, but the academic literature seems pretty thin. I've just started my research, but I can only find a few papers and books with more than a passing allus ... »

Ideas are nothing without execution

Robert Hooke is the poster boy for the notion that it is not sufficient to have a good idea. As I've lugged Lisa Jardin's biography of Hooke around over the past few weeks, it's been hard to explain who exactly Hooke was. You may remember him as the ugly cretin in Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos series. But Hooke was so much more than that caricature. He was a brilliant polymath who coined the term ... »

The curious life of Charles Darwin

Your ideas are the sum of your influences. This is something I first came across in Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From: “ideas are works of bricolage; they’re built out of that detritus. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.” And it's this concept, what Steven Johnson calls the "adjacent possible", that kept co ... »

The path dependency of higher education

An interesting paper by Etienne Leppers at the LSE suggests that where central bankers (specifically, those on the Federal Open Market Committee of the the US Federal Reserve) were educated has a "systematic impact" on the way they vote on monetary policy. This is true even considering the more than four decades that have elapsed since Chairwoman Janet Yellen got her PhD. "graduate training in e ... »

Mozart was a village

It's hard to fathom the mind of a genius. Although I really enjoy biographies, I often learn more of and from the world around them than I do from the subject itself. In the case of Paul Johnson's short, brilliant biography of Mozart, it's Mozart's father that piqued my interest. The endless renditions of concertos, operas and symphonies went over my head. But the dotted references to Leopold Moz ... »