Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Book Review: The Conjuror’s Trick – An interpretive history of Paper Money in India by Bazil Shaikh

May 6, 2021

I review this superb “visual delight” book by Bazil Shaikh: The Conjuror’s Trick – An interpretive history of Paper Money in India. The book is published by Marg Publications in December 2020.


Book Review: Bringing Economic History Back into Curriculums

October 26, 2020

Profs Ajit Sinha and Alex Thomas co-edited this book trying to revive teaching economic history: Pluralistic Economics and Its History

I review the book in EPW.

Book Review: Viral Acharya’s Quest for Restoring Financial Stability in India

August 17, 2020

I have written a review (slightly long) of Viral Acharya’s book: Quest for Restoring Financial Stability in India.

Here it goes:


Five best books on viruses

May 11, 2020

Dorothy Crawford, Professor of medical microbiology and the author of Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, selects five of the best books on viruses for the general reader.

Check this:

In Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, you quote George Klein to the effect: “The stupidest virus is cleverer than the cleverest virologist.” Where does that leave us? Are we fated to be finally wiped out by a virus that has outsmarted us?

Let me first say that George Klein was a wonderfully clever thinker and a great research virologist. I love that quote. But, no, I have faith in the human race. I think we are genetically diverse enough for there always to be some people who will be able to survive infection with any ‘new’ virus that comes along.


The best economics books to take on Holiday: recommended by Daniel Hamermesh

August 19, 2019 has the recommendations:

1. Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

This novel from a decade ago should be read by every American interested in immigration. While it deals with a lot of medical details, the essence of it is about urban life in developing countries and about the immigrant experience. It is both moving and thought-provoking.

2. In the Garden of the Beasts, by Erik Larson

At a time of increased danger of totalitarianism in the U.S., reading a history of an insider’s view of its growth in Germany in the 1930s gives a good perspective on our contemporary problems, as well as being fascinating history and biography in its own right.

3. Core Economics by the Core Economics team

You can’t take this book to the beach as a paperback, but you can download it. It represents a revolutionary approach to introductory economics that draws the reader into the subject. It is catching on widely and will affect economic thinking in the population as a whole for a long time.

4. The Worldly Philosophers, by Robert Heilbroner

The first edition of this book, which I read in high school (in 1960), got me to major in economics and devote my career to it. The book’s updated editions are just as good and give a good, not-popularized feel for what the major economic ideas are really about (and also a good feel for the people who created them).

5. Cribsheet, by Emily Oster

A bit of a cheat recommending this, since Emily’s parents, both economists, are old friends of mine. But the book is an easy-reading, but evidence-based guide for prospective and new parents.


Book Review: Cash and Dash – How ATMs and computers changed banking

June 11, 2019

Looks like a fascinating and an important book, given the times we living in.

Prof Scott Burns of Troy University reviews the book on


Indian Fiscal Federalism: A Few Empirical Questions (Review of Dr YV Reddy’s book)…

April 11, 2019

Prof Lekha Chakrabarty reviews Dr Reddy’s new book on Indian fiscal federalism.

The book titled “Indian Fiscal Federalism” co-authored by Y V Reddy and G R Reddy is written from a “practioner’s perspective”. The simplicity of this book is appealing, especially when the content of the book is about a very complex set of rules and games between the Centre and the States. I have identified a few “empirical questions” in the book. Let me confine my discussion to these empirical aspects.
One aspect that received less adequate recognition in the context of “what holds India together” is the role of Finance Commissions1. The book rightly highlights the significance of the existing institutional mechanisms for providing “predictability in the federal fiscal relations” along with the smooth transition of political regimes through peaceful elections, State Re-organization mechanisms and the other institutions of economic management.  The book throws light into these aspects of “asymmetric” and “co-operative” federalism in India.  There was “continuity”. There was “change”. The effectiveness of such processes in creating “convergence” is an empirical question. Such empirical questions have gained significance globally.
In Brooking Papers (2017)2 there was a similar analysis of “economic convergence” about whether “Europe as a political project too ambitious?” They have found that there is a great extent of “economic convergence” within the European Union, despite widening cultural and institutional heterogeneities within an “economically integrated” Europe. However, the “cultural divergence” – “nationalism” – is the stumbling block. Such issues have started appearing even in the well-functioning federations like the US, with “protectionist” policies.

Book review of Harilal and Sons: Family Narrative as Business History

March 4, 2019

Sujit Saraf wrote this novel by the name Harilal and Sons:

It is the year 1899. In the north western corner of British India, the Chhappaniya famine stalks the desert region of Shekhavati. A despairing shopkeeper turns to his young son and says, ‘This land has nothing to offer us but sand dunes and khejra bushes.’ Soon after, twelve-year-old Harilal Tibrewal, recently married to eleven-year-old Parmeshwari, sets off, alone, for the densely populated plains of Bengal in eastern India—travelling on camelback and by bus, train and boat to arrive in Calcutta, two thousand kilometres away.

In his new novel, Sujit Saraf takes readers on an epic journey from Shekhavati in Rajasthan to the Calcutta of the early twentieth century, to Bogra in East Bengal and to a village in Bihar in newly independent India. A sprawling, compulsively readable narrative, it follows the story of Harilal as he sets up Harilal and Sons, a shop selling jute, cotton, spices, rice, cigarettes and soap, that grows into a large enterprise. It is also the sweeping tale of his two wives and ever-burgeoning family of sons, daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren—the two strands of family and business inextricably fused because a Marwari’s life is defined by what he ‘deals in’. The novel ends in 1972, as eighty-five-year-old Hari lies dying in the great mansion that he built but never actually lived in. Surrounded by his vast family he wonders why he is still so attached to them. Why has he not reached the third stage in life, the stage of detachment, that his schoolmaster had said he would?

Spanning seven decades of an era that saw great tumult in India and Bangladesh, Harilal and Sons is a wonderfully evocative, powerful and capacious narrative—overflowing with a profusion of characters, events and places—contained within the singular life of one man who ‘dealt in jute and grain’.

Thomas Timberg who wrote the famous book on Marwaris in this book review in EPW says this novel could be used to figure business history. He says the story closely resembles that of GD Birla:


From Wall Street to Bay Street: The Origins and Evolution of American and Canadian Finance

February 21, 2019

New book on differences between American and Canadian financial system.

Prof Hugh Rockoff does a review:

Why did the Canadian financial system escape the devastation that the American system experienced in the Great Depression (although Canada did not escape the decline in economic activity) and in 2008? Indeed, why has the financial system of Canada been so much more stable throughout its history than the American system? It’s a question that many economic historians have thought about. Calomiris and Haber (2014) is a recent attempt to come to grips with this and other comparisons which highlight the instability of the American financial system. And I have done some work on this with Michael Bordo and Angela Redish (1994, 2015).

From Wall Street to Bay Street sheds light on these questions. The book, I should note, is written for the layperson and not for the typical reader of EH.Net. One imagines (hopes?) that the intended audience might include a journalist, a politician, or a business executive looking for an explanation of a puzzling fact that might in turn affect what they write or do. Although Kobrak and Martin include some comparative charts at the end of the book, the text itself includes no charts, tables, or equations. As an explanation for lay readers, it works well. But, as I will explain below, I think it is also a book that professional economic historians will profit from reading.

Joe Martin is the Director of Canadian Business History at the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto. Christopher Kobrak (an undergraduate philosophy major at Rutgers, a clear marker of excellence, and a Columbia Ph.D.) was at the Rotman School at his untimely death in 2017. They chose to tell the whole story of American and Canadian finance — insurance, investment banks, and so on, as well as commercial banking — chronologically. There are introductory and concluding chapters, and five chapters in which they take their story from the colonial period to today.

What explains stability of Canada?

What explains the relative stability of the Canadian system? Kobrak and Martin rely on two explanatory factors. One, that will be familiar to most American and Canadian financial historians, is Canada’s system of nationwide branch banking; a stark contrast with the United States which for much of its history had a fragmented banking system in which banks were always prevented from branching across state lines and in some cases were prevented from establishing any branches at all by unit banking laws. Most financial historians, I believe, agree that the absence of branching made American banks far more vulnerable to economic shocks than their Canadian cousins. The problem of state-centric regulation, however, was not confined, Kobrak and Martin show, to banking, but also troubled the American Insurance industry. This comparison illustrates one of the strengths of From Wall Street to Bay Street: its broad sectoral coverage creates opportunities for comparisons that test their conclusions about the origins of the difference in stability between the systems.

The other explanation that Kobrak and Martin rely on is culture. There is a tradeoff, they argue, between innovation and stability. “American finance,” in their estimation, “has been associated with an abundance of the former and not enough of the latter, with Canada assuming the opposite approach” (p. 14). In their concluding chapter they say that “Americans have always exhibited a tolerance for recklessness in commercial innovation, which appears curious to much of the rest of the world, including Canadians.” A reference to Tocqueville, who said much the same, helps to establish the venerable lineage of their observation about different attitudes toward stability (p. 262). Their reliance on cultural differences inevitably raises the question of whether it is “Kosher to Talk about Culture” to quote the title of one of Peter Temin’s (1997) well-known papers. A reliance on cultural explanations is always problematic. It is far easier to suggest cultural explanations for economic phenomena than to test them rigorously. For that reason, many economic historians shy away from them. Kobrak and Martin, however, are not afraid. I was skeptical at first, but I found myself coming away persuaded that part of the difference in institutional arrangements (including regulatory structures) and records of stability in the two financial systems ultimately derives from different attitudes toward innovation and stability.

Hmm…Should try and get a copy..

Paul A. Volcker’s “Keeping at It:” Messages for Country and World

February 12, 2019

Edwin Truman of PIIE distills the main messages from Volcker’s memorial:

Why would Paul Volcker, who tamed inflation as chairman of the Fed in the 1980s, write a memoir in his 91st year rather than go fishing? Because he is deeply concerned and has a message about the direction of the country and the world. The message proclaims three verities drawn from his career of service in the public and private sectors: stable prices, sound finance, and good government.

The history of South India is relatively unknown: Rajmohan Gandhi

December 10, 2018

A new book on South India by Rajmohan Gandhi.

In this article, he says (and rightly so) that we know very little about Southern India history:

Billed as “a masterpiece in every sense of the word”, Rajmohan Gandhi’s upcoming book “Modern South India” is promoted by its publisher as an authoritative and magnificent work of history about that will be read and reflected upon for years to come.

“The sounds and flavours of the land south of the Vindhyas — temple bells, coffee and jasmine, coconut and tamarind, delicious dosais and appams — are familiar to many, but its history is relatively unknown,” Gandhi writes in the 500-page book that traces the history of from the 17th century to current times.

But why this historical amnesia?

“For one thing, the South is a large area, where, dauntingly, a great deal happened during the 400 years covered in my study. Secondly, while the story of each powerful culture within the South has been studied in depth, few in either the South or the North have attempted an integrated view of the South as a whole. Thirdly, India’s political power has resided in the North, influencing the focus of academia, not merely the media,” the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who has taught political science and history at two IITs, and the University of Illinois, where he currently serves a research professor, told IANS in an email interview.

But is not the only major region suffering from neglect, Gandhi maintained, and asked: “Do we have many histories of western or 

He pointed out that the Maratha history is rich, so is the history of Bengal, and likewise the histories of Assam, Odisha and Gujarat, but there is a case for broader histories of western and 

“Yet the expression ‘South Indian’ conjures up images hardly matched by phrases like ‘East Indian’ or ‘West Indian’, which Indians never use. In places in the US, an ‘East Indian’ is an Indian from India, different from a native American, while ‘West Indian’ suggests the West Indies,” he said.

In the book, Gandhi tells the story of four powerful cultures — Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu — as well as the cultures Kodava, Konkani, Marathi, Oriya, Tulu and indigenous that have influenced them. Asked if there was a common thread that binds them all together, he pointed to three elements.

One geographical and the other linguistic, have given the its unity and distinctiveness. Because of the and the Bay of Bengal, European countries like Portugal, Holland, England and impacted the South in ways not experienced by northern and  Secondly, the South’s major languages have Dravidian rather than Sanskritic roots, even though their vocabularies have been enriched by borrowings from Sanskrit and elsewhere. Thirdly, the Dravidian/Aryan question resonates, not necessarily divisively, in many southern minds,” he shared.

Not just general history. But even Southern economic, banking and business history is relatively unknown and unexplored/

More  here:

Should be an immediate pick and read…

Book Review: How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us

September 27, 2018

Prof Samuel Bostaph (University of Dallas) reviews this hard-hitting book: How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads bSteven Payson.

The book says:


Citibank: America’s most political bank

August 22, 2018

Nice review of the much talked about book on history of Citibank: Borrowed Time: Two Centuries of Booms, Busts, and Bailouts at Citi by James Freeman and Vern McKinley.

In the turbulent history of American banking, one institution looms larger than the rest.

Take a momentous event in US history — the end of slavery, the country’s breakneck industrialisation, its infatuation with the stock market in the 1920s, and the recent mortgage meltdown — and chances are that two-hundred-year-old Citi was involved: sometimes bankrolling the government, other times frantically knocking at its door for help; sometimes a prudent steward of financial stability, others enabling the punters’ most outlandish bets.

For two centuries, the fortunes of Citi have been conflated with the fate of the country more than most politicians and regulators would care to admit. James Freeman and Vern McKinley’s Borrowed Time: Two Centuries of Booms, Busts, and Bailouts at Citi, a formidable deep dive into the vicissitudes of this largest and most controversial of American banks, reveals just how dependent Citi became on the leniency of government officials — and how handsomely the bank repaid their largesse.

Citi is infamous as the biggest beneficiary of the various bailout programs orchestrated by the Federal Reserve and other financial regulatory bodies during the 2008 financial crisis. All told, the bank secured official support worth $517 billion between late 2007 and early 2009 — a whopping 25 times shareholders’ equity.

While the scale of the rescue may have been unprecedented, Freeman and McKinley show that it was by no means the first time Citi relied on government forbearance and funding to remain a going concern. Borrowed time documents how the bank would have struggled to survive the painful hangover from the Roaring Twenties boom and the emerging market rout of the 1980s without preferred treatment from regulators.

In the end it is all about politics:


British Imperialism and the Making of Colonial Currency Systems

July 20, 2017

A fascinating question to think about is British were on Gold Standard for a long time but its colonies were kept on silver. Why were the imperial powers doing this considering a similar currency would have been more imperialistic? Likewise there are several questions on colonial currency systems imposed by other imperial powers. However, most monetary history accounts barely discuss the colonial currency systems.

In this aspect, this book by Wadan Narsey is a breath of fresh air as it discusses British currency policy in its various colonies. The author questions many a standard ideas around currency policy calling them a myth.

Here is a review by Kurt Schuler:

There must be few cases of a publication by an active scholar so long delayed as this book. Wadan Narsey wrote the bulk of it as his dissertation at Sussex University (England), completing it in 1988. That was at the beginning of his career as a university professor in his native Fiji. His retirement, hastened by the military dictatorship of which he was an outspoken critic, gave him the leisure to revisit and revise the dissertation for publication. The result is a work that has at least as much interest as when it was first written. There were many critics of the world monetary system then; there are at least as many now. It is all the more important, then, to know whether previous incarnations of the world monetary system worked better than the present one, or whether they had hitherto neglected disadvantages that should weigh against them.

The central argument of the book is that the British government arranged colonial monetary systems much more for its benefit than for that of the colonies. The British government’s ability to commandeer colonial financial reserves in London was crucial to enabling the Bank of England and the London financial market to avoid a number of crises. Among Britain’s colonies, those with a white majority or a large white minority received more advantageous treatment than majority nonwhite colonies, contributing to their faster economic development.

A must read as it discusses case of India as well. This blog had also reviewed the British currency note policy in this post. As students of Indian economics, these aspects are rarely taught and discussed..



Book Review: A Little History of Economics

June 12, 2017

Prof Donald Frey of Wake Forest University reviews a book by Niall Kishtainy titled as A Little History of Economics. Looks like an interesting buy…

Although I think this book might have been improved, I still give it high marks. After all, the author of a short book is forced to make choices that not everyone will favor. And Kishtainy’s choices could be defended.  The purpose is to give a brief, historical perspective to readers who are laypersons in the subject of economics. Kishtainy has written a book that should hold the interest of his audience and leave them the better for having read it. Hopefully, this book will encourage some to read at greater depth.

Anything brief and yet comprehensive is the order of the day..

Do you go to a cardiac surgeon only if has undergone a cardiac transplant?

March 3, 2017

This was the response Mr. GV Ramakrishna (GVR) gave to the reporter who asked him whether he traded in shares. The occasion was GVR being appointed SEBI chair in 1990. On seeing his IAS bacakground, a journalist thought of making a point by asking the share question. The journalist was obviously taken back by the response of GVR and relation with the media changed.

This and several other anecdotes are there in GVR’s autobiography – Two Score and  Ten: My Experiences in Government. It is interesting not much has changed ever since. SEBI continues to be run primarily by IAS officers who do not seem to have much of a background of financial markets.  They do seem to have had a tenure in Finance Ministry’s capital markets which is not valued much by markets and media. They surely know how to answer the question based on GVR’s response! 


Legislating Instability: Adam Smith, Free Banking, and the Financial Crisis of 1772

January 20, 2017

This is the title of a book by Prof Tyler Goodspeed. A brief of the book is here.

The failure of Ayr Bank in 1772 was a turning point in financial history. It led to change in thinking of Adma Smith who till then favored banking free of government regulation. Thus, this event continues to inspire financial historians who look for different viewpoints to explain the crisis.

Prof Hugh Rockoff reviews the book and sums up:


Book Review: Glimpses of Indian economic policy – An insider’s view by I.G, Patel

December 22, 2016

I just picked this book (out of stock on Flipkart and real expensive on Amazon) by late Dr IG Patel, the man who doffed many a policy hats in India.

The book was picked as one read through India’s demonetisation history in 1978 when IG (as popularly called) was the chief of Indian central bank. On the move he said:


How does Geography shape and redefine society: Case of Rajasthan

October 20, 2016

Thingnam Sanjeev of National Archives of India has written a book review of this book by Yamuna Sunny. The book is called Sprout: A Social Geography of Rajasthan and looks like quite a read.

Sanjeev says:

The book is groundbreaking in terms of its presentation, the way it illuminates ideas and events with the clarity of a schoolbook. By using graphics, illustrations, pictorial maps and dialogues, it opens up a new way of approaching and understanding geography which ties up with Sunny’s claim of building on “the informal spaces of reading that should be available to the people” (in acknowledgement). The book is thus heavily driven and informed by a sense of social justice, and is indeed, a pioneering work of its kind on Rajasthan in particular, and geographical studies in India at large. Deviating from the general trend of geographical reading with its focus on the physical landscape, Sunny tries to show how the processes of production and distribution of a region determine the social formations.

The book provides us a window to critically examine the various social challenges that retrograde and divide the people of Rajasthan. It argues that popular knowledge on geography is generally confined to “the encyclopedic form” and attempts to reinvent and reinterpret new perspectives on geography. By using social imagery to explain various modes of life of Rajasthani society, Sunny shows how geography becomes the site where human groups interact with nature to produce goods. It is the unequal nature of this interaction that has produced the social categories of class, caste and gender. She has captured local cultural perspectives through the references to oral traditions, ancient texts, folklores, plays, folksongs and food culture of Rajasthan. How the Rajasthanis as a community viewed their own geography and their responses to the changing spatial relationships have also been explained. The book constitutes a relentless interrogation into how the social geography of Rajasthani society has been governed by the caste system and how it is this very system that has denied the underprivileged class/caste like Dalits free access to public spaces.

How you dislike Geography and History throughout school. This is only to figure later they are perhaps the most important and relevant subjects for the rest of your life.

Globalized fruit, local entrepreneurs: How one banana exporting country achieved worldwide reach

October 14, 2016

An interesting book review on history and growth of Ecuador banana industry.

Role of geography was  just crucial:

Ecuador’s many assets for having a successful industry are also identified. It has optimal soils for growing the fruit, an appropriate and relatively storm-free climate (bananas are easily damaged by strong winds), and an ample labor force already living in the lowland regions that would become the country’s banana zones. In addition, it had just experienced the failure of its prior primary export crop, cacao, adding some urgency to the interest in switching to bananas on the part of many farmers.

Another unique dimension of the Ecuadorean industry is its relatively late beginning. The country’s location on the west coast of South America had been the biggest deterrent to the successful export of the fruit prior to 1914 when the Panama Canal opened. While Colombia and Central American exporters all had Caribbean coasts through which their exports could pass, Ecuador’s trading links to Europe and most of North America involved an arduous voyage around the southern tip of the continent. The canal alleviated that necessity and, while adding on the expense of the canal toll, it allowed Ecuadorean bananas to be competitive in foreign markets. The country first attempted to develop a banana export industry in the 1930s but the Great Depression and the ensuing world war caused major reductions in global demand for the fruit. Instead, the industry got its real start in the late 1940s and took off during the first half of the following decade when Ecuador became the world’s leading exporter of the fruit, a position it continues to occupy. The late start actually worked to its benefit as it was able to learn from the problems confronted by its competitors in the region to its north. That helped both its entrepreneurs and its government make better choices, while also taking advantage of the U.S. Consent Decree of 1958, an anti-monopoly measure that required United Fruit to divest many of its landholdings in Latin America.


Foremost among Ecuador’s distinctive characteristics is the prior existence of an important port city, Guayaquil (now the country’s largest city). Guayaquil has played a significant role from the colonial period on and, in the process, fostered the development of entrepreneurial skills of many of its residents. These were largely in place by the time bananas became a major export commodity for the country in the 1950s. The city spawned several entrepreneurs who would be instrumental in the development of the banana industry. The most notable among these was Luis Noboa. His story, recounted at length throughout the book, was a classic rags-to-riches tale of a driven man who became Ecuador’s wealthiest man and whose firm ultimately became its largest banana trading company (and the fourth largest in the world).

Fascinating to know all this…

Agriculture linked to trade is as old and as modern as it can get..

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