Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The Best Economics Books of 2022 recommended by Jason Furman

December 14, 2022

The time of the year where people give lists for 2022 and for 2023.

Jason Furman, a Harvard economics professor and former adviser to Barack Obama, picks out five of the best economics books of 2022 and book topics he will like to see in 2023.

five books for 2022

  • The Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality by Oded Galor
  • Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Centuryby Brad DeLong
  • Streets of Gold: America’s Untold Story of Immigrant Succes by Leah Boustan & Ran Abramitzky
  • Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It by Richard V Reeves
  • Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller

on 2023:

Humans are always the most important driver of economic growth, and they were an important part of the story in every one of the five books that I recommended. There is almost no limit to the study that can be done to try to understand the human aspects of economic growth.

In 2023, the spotlight will grow on the levelling-off and potential reduction of globalization that we’re going through. This will be a big issue going forward. Fifteen years ago, there was a whole raft of books about globalization. We might start to want to read or research and write about de-globalization, as we might be in the beginning of that process.

And finally, the rehabilitation of industrial policy is an area of increasing importance. ‘Industrial policy’ used to be an insult levied against ill-conceived government plans; now, governments around the world are increasingly comfortable getting directly involved in industry. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is one of the many things worth reading about in 2023.

Industrial policy…hmmm


Headlines from the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere

May 5, 2022

I came across this gem of a book titled – Headlines from the Heartland: Reinventing the Hindi Public Sphere. The book is written by eminent journalist Sevanti Ninan

The book takes one through evolution of Hindi newspapers in the Hindi Heartland and how they shaped the public sphere .

In the 1990s a newspaper revolution began blowing across northern and central India. In these Hindi-speaking states, when literacy levels rose, communications expanded, and purchasing power climbed, Hindi newspapers followed-picking up readers in small towns and villages. Even while these newspapers surged to the top of national readership charts, they localised furiously in the race for readers. But in this universe of local news, questions arose about what localisation was doing to regional identity and consciousness.

Using notes from her pioneering field-study in eight states, Sevanti Ninan brings alive India’s ongoing rural newspaper revolution, and its impact on politics, administration and society. Set against the socio-economic and political changes in the countryside, it is a remarkable story of how journalism flowered in unexpected and unorthodox ways, and colourful media marketing unfurled in the Hindi heartland.

The book is highly interdisciplinary. One sees a mix of microeconomics, marketing, entrepreneurship, journalism, society and so on in the book.

The book was published by Sage Publications and is highly overpriced as of now. The publishing group could reconsider reprinting the book. Editor Ninan could also consider releasing an update of the book. Hindi heartland is again rising and becoming dominant in political sphere. Thus, it is really important to read and understand the Hindi media which has played and will play a major role in the public sphere and politics.

The Custodian of Trust: A Banker’s Memoir

May 4, 2022

I just finished reading former SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar’s memoir –  The Custodian of Trust: A Banker’s Memoir. The memoir has been in the reading queue ever since its launch in Oct-2021. I only got to read it now.

The memoir reads like a breeze almost like a novel. The memoir’s format is also different. Typically, any such memoir starts with the personal journey, followed by joining the organisation and then the top. Kumar mixes things and divided the book in three parts.

  • Part I of the the book he discusses some key banking issues like Jet Airways & NPA problems. Kumar is quite frank and honest on some of the issues facing the banking sector. This will be a surprise as most would think as a SBI chair one would be diplomatic and not say much.
  • Part II lists key contributions as SBI chairman focusing on developing SBI YONO and several Human Resource initiatives.  This  chapter is an amazing lesson on how one can drive several measures to motivate employees. It is also a lesson on how to shake the SBI elephant and nit just make it embrace technology but a leader in the space.
  • Part III chronicles Kumar’s SBI journey from a probationary officer to the chairman’s position. It has some interesting anecdotes on initial struggles of a probationary officer based in rural Uttar Pradesh and the rise to the top.

Overall a nice memoir to understand functioning of the largest Indian bank and what it takes to rise to the top of the banking ladder.


Freedom For Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty

April 20, 2022

John Kampfner, Editor of the New Statesman magazine from 2005-2008, wrote a book in 2010 titled:  Freedom For Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty. Other editions also titled differently as: Freedom for Sale: Why the World Is Trading Democracy for Security.

I just came across the book and it makes for a riveting read. Book abstract:

Democratic liberalism v. authoritarianism — the ideological divide that defined the twentieth century. But when the cold war ended, “the end of history”; was proclaimed. Soon the fire of freedom would burn worldwide, the experts said. And where markets were freed, human rights would inevitably follow.

Or not. In the last twenty years, nations including India, Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates have disproved the idea that capitalism and democracy are inextricably linked. Emerging middle classes have proven themselves all too willing to sacrifice certain democratic rights — including free speech, an open media, and free elections — in exchange for prosperity. But they are not alone. We are all doing it. Alarmingly, Western democracy has adopted some of the attributes of that authoritarianism.

Combining boots on the ground reporting with incisive analysis, award-winning journalist John Kampfner describes this alarming trend — one which has only been exacerbated by the global economic meltdown — and what citizens must do to counter it.

Despite being written more than a decade ago, the book remains relevant to understand today’s times and how we got where we are today..

Thomas Bata on Sri Lanka from 1940s to 1980s

April 4, 2022

I had earlier reviewed a fascinating book on history of Bata shoes, written by Thomas Bata, son of the founder of Bata company.

In the book he writes on Sri Lanka:

At that time, the only oasis of peace in the area was Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was called before decolonization. When I first went there in the late 1940s, it was a Shangri- la full of smiling people, ambling elephants and king coconuts with delicious milk to quench one’s thirst. Almost in defiance of the horrors that were raging all around it, Ceylon was an island of tranquility and racial tolerance. Forty years later the Indian subcontinent, along with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia all enjoy peace and varying degrees of prosperity, and our enterprises in these countries are among the strongest pillars of the Bata organization.

But in poor Sri Lanka, racial hatred has destroyed a model community and put an end, in most instances , to goodwill among people. I say in most instances because some of our employees have been nothing short of heroic in risking their lives to shelter their Tamil or Sinhalese co -workers. Unfortunately they couldn’t save them all.

None of us has a crystal ball to tell us what the future may bring, and entrepreneurs who aren’t willing to ride out occasional storms had better not venture beyond their home turf. But let us remember that, regardless of political upheaval and even bloodshed, people still have to earn a living. Even while Western news media were inundating us with pictures of massacres and civil war, ordinary citizens in Bangladesh, Malaysia and more recently Sri Lanka continued to go to work and collect their wages.

So nicely said. It is so sad how SL has moved an island of tranquility to civil war and now an economic crisis. The last lines (empasis is mine) rings true each time leaders push war on people…

Germany 1871: Nation building and the transition to modern economic growth

October 5, 2021

2021 marks yet another anniversary. January of 2021 marked the 150th anniversary of the first unified state in modern German history. reviews a new book that reflects on this landmark anniversary:

January of 2021 marked the 150th anniversary of the first unified state in modern German history. For political and diplomatic historians the 1871 Empire (Reich) has long served as a milestone. For economic historians 1871 has held less significance. Some major institutions of German economic integration preceded the Reich. The Customs Union (Zollverein), which included nearly all of the states that later formed the Reich, dates to 1834. Most German states had adopted a common business code in 1861. Other institutions important to economic integration came long after 1871; for example, Germany lacked a common (civil) law code until 1900.


The collection under review here treats 1871 in two ways. Most contributors stress longer continuities rooted in pre-1871 history as well as the slow process by which the Reich advanced new forms of economic integration. Others push the significance of 1871 a bit harder, stressing that the Reich adopted some policies that would have been hard to imagine without it. The thoughtful editors’ introduction lays out four channels that could link the Reich to improved economic performance. The first is national identity; the nation-building that followed 1871 could awaken in Germans a “buy German” sentiment that would have meant less to someone who thought of herself as a Hessian or Saxon. Market integration, a second channel, features today in many studies in economic history, economic geography, and related fields. A third channel presumes that under the Reich, the state and federal governments developed new capacities to deliver services that might promote growth. The final channel runs through better economic institutions, including compulsory social insurance and better patent law.

The collection has nineteen chapters plus the editors’ introduction. The twenty-seven authors represent most of the active economic historians of Germany today, while the comparative chapters bring in leading scholars of other countries. The authors are major authorities in their own areas but do a good job of summarizing other views and pointing the reader to a range of literature. There is little technical material that would challenge interested readers from other disciplines. The collection has a “handbook” feel, albeit a handbook that is unusually comprehensive and scholarly.


Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE

September 28, 2021

I just finished reading this memoir of Nike’s creator – Phil Knight. While one has picked up some info about Nike in business quizzes, this memoir is one of its kind.

It is wonderfully written in a highly breezy style. Usually memoirs which mix founder’s personal journey along with history of business gives you a tale of bravado and adventure. The one by Knight is lot about self-doubt and adventure.

Andre Agassi sums the memoir well: …”this is a memoir for people who love sport but above all it is a memoir for people who love memoirs.”

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:


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