What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

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Updated 02 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Porcelain by Suzanne L. Marchand

Porcelain was invented in medieval China—but its secret recipe was first reproduced in Europe by an alchemist in the employ of the Saxon king Augustus the Strong. Saxony’s revered Meissen factory could not keep porcelain’s ingredients secret for long, however, and scores of Holy Roman princes quickly founded their own mercantile manufactories, soon to be rivaled by private entrepreneurs, eager to make not art but profits. As porcelain’s uses multiplied and its price plummeted, it lost much of its identity as aristocratic ornament, instead taking on a vast number of banal, yet even more culturally significant, roles. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it became essential to bourgeois dining, and also acquired new functions in insulator tubes, shell casings, and teeth.

Weaving together the experiences of entrepreneurs and artisans, state bureaucrats and female consumers, chemists and peddlers, Porcelain traces the remarkable story of “white gold” from its origins as a princely luxury item to its fate in Germany’s cataclysmic 20th century. For 300 years, porcelain firms have come and gone, but the industry itself, at least until very recently, has endured. After Augustus, porcelain became a quintessentially German commodity, integral to provincial pride, artisanal industrial production, and a familial sense of home.

Telling the story of porcelain’s transformation from coveted luxury to household necessity and flea market staple, Porcelain offers a fascinating alternative history of art, business, taste, and consumption in Central Europe.


What We Are Reading Today: Urban Economics and Fiscal Policy by Holfer Sieg

Updated 06 August 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Urban Economics and Fiscal Policy by Holfer Sieg

With more than half of today’s global GDP being produced by approximately 400 metropolitan centers, learning about the economics of cities is vital to understanding economic prosperity. 

This textbook introduces graduate and upper-division undergraduate students to the field of urban economics and fiscal policy, relying on a modern approach that integrates theoretical and empirical analysis. Based on material that Holger Sieg has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Urban Economics and Fiscal Policy brings the most recent insights from the field into the classroom.

Divided into short chapters, the book explores fiscal policies that directly shape economic issues in cities, such as city taxes, the provision of quality education, access to affordable housing, and protection from crime and natural hazards. 

For each issue, Sieg offers questions, facts, and background; illuminates how economic theory helps students engage with topics; and presents empirical data that shows how economic ideas play out in daily life. 

Throughout, the book pushes readers to think critically and immediately put what they are learning to use by applying cutting-edge theory to data.

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