What We Are Reading Today: The Privatized State by Chiara Cordelli

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Updated 26 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Privatized State by Chiara Cordelli

Many governmental functions today—from the management of prisons and welfare offices to warfare and financial regulation—are outsourced to private entities. Education and health care are funded in part through private philanthropy rather than taxation. Can a privatized government rule legitimately? The Privatized State argues that it cannot.

In this boldly provocative book, Chiara Cordelli argues that privatization constitutes a regression to a precivil condition—what philosophers centuries ago called “a state of nature.” Developing a compelling case for the democratic state and its administrative apparatus, she shows how privatization reproduces the very same defects that Enlightenment thinkers attributed to the precivil condition, and which only properly constituted political institutions can overcome—defects such as provisional justice, undue dependence, and unfreedom. 

Cordelli advocates for constitutional limits on privatization and a more democratic system of public administration, and lays out the central responsibilities of private actors in contexts where governance is already extensively privatized. 

Charting a way forward, she presents a new conceptual account of political representation and novel philosophical theories of democratic authority and legitimate lawmaking.

The Privatized State shows how privatization undermines the very reason political institutions exist in the first place, and advocates for a new way of administering public affairs that is more democratic and just.


What We Are Reading Today: Scientific Parallel Computing

Updated 28 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Scientific Parallel Computing

Edited by Larkin Ridgway Scott, Terry Clark, And Babak Bagheri

What does Google’s management of billions of Web pages have in common with analysis of a genome with billions of nucleotides? Both apply methods that coordinate many processors to accomplish a single task.

From mining genomes to the World Wide Web, from modeling financial markets to global weather patterns, parallel computing enables computations that would otherwise be impractical if not impossible with sequential approaches alone.

Scientific Parallel Computing is the first textbook to integrate all the fundamentals of parallel computing in a single volume while also providing a basis for a deeper understanding of the subject.


What We Are Reading Today: Microfinance and Its Discontents by Lamia Karim

Updated 26 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Microfinance and Its Discontents by Lamia Karim

In 2006, the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace Prize for its innovative microfinancing operations.

This path-breaking study of gender, grassroots globalization, and neoliberalism in Bangladesh look critically at the Grameen Bank and three of the leading NGOs in the country.

Amid euphoria over the benefits of microfinance, Lamia Karim offers a timely and sobering perspective on the practical, and possibly detrimental, realities for poor women inducted into microfinance operations.

In a series of ethnographic cases, Karim shows how NGOs use social codes of honor and shame to shape the conduct of women and to further an agenda of capitalist expansion, according to a review on goodreads.com

These unwritten policies subordinate poor women to multiple levels of debt that often lead to increased violence at the household and community levels, thereby weakening women’s ability to resist the onslaught of market forces.

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What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

Updated 12 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

This was a beautifully written book that everyone should have on their shelf.

This book invites thought, compassion, reflection, and consideration, both for one’s own life and the lives of those around us.

In this profound and personal book, Kieran Setiya shows how philosophy can help us find our way.

Setiya skillfully gives readers the information and context they need as he goes so they do not have to have a background in philosophy to understand and enjoy this book.

The way he ties it all together is poetry and his humor adds levity to some deceptively deep and heavy topics. He shares his own experience with chronic pain and the consolation that comes from making sense of it.

Drawing on ancient and modern philosophy, as well as fiction, comedy, social science and personal essay, Life is Hard is a book for this moment — a work of solace and compassion.

“This book makes no attempt to sugar coat life,” said a review on Goodreads.com.

“Once we accept the fact that we and others will always have troubles life will become more bearable and enjoyable.”

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What We Are Reading Today: The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U

Updated 30 October 2022

What We Are Reading Today: The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U

For nearly two decades Western governments and a growing activist community have been frustrated in their attempts to bring about a freer and more democratic Burma only to see an apparent slide toward even harsher dictatorship. What do we really know about Burma and its history?

In “The River of Lost Footsteps,” Thant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history, in an interwoven narrative that is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and appalling, according to a review on goodreads.com.

The book is a work both personal and global, a distinctive contribution that makes Burma accessible and enthralling. Thant Myint-U, educated at Harvard and Cambridge, has served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia and in the former Yugoslavia, and was more recently the head of policy planning in the UN’s Department of Political Affairs. He lives in New York City.


What We Are Reading Today: On Every Tide by Sean Connolly

Updated 29 October 2022

What We Are Reading Today: On Every Tide by Sean Connolly

In On Every Tide, Sean Connolly tells the epic story of Irish migration, showing how emigrants became a force in world politics and religion.

Starting in the 18th century, the Irish fled limited opportunity at home and fanned out across America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

These emigrants helped settle new frontiers, industrialize the West, and spread Catholicism globally.

As the Irish built vibrant communities abroad, they leveraged their newfound power — sometimes becoming oppressors themselves.

Deeply researched and vividly told, On Every Tide is essential reading for understanding how the people of Ireland shaped the world.

Connolly’s writing is lively and light enough on its feet not to get bogged down in the statistics he deploys so effectively, Fiintan O’Toole said in a review for the New York Times.

Connolly has a healthy allergy to sentimental and heroic myth-making, remaining clear-eyed about the capacity of the Irish to inflict on others the oppression and belittlement they themselves suffered at home and abroad.