What We Are Reading: Slow Burn by Robert Jisung Park

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Updated 19 June 2024
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What We Are Reading: Slow Burn by Robert Jisung Park

It’s hard not to feel anxious about the problem of climate change, especially if we think of it as an impending planetary catastrophe.

In “Slow Burn,” R. Jisung Park encourages us to view climate change through a different lens: one that focuses less on the possibility of mass climate extinction in a theoretical future, and more on the everyday implications of climate change here and now. 

Park shows how climate change headlines often miss some of the most important costs. 


What We Are Reading Today: Capitalism in the Colonies: African Merchants in Lagos, 1851–1931

Updated 19 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: Capitalism in the Colonies: African Merchants in Lagos, 1851–1931

Author: A. G. Hopkins

In Capitalism in the Colonies, A. G. Hopkins provides the first substantial assessment of the fortunes of African entrepreneurs under colonial rule. Examining the lives and careers of 100 merchants in Lagos, Nigeria, between 1850 and 1931, Hopkins challenges conventional views of the contribution made by indigenous entrepreneurs to the long-run economic development of Nigeria. He argues that African merchants in Lagos not only survived, but were also responsible for key innovations in trade, construction, farming, and finance that are essential for understanding the development of Nigeria’s economy.
The book is based on a large, representative sample and covers a time span that traces mercantile fortunes over two and three generations.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, Hopkins shows that indigenous entrepreneurs were far more adventurous than expatriate firms. African merchants in Lagos pioneered motor vehicles, sewing machines, publishing, tanneries, and new types of internal trade.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Raised to Obey’ by Augustina Paglayan

Updated 18 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Raised to Obey’ by Augustina Paglayan

Nearly every country today has universal primary education. But why did governments in the West decide to provide education to all children in the first place? The introduction of broadly accessible primary education was not mainly a response to industrialization, or fueled by democratic ideals, or even aimed at eradicating illiteracy or improving skills. It was motivated instead by elites’ fear of the masses—and the desire to turn the “savage,” “unruly,” and “morally flawed” children of the lower classes into well-behaved future citizens who would obey the state and its laws.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’

Updated 17 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘The Dove’s Necklace’

“The Dove's Necklace,” which is written by Saudi novelist Raja Alem and translated by Katharine Halls and Adam Talib, is a captivating and multilayered novel that transports readers to the vibrant city of Makkah.

Alem masterfully weaves together the stories of several intersecting characters, creating a rich tapestry that explores themes of identity, spirituality, and the complexities of human relationships. 

At the heart of the narrative is Jumana, a young woman whose life is irrevocably altered by the discovery of an ancient necklace. It becomes the catalyst for Jumana’s journey of self-discovery as she navigates the intense social and religious expectations of her community. 

Alem explores her characters’ inner lives in her lyrical and incredibly sensitive language. A significant layer of cultural and historical depth is added to the story by the author’s examination of Makkah as a separate character, as well as Jumana’s poignant struggle to balance her personal aspirations with the demands of her faith.

What struck me most about this novel was the author’s ability to weave together the diverse tapestry of Makkah’s inhabitants. As I followed the intersecting narratives of characters like the enigmatic Basima, the troubled artist Khalid, and the enigmatic Grandfather, I was repeatedly challenged to examine my own preconceptions and biases.

Alem’s nuanced portrayal of this community, with all its complexities and contradictions, felt like a revelation. 

“The Dove’s Necklace” is not merely a work of fiction but a bold exploration of the complexities of faith, tradition, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. Alem’s skillful use of symbolism and metaphor, particularly in her treatment of the necklace itself, adds a layer of depth and complexity to the narrative. 

Despite the novel’s weighty themes, Alem’s storytelling is never heavy-handed or didactic. She allows the reader to engage with the characters and their experiences on a deeply personal level, inviting them to consider the universal questions of identity, belonging, and the quest for spiritual fulfillment. 

A fantastic piece of literature that cuts beyond genre and cultural borders, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the diverse canon of Middle Eastern literature.


What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’

Updated 17 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: ‘Financial Economics of Insurance’

Authors: Ralph S.J. Koijen and Motohiro Yogo

“Financial Economics of Insurance” provides a unified framework to study the impact of financial and regulatory frictions as well as imperfect competition on all insurer decisions.

The book covers all facets of the modern insurance sector, guiding readers through its complexities with empirical facts, institutional details, and quantitative modeling.


What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup

Updated 16 July 2024
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What We Are Reading Today: The Tech Coup

Author: Marietje Schaake

Over the past decades, under the cover of “innovation,” technology companies have successfully resisted regulation and have even begun to seize power from governments themselves. Facial recognition firms track citizens for police surveillance. Cryptocurrency has wiped out the personal savings of millions and threatens the stability of the global financial system. 

In “The Tech Coup,” Marietje Schaake offers a behind-the-scenes account of how technology companies crept into nearly every corner of our lives and our governments.