Summer Reading List
I must confess that this summer's heavy travel
schedule has thus far precluded my emptying my "book box"
of its weighty morsels from Amazon.com by spending a week
or two turning pages and trying to enlighten myself.
Hope springs eternal, and so I continue to fantasize
that I will indeed be entertained with the likes of Tom
Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, a novel about life
on college campuses today; Richard Haass' The
Opportunity, presenting a recipe for optimizing the
United States' foreign policy; along with others, e.g.,
Rise of the Vulcans (about neo-conservatives),
Nuclear Terrorism (and how we can prevent it) and
Small Pieces Loosely Joined (about the World Wide
The one — and only — great advantage of
international jet transportation is that the movie showings
run out before the plane lands, forcing passengers like me
to pull out a book or two and get a jump on the summer
A couple of months ago, coming back from Europe, I
sped through Tom Friedman's The World is Flat,
certainly a book that should be on everyone's reading list.
But by now, nearly every meeting I attend finds several
speakers quoting passages from the book, so anything I
might say about this insightful analysis of globalism has
already been said many times over. For sure, run out and
buy a copy if you are one of the few who have escaped
From my partial listing of summer books, you might
have wrongly surmised that my taste runs to the serious and
somber side. Actually, I especially like to read books
written by authors who don't take themselves too seriously,
and a little humor included is a great plus, in my mind. I
particularly like books that are written by contrarians
— those oddballs who often have a more insightful
view of the world than the "experts." Last summer,
Moneyball was such a treatise, a book by Michael
Lewis that showed how one baseball general manager debunked
the myths perpetrated by the experts in major league
baseball and produced the ultimate sports oxymoron: a
low-payroll, winning team.
So, on a flight back from Singapore, I opened my
briefcase and pulled out a playfully serious book,
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side
of Everything, written by a contrarian economist from
the University of Chicago, Steven Levitt, and his
journalist co-author, Stephen Dubner. Levitt has been
recognized as one of the stellar young academics in the
field of economics, and has used common sense, wit and the
dogged pursuit of truth to debunk commonly held myths and
to produce startling insights into common problems. If you
want to know why most drug dealers live with their mothers,
about cheating by Chicago high school teachers to improve
their students' test scores or what makes a perfect parent,
get a copy of the book, and you won't be disappointed.
Perhaps the most controversial idea emanating from
Professor Levitt's scholarly works was a paper in which he
asserted that the dramatic drop in violent crime that
occurred between 1990 and 2000 was not due to more
effective policing, stricter gun laws or even increased
numbers of police but was rather a direct result of Roe v.
Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. I
won't spoil the book by giving you Levitt's analysis and
explanation, but I hope that this will tempt you into
getting your hands on a copy of the book, pronto.
The one major drawback of Freakonomics (from my
perspective) is simply this: it is too short to last more
than a small portion of the time required to fly from
Singapore to San Francisco. I finished the book wishing
there were many more chapters to come. Perhaps the authors
will write a second volume, but, for the meantime, I will
have to content myself by rereading the book, which I
certainly plan to do.
Like commencement speeches, there are not many books
that I find myself wishing were longer.
William R. Brody is president
of The Johns Hopkins University.