Book Bits | 17 February 2018

The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets
Summary via publisher (W. W. Norton)
By Jason Hickel
Global inequality doesn’t just exist; it has been created. More than four billion people—some 60 percent of humanity—live in debilitating poverty, on less than $5 per day. The standard narrative tells us this crisis is a natural phenomenon, having to do with things like climate and geography and culture. It tells us that all we have to do is give a bit of aid here and there to help poor countries up the development ladder. It insists that if poor countries would only adopt the right institutions and economic policies, they could overcome their disadvantages and join the ranks of the rich world. Anthropologist Jason Hickel argues that this story ignores the broader political forces at play.

Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World
By Melissa A. Schilling
Summary via publisher (PublicAffairs)
What really distinguishes the people who literally change the world–those creative geniuses who give us one breakthrough after another? What differentiates Marie Curie or Elon Musk from the merely creative, the many one-hit wonders among us? Melissa Schilling, one of the world’s leading experts on innovation, invites us into the lives of eight people–Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Elon Musk, Dean Kamen, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs–to identify the traits and experiences that drove them to make spectacular breakthroughs, over and over again.

How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story
By Billy Gallagher
Review via The Washington Post
Two major milestone achievements exist for any successful Internet company: Your name becomes a verb (go ahead and Google that), and some prominent journalist deigns to set your story down in a book.
Snap (the company formerly known as Snapchat) can now lay claim to both. Former TechCrunch writer Billy Gallagher’s sweeping book “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story” traces the saga of the multibillion-dollar company whose product nobody older than millennial age seemingly understands or uses (myself included).

Crisis of Responsibility:
Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It

By David L. Bahnsen
Summary via publisher (Post Hill Press)
Across the globe a “revolt” of sorts is taking place against elitism. No more will big government, big media, big banks, big bureaucracy, and big institutions hold the secret nuggets of truth and dictate our lives and fortunes. Financial markets, political punditry, and cultural leaders are all scrambling to react to the rise of the often disenfranchised. But what happens after all the bogeymen have been vanquished? What if opposing the incompetence of the European Union, the biases of the American media, the corruption of crony capitalism, the arrogance of political power brokers, and allegedly unfair global trade deals is not enough?

Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture)
By Patrick Deneen
Review via The University Bookman
Why Liberalism Failed is a timely and radical book. It is timely because it diagnoses the deep anxiety that now characterizes American life. It is radical—in the literal sense—because it seeks the cause in basic features of our political tradition. According to Deneen, liberalism has failed “not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself.” By pursuing freedom as the highest value of political and social life, liberalism made real freedom impossible.

Our Damaged Democracy: We the People Must Act
By Joseph A. Califano Jr.
Review via Kirkus Review
“I’ve never been so concerned about the destiny of our democracy,” writes Califano Jr. (The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years, 2015, etc.), who has served in a wide variety of roles in the federal government. In simple, clear language, he sets out a catalog of readily recognizable woes that he contends have caused all three branches of government to lose their constitutional bearings and their capacity to provide coherent and unifying leadership. Among these are a relentless concentration of power in the presidency and an abandonment of responsibility by a “crippled and cowardly” Congress; the politicization of the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court; the extent to which fundraising has usurped the energy of legislators; a loss of independence in the states; and a take-no-prisoners partisanship that has made cooperation and compromise all but impossible. Califano is doggedly bipartisan in his criticism, leaving no doubt that there is ample blame to go around for what are ultimately systemic faults that have been building for half a century.