1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline

A smart book told pretty well. The interconnection between the late bronze age empires was interesting–there’s evidence that the world was quite interconnected. Unfortunately, there were a lot of threats in the black space beyond their boundaries… but even that is questionable.

A major focus of this book is rewriting the conventional narrative of a wave of barbarians overrunning these empires. While there’s evidence of new cultures moving into areas where others had been, few of the excavations have revealed a time of war, with arrowheads embedded in walls and the like.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the world was becoming more cosmopolitan at the elite level; Egypt was hiring Minoans to paint their tombs, grain and gold flowed between the related empires.

The book is somewhat oddly structured, due to its anchor points in archaeology. Rather than a chronological or empire specific history, we instead thread forward then shift and restart. It left me with less of a clear view of the “start point” of 1750 b.c.; was it isolated cities rebuilding themselves into empires?

Anyway, it’s very accessible and has parallels to even the world today. The open questions at the end (figuring out what caused everything) are still quite open–in a lot of ways, the answer appears to be “a lot of small things” rather than a barbarian horde. I finished the book with a very different view of the cultural interactions between the ancient empires — there was a lot of peaceful trade and stable borders for 200+ years. It also left we with an idea of just how much more there is to figure out about that collapse.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

This book is about Oak Ridge, a government city created from bare Tennessee clay, where much of the Uranium for the atomic bombs was enriched. The book shoots for an everyday worker’s point of view, which is tricky given how secret the project was–most people had no idea what their job was doing, much less what the process overall was supposed to accomplish.

It’s a good story, well told. The chapters alternate between “the girls”–a set of six or so women in various roles and their efforts, and a “big picture” chapter where some aspect of the overall Manhattan Project is laid out in more detail.

It doesn’t have the narrative hooks of a story, particularly since it’s a three year slice of their lives and the only “endings” were marriages for some of the workers. In the end, it’s a good book, well written, about the back end of a crazy complex and sprawling project.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

This book is about Oak Ridge, a government city created from bare Tennessee clay, where much of the Uranium for the atomic bombs was enriched. The book shoots for an everyday worker’s point of view, which is tricky given how secret the project was–most people had no idea what their job was doing, much less what the process overall was supposed to accomplish.

It’s a good story, well told. The chapters alternate between “the girls”–a set of six or so women in various roles and their efforts, and a “big picture” chapter where some aspect of the overall Manhattan Project is laid out in more detail.

It doesn’t have the narrative hooks of a story, particularly since it’s a three year slice of their lives and the only “endings” were marriages for some of the workers. In the end, it’s a good book, well written, about the back end of a crazy complex and sprawling project.

The Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox

An interesting look at the evolution of several approaches to the market, economics equations, and schools of thought designed to address economics mysteries. The careful tracing of specific professors and their students makes for quite a complex geneology of ideas– but it’s fascinating to see the players of today, the schools and clumps of association that led to development of theories.

The easy takeaways are that markets may not be rational– but in the ways that are bad for an individual investor, you might as well assume they are. People don’t leave money on the table if they can help it– so if you spy an opportunity, it’s always best to try to figure out what you’re overlooking. The increasing influence of behavioral economics seems “fringy” to the mainstream– really, they mostly seem to be providing formulas and quantification that match the pre-1940s economist’s caveats, just expressed in math instead of disclaimers.

I like the idea of behavioral economics research– testing where the limits of human rationality and patience are and figuring out which systematic biases we have. It seems like a fruitful line of investigation, and a good corrective to the all seeing market… at least for now.