False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World

It may make you feel better to read Financial Times journalist Alan Beattie describing how nothing in economic history is inevitable or permanent. Though he spends little time dwelling on our current economic woes, Beattie chronicles where successful economies diverged, how politics meddled in free markets, and when observers have drawn false conclusions. In a history peppered with witty British asides, Beattie succinctly illustrates the curse Steinbeck probed in The Pearl -- namely, that coveted natural resources are often more trouble than they're worth. Cases in point: Dutch tulip exporters were among the legions of workers who could no longer compete in the global economy once the discovery of oil reserves made their country's currency strong enough to price Dutch products out of the market; prostitution and drug addiction ensnare mining communities from Africa to Latin America; and to top it all off, corrupt leaders mismanage prized resources for their own immediate gain, rendering those resources a scourge to some previously diversified economies. After debunking the notion that Islam is anathema to wealth creation (as some pundits claimed after September 11, 2001, attempting to explain the appeal of terrorism), Beattie takes you to the local supermarket to unravel how anti-drug policies got us dependent on Peruvian asparagus. Peru benefited from a 1991 trade deal intended to incentivize farmers to grow crops other than coca for cocaine. Lower tariffs and financial assistance, rooted in a social reform agenda, are what made Peru into Asparagus Central, much to the dismay of U.S. farmers, who have found it hard to compete. In the end, you're left with the assertion that no superpower is destined to stay that way forever, unless of course, superlative decisions prevail. In other words: Godspeed, developed world.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.