Sam Seitz

With spring break next week, I decided that it was time to review the books I have read over the past two months. Between school reading and pleasure reading, I have been able to enjoy some fantastic reads, and they are all reviewed below. All of these books were interesting and well-written, so if you are looking for something to read this spring, I definitely recommend checking out some of these books!

The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe (by Joseph Stiglitz): Given Europe’s current economic malaise, Stiglitz’s book is incredibly timely. It presents a compelling and detailed explanation of both the structural flaws within the Eurozone – the lack of a banking union and the tendency of the monetary union to create divergent economies among the member states – as well as the misguided and counterproductive policy choices implemented by the European Troika. Stiglitz convincingly argues that the Eurozone is a half-baked institution that is actively worse than both total European economic integration and completely independent national economies. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book comes at the end, where Stiglitz discusses a range of possible solutions to the current crisis. Regardless of one’s economic views, this book provides a comprehensive and thought-provoking look at Europe’s current economic woes. As one reviewer put it, Stiglitz’s work is “demand-side economics at its best,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (by Gregor von Rezzori): I found this book to be an interesting read, as it is an embellished autobiographical tale that recounts the author’s experiences in interwar Romania. The book is broken up into five distinct and seemingly unrelated chapters that are chock-full of humorous anecdotes and captivating stories. The central theme of the book seems to be the author’s complicated interaction with the Jewish community of Eastern Europe. While he dislikes the Jews, von Rezzori can never seem to escape them, and this leads to a number of fascinating interactions that reveal the perniciousness and complexity of the anti-Semitism that existed throughout Eastern Europe in the 20s and 30s. More broadly, von Rezzori discusses the increasingly complex ethnic interactions that came to dominate the region after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As an Austrian German living in Romania, von Rezzori has two contradictory identities: He is both a minority as well as a member of the former ruling class. As the book comes to a close, one has a better sense of the complex racial issues that contributed to the instability and racial animus that ultimately contributed to Nazism and the Second World War.

Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (by Jan T. Gross): I don’t know why I didn’t read this book earlier. It is incredibly famous and controversial (especially in Poland), and it is a morbidly captivating read. In Neighbors, Gross examines the case of the Jedwabne Massacre, an event in which the Jewish community of Jedwabne, a small town in eastern Poland, was slaughtered by their fellow Poles. While this event occurred during the German occupation of Poland, the atrocity was committed, at least according to Gross, exclusively by Poles. In other words, the Poles were both victims and victimizers, and this fact adds a degree of nuance often lacking in accounts of the war. Gross also does a fantastic job of addressing the impact of the double occupation of Eastern Poland and the ways in which it was exploited by both the Nazis and the Soviets. While short, this book is gripping and provocative, and it should be read by anyone with an interest in WWII, Poland, or anti-Semitism.

Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (by Margaret MacMillan): MacMillan literally wrote the book on the Paris Peace Conference with Paris 1919. Her analysis is wide-ranging and informative, and she provides an excellent summary of the war’s effects on countries throughout the world. Much of the contemporary commentary on WWI seems to focus exclusively on the question of reparations and their impact on German militarism under Hitler. As MacMillan demonstrates in Paris 1919, this is an enormous mistake, as it ignores the significant ways in which the peace conference affected regions ranging from Eastern Europe to East Asia. With the captivating and masterful prose that defines her work, MacMillan provides a thorough and engaging look at the Versaille negotiations. She describes the complicated relations between the Big Four (Lloyd George, Wilson, Orlando, and Clemenceau), the internecine disputes among the members of the British Dominion during the negotiations, and the ways in which the Paris Peace Conference impacted the lives of people living in just about every region of the world. Anyone interested in European history and the World Wars will enjoy this book.

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (by Mark Blyth): As I have mentioned in other posts, I’m a huge fan of Mark Blyth. His witty and insightful commentary is always interesting, and this book is no different. In Austerity, Blyth demolishes the ridiculous claim that a country can cut its way to growth during an economic downturn. Blyth provides more than a simple critique of conservative economics, though. He traces the development of austerity from the early enlightenment philosophers all the way to the modern economic schools that champion “expansionary fiscal consolidation.” He then reviews the experiences of countries in both the Great Depression and Great Recession as economic case studies, and he debunks the supposed success stories of Ireland and the Baltic states. I particularly appreciated Blyth’s fair treatment of the arguments pushed by pro-austerity economists. Despite being unequivocally opposed to austerity, Blyth is a fair arbiter who provides reasoned criticism. While Austerity is short and concise, its message is clear and well-argued. I can’t recommend it enough.