Boeotia Was “an Early Model of Democratic Federalism”

(p. C12) Mr. Cartledge, a professor emeritus at Cambridge and author of popular history books such as “The Spartans,” “Thermopylae,” “Alexander the Great” and “Democracy: A Life,” has picked an opportune time to look afresh at Thebes and Boeotia. The modern city of Thebes, an uninspiring market town, would not normally attract tourists, but is home to a glittering new museum, among the most up-to-date in Greece, featuring exhibits of archaeological finds (many unique in type) and historical objects from prehistory to the present. (One exhibit is titled, provocatively, “The Intellectual Radiance of Boeotia.”) There is a book forthcoming, from scholar James Romm, about Thebes’s “Sacred Band,” its elite unit of soldiers, made up of pairs of devoted homosexual lovers. Thebes is in the spotlight.

. . .

The biography of the Theban leader Epaminondas (418 B.C.-362 B.C.) written by Plutarch is, unfortunately, lost. Even so, his reputation shines. Admired by figures from Cicero and Montaigne to Sir Walter Raleigh (who called him “the worthiest man that ever was bred by the nation of Greece”), Epaminondas seems to have had a philosophical bent as well as a brilliant military mind.

. . .

Perhaps his greatest act, . . ., even if it might have been intended more to inconvenience the Spartans than as a benevolent deed, was freeing the helots of Messenia, a people that had been enslaved by the Spartans for 300 years. He helped found a new capital city for the Arcadian federation (Megalopolis), and also for the ex-helots (Messene). Maybe Epaminondas was not only the Nelson of his age, but the Lincoln as well. He died in battle and was buried alongside his male beloved, Caphisodorus, with an epitaph that listed his children (daughters, being female) as the cities Messene and Megalopolis; it ended “Greece is free.”

Mr. Cartledge’s command of the historical material is effortless and exhaustive, and his appreciation of Thebes is persuasive. Between the radical but self-destructive democracy of Athens and Sparta’s totalitarian oligarchy (both imperialist), Thebes and Boeotia stand in the middle as an early model of democratic federalism—the “united states” of Boeotia, for instance, shared a currency. It was Thebes that dealt a critical blow to Spartan domination, and a Theban leader who freed a long-enslaved people. Alexander the Great himself adopted military tactics from Epaminondas. If Thebes’s period of hegemony was brief—barely a decade—it also changed the course of the ancient world.

For the full review, see:

A.E. Stallings. “Greece’s Mythic Heartland.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 12, 2020): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 11, 2020, and has the title “‘Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece’ Review: Mythic Roots.”)

The book under review is:

Cartledge, Paul. Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece. New York: Abrams Press, 2020.

Covid-19 May Make New York City “Cheaper, Messier, More Diverse”

(p. B1) Cities are remarkably resilient. They have risen from the ashes after being carpet-bombed and hit with nuclear weapons. “If you think about pandemics in the past,” noted the Princeton economist Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, “they didn’t destroy cities.”

. . .

So even as the Covid-19 death toll rises in the nation’s most dense urban cores, economists still mostly expect them to bounce back, once there is a vaccine, a treatment or a successful strategy to contain the virus’s spread. “I end up being optimistic,” said the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser. “Because the downside of a nonurban world is so terrible that we are going to spend whatever it takes to prevent that.”

. . .

(p. B5) Mr. Glaeser and colleagues from Harvard and the University of Illinois studied surveys tracking companies that allowed their employees to work from home at least part of the time since March. Over one-half of large businesses and over one-third of small ones didn’t detect any productivity loss. More than one in four reported a productivity increase.

Moreover, the researchers found that about four in 10 companies expect that 40 percent of their employees who switched to remote work during the pandemic will keep doing so after the crisis, at least in part. That’s 16 percent of the work force. Most of these workers are among the more highly educated and well paid.

. . .

“Everybody agrees on what are the key forces,” said Gilles Duranton, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “The question is which will play out, and where are the tipping points?” One of the big remaining questions is whether remote work will prove sustainable. The productivity increases captured in the surveys examined by Mr. Glaeser’s team might prove fleeting.

. . .

Consider life in a reconfigured New York City. Rents are lower, after the departure of many of its bankers and lawyers. There are fewer fancy restaurants, but probably still many cheaper ones. People with lower incomes, including the young, can again afford to live in town. City services may be reduced, but if a fifth or more of workers aren’t going to the office on any given day it will be easier to get around.

Mr. Duranton argues that the cities that will be devastated by Covid-19 are the ones that have been falling for a long time: the Rochesters and the Binghamtons, which lost their sustenance once the manufacturing industries that supported them through much of the 20th century folded or moved away.

But for a city like New York, he said, Covid-19 offers an opportunity for redemption. “New York was running into a dead end, turning into a paradise for the rich,” he said. “Culturally dead.” Moving back to a cheaper, messier, more diverse equilibrium may carry a silver lining.

For the full story, see:

Eduardo Porter. “If Workers Opt Out, Star Cities May Dim.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 21, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version,s and has the title “Coronavirus Threatens the Luster of Superstar Cities.”)

The study co-authored by Glaeser and mentioned above is:

Bartik, Alexander W., Zoe Cullen, Edward L. Glaeser, Michael Luca, and Christopher Stanton. “What Jobs Are Being Done at Home During the Covid-19 Crisis? Evidence from Firm-Level Surveys.” Harvard Business School Division of Research Working Paper #20-138, (July 2020).

Book Advice from Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty

(p. 6) Do you and your wife, the activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, share similar taste in books? What books has she recommended to you, and vice versa?

Very similar, so books frequently cross the bedroom from one nightstand to the other. A good example was Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty,” her favorite work of political philosophy, which she urged me to read.

. . .

Which books do you think capture the current social and political moment in America?

I shared the widespread enthusiasm for J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” last year, but the must-read book for Trump’s election and presidency remains Charles Murray’s astonishingly prescient “Coming Apart.” I wish the contemptible “students” who disrupted his lecture at Middlebury College earlier this year — not one of whom I’ll bet had ever read a word of his — would read “Coming Apart” and then look in the mirror and realize: “Oh God, I’m a member of that loathsome coastal cognitive elite that is completely out of touch with middle America.”

. . .

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

. . . To give an example of a book I found overrated, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” was both conceptually unsound and tediously executed.

For the full interview, see:

“BY THE BOOK; Niall Ferguson.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 14, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipses added, bold in original. Bold questions are by the anonymous NYT interviewer. Unbold answers are by Niall Ferguson.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Jan. 11, 2018, and has the same title as the print version. The last question and answer quoted above, appeared in the online, but not in the print, version. Neither version gives the name of the interviewer.)

Ayann Hirsi Ali’s favorite political philosophy book, mentioned above, is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Constitution of Liberty. Reprint ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011 (1st ed. 1960).

Leo Szilard Was “Ever-Resourceful”

I remember Milton Friedman, in an aside during his price theory class at Chicago, telling us that Leo Szilard used to walk up to him as he walked across campus, and articulately raise some issue in economics. Friedman was clearly impressed with the range of Szilard’s mind. My thought was ‘what’s the big deal about this guy Leo Szilard?’ Since then I have learned that he indeed was a big deal, at least for fans of the survival of Western civilization.

(p. 12) Fatefully, the Fermis sailed from Italy the same week that two Berlin radiochemists discovered nuclear fission.

That discovery was totally unexpected. In spring 1939, working at Columbia with the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, Fermi set out to answer a crucial question about it. Uranium atoms release a burst of energy when they fission, enough per atom to make a grain of sand visibly jump. But what then? Was there a way to combine those individual fissions, to turn a small burst into a mighty roar?

Szilard, ever-resourceful, acquired hundreds of pounds of black, greasy uranium-oxide powder from a Canadian mining corporation. Fermi and his students packed the powder into pipe-like tin cans and arranged them equally spaced in a circle within a large tank of water mixed with powdered manganese. At the center of the arrangement they placed a neutron source.

Neutrons from the source, slowed down by the water, would penetrate the uranium atoms in the cans and induce fissions. If the fissioning atoms released more neutrons, those “secondary” neutrons would irradiate the manganese. Measuring the radioactivity induced in the manganese would tell Fermi if the fissions were multiplying. If so, then a chain reaction might be possible, one bombarding neutron splitting a uranium atom and releasing two neutrons, those two splitting two other uranium atoms and releasing four, the four releasing eight, and so on in a geometric progression that could potentially produce vast amounts of energy for power — or for an atomic bomb. The experiment worked.

For the full review, see:

Richard Rhodes. “Quantifying the World.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 28, 2018): 12.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 24, 2018, and has the title “A Remarkable Man Among Remarkable Men and Women.”)

The book under review is:

Schwartz, David N. The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Volunteer “Challenge Trials” Could Speed Covid-19 Vaccine

(p. A10) It’s a controversial idea: Intentionally infect people with the virus that causes Covid-19 to test the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

The approach is called a human challenge trial, and it’s not the usual way a vaccine is tested. More commonly, researchers track thousands of people, some of whom receive a vaccine, and others a placebo, and then see who becomes infected in the natural course of their lives. It’s a slower process, but poses fewer risks than deliberately infecting people after they’ve received a vaccine.

But some scientists now argue the risks of such a challenge trial are worth taking if it could potentially speed the development of a vaccine. Three groups of health experts have recently published articles advocating for the idea.

. . .

A company in London called hVIVO that specializes in human challenge trials is “very actively looking into how we could build a Covid-19 challenge study to help speed up the world wide development of an effective vaccine,” said Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Open Orphan, a clinical trials company that acquired hVIVO earlier this year. He says at least 10 pharmaceutical companies have already expressed interest in their potentially conducting a challenge trial of their vaccine candidates.

Ssome people say they would be willing to volunteer. Josh Morrison, a 34 year old in New York City, has started a group called 1Day Sooner where people can express interest in participating in a future challenge trial for Covid-19. So far around 16,000 people from more than 100 countries have signed up, including him, despite the fact that he donated a kidney in 2011.

“Obviously I would prefer not to get Covid-19,” he says. “But I also felt like this was a chance to be part of saving thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives. And I felt so powerless at the time that being able to take action and do something meaningful was a strong motivator to me.”

For the full commentary, see:

Sumathi Reddy. “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea to Speed a Vaccine: Deliberately Infect People.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 12, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date May 11, 2020 and has the title “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea for Speeding a Coronavirus Vaccine: Deliberately Infecting People.” Where the print and online versions differ, the passages quoted above follow the print version. For instance, the online version says that about “15,000” people have signed up.)

Germans Were “Seduced” by Nazi “Optimism”

(p. C7) In some perceptive passages in the earlier stages of this book, Mr. Fritzsche examines how, during the party’s years in opposition, the Nazis were able to broaden their support away from the original ideological core to voters who, for example, just thought that “something” had to be done to sort out a deeply unsettled country.  . . .

What the author stresses is that, contrary to what is so often assumed, many Germans were seduced not by despair but by optimism. Mr. Fritzsche sets out the ways that the Nazis produced the impression that the party was creating a Volksgemeinschaft—a people’s community—through such methods as transforming the Left’s traditional celebration of (p. C8) the first of May into “The Day of National Labor,” a festival of national unity rather than class struggle.

. . .

Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism.

. . .

It was probably the memory of that Volksgemeinschaft, however much it rested on illusion, that explains one of the most remarkable facts in Mr. Gellately’s book: When Germans in the country’s west and in West Berlin—a people still living amid the ruins of the Reich—were asked in 1948 whether National Socialism was a good idea, but poorly implemented, 57% of those polled replied “yes.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “High-Speed History.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on June 12, 2020, and has the title “Three on the Third Reich: High-Speed History.”)

The two books mentioned in the passages quoted above, are:

Fritzsche, Peter. Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Gellately, Robert. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

For 12-Year-Old, 10 Hours a Day in Mine “Really Meant Freedom for Me”

(p. A15) For Jack Lawson, “ten hours a day in the dark prison below really meant freedom for me.” At age 12, this Northern England boy began full-time work down the local mine. His life underwent a transformation; there would be “no more drudgery at home.” Jack’s wages lifted him head and shoulders above his younger siblings and separated him in fundamental ways from the world of women. He received better food, clothing and considerably more social standing and respect within the family. He had become a breadwinner.

Rooted in firsthand accounts of life in the Victorian era, Emma Griffin’s “Bread Winner” is a compelling re-evaluation of the Victorian economy. Ms. Griffin, a professor at the University of East Anglia, investigates the personal relationships and family dynamics of around 700 working-class households from the 19th century, charting the challenges people faced and the choices they made. Their lives are revealed as unique personal voyages caught within broader currents.

“I didn’t mind going out to work,” wrote a woman named Bessie Wallis. “It was just that girls were so very inferior to boys. They were the breadwinners and they came first. They could always get work in one of the mines, starting off as a pony boy then working themselves up to rope-runners and trammers for the actual coal-hewers. Girls were nobodies. They could only go into domestic service.”

Putting the domestic back into the economy, Ms. Griffin addresses a longstanding imbalance in our understanding of Victorian life. By investigating how money and resources moved around the working-class family, she makes huge strides toward answering the disconcerting question of why an increasingly affluent country continued to fail to feed its children. There was, her account makes clear, a disappointingly long lag between the development of an industrialized lifestyle in Britain and the spread of its benefits throughout the population.

For the full review, see:

Ruth Goodman. “BOOKSHELF; Livings And Wages.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 8, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Bread Winner’ Review: Livings and Wages.”)

The book reviewed above, is:

Griffin, Emma. Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020.

Like During the Great Depression, Wages May Now Be Sticky-Downward

Economists have sometimes claimed that the reason that the labor market did not quickly clear during the Great Depression, was that wages were sticky-downward. The result of sticky-downward wages can be long-term high levels of unemployment.

(p. 7) Much as now, in the Great Depression people were very focused on maintaining a “fair wage” in the face of economic distress. But this led to nationwide resistance to nominal wage cuts for anyone, even when retail prices were falling rapidly.

This appears to have had the unintended result of inducing employers, who could not afford to keep everyone working at their former wages, to lay off many people. The economists Harold L. Cole of the University of Pennsylvania and Lee E. Ohanian, of U.C.L.A., have shown that this may explain some of the extreme duration of Great Depression unemployment.

For the full commentary, see:

Robert J. Shiller. “ECONOMIC VIEW; Looking Back for Clues About What’s Ahead After the Pandemic.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, May 31, 2020): 7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2020 and has the title “ECONOMIC VIEW; Why We Can’t Foresee the Pandemic’s Long-Term Effects.”)

The Cole and Ohanian paper mentioned above, is:

Cole, Harold L., and Lee E. Ohanian. “New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis.” Journal of Political Economy 112, no. 4 (Aug. 2004): 779–816.

While Still “Dirt Poor,” Ulysses Grant Freed Slave Given to Him by His Father-in-Law

(p. 7) . . . like the Chernow book, “Grant” gives its subject his due for having fought ferociously as president against Southern Democrats, pursuing the Lincoln agenda, furthering the cause of Reconstruction, protecting blacks in the South and for crushing the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s.

He had been a champion of enslaved Americans long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent, came from a slave-owning family; Grant’s father, Jesse, was a rabid abolitionist. While living with his in-laws, Grant invited the enmity of neighbors by laboring alongside his father-in-law’s field workers and, as explained by the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, freeing the enslaved person his father-in-law had given him—thus relinquishing his greatest financial asset at a time when he was otherwise dirt poor. He later saw that black troops would be an asset to the North and used them to deadly effect.  . . .

For all its warfare and violence, eloquent interviews and gorgeous photographs, viewers will discover that the real star of “Grant” is the character of the subject himself.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “TELEVISION REVIEW; A Warrior’s Wisdom and Weaknesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 22, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date May 21, 2020, and has the same title “TELEVISION REVIEW; ‘Grant’ Review: The Wisdom and Weaknesses of a Warrior.”)

The book, mentioned above as the basis of the “Grant” television mini-series, is:

Chernow, Ron. Grant. New York: The Penguin Press, 2017.

Lincoln Was “Always Full of This Loneliness and Sadness”

(p. C6) What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I’ve read all these books about how Lincoln was hated, but I was still surprised by how disdained and disliked he was by so many of his contemporaries. Liberal Republicans thought he was too calculating, too quick to weigh public opinion. Democrats thought he was a tyrant, a rube, and was destroying the Constitution. I think a lot of this was airbrushed out of history after he was assassinated, when he became a martyr. But when you go back to that day and look at what people were saying, you get a stunning sense of what Lincoln was up against. There’s a lot of hostility from all sides. I’m not sure how he withstood it. I guess he was defeated so many times in his life, had been down so many times, that he was able to take almost anything.

And Lincoln is always surprising to me for his extremely peculiar qualities. He’s got this immense intelligence, and he’s always full of this loneliness and sadness. He goes up to the inauguration alone. He’s a strange guy. He has an ability to step outside himself and to view issues dispassionately. All of those qualities are seen in the book.

For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer. “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; Edward Achorn; For Lincoln, a Beginning Near the End.” The New York Times (Monday, February 24, 2020): C6.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date February 24, 2020, and has the title “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; 24 Tense Hours in Abraham Lincoln’s Life.” Williams’s question is in bold; Achorn’s answer is not in bold.)

Achorn’s book, that he discussed in the passages of the interview quoted above, is:

Achorn, Edward. Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Chinese Communist “Tradition” of Local Officials Lying to Please Beijing Central Planners

(p. A27) There is a tradition in China (and likely much of the world) for local authorities not to report bad news to their superiors. During the Great Leap Forward, local officials reported exaggerated harvest yields even as millions were starving. More recently, officials in Henan Province denied there was an epidemic of AIDS spread through unsanitary blood collection practices.

For the full commentary, see:

Elisabeth Rosenthal. “Why Is Data on Coronavirus So Limited?” The New York Times (Saturday, February 29, 2020): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2020, and has the title “Sanders Is Stirring Cold War Angst. Young Voters Say, So What?.”)