Monthly Archives: January 2020

Monthly book roundup – 2019 December

Books finished in December:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy (2017) by Tim Harford. Great pop history, as always from Harford.

1 The Plough – huge consequences, agriculture became more efficient, more people could be fed and cities could form.

I. Winners and Losers
2 Gramophone. Winners take all. Bowie’s prediction in XX that music would become like running water or electricity much correct.
3 Barbed Wire. Helped enable settling the West in the US, good for settlers, not for Indians. Locke’s argument that labor working land made the worked land property, (Indians had not “improved” the land) a factor, but I guess did not make a practical difference.
4 Seller Feedback
5 Google Search
6 Passports
7 Robots
8 The Welfare State. Liberated women and others.

II. Reinventing How We Live
9 Infant Formula
10 TV Dinners. Liberated women? From having to make the dinners.
11 The Pill. Liberated women more, though the effects maybe a little overstated in the book?
12 Video Games. Debatable whether labor supply actually impacted.
13 Market Research
14 Air Conditioning
15 Department Stores. Liberated women?

III. Inventing New Systems
16 The Dynamo
17 The Shipping Container. Made global trade much more efficient.
18 The Barcode
19 The Cold Chain. Fruits, vegetables, meat and other easily spoilable good could be traded and specialized in worldwide.
20 Tradable Debt and the Tally Stick
21 Billy Bookcase
22 Elevator

IV. Ideas About Ideas
23 Cuneiform
24 Public-Key Cryptography
25 Double-Entry Bookkeeping
26 Limited Liability Companies
27 Management Consulting
28 Intellectual Property
29 The Compiler

V. Where Do Inventions Come From
30 The iPhone
31 Diesel Engines
32 Clocks
33 The Haber-Bosch Process-high pressure combination of nitrogen and hydrogen -> ammonium. Haber contributed to feeding people through fertilizer and killing them through chemical weapons and did not support the career of his talented wife, who killed herself 14 years into their marriage.
34 Radar
35 Batteries
36 Plastic

VI. The Visible Hand
37 The Bank
38 Razors and Blades
39 Tax Havens
40 Leaded Petrol
41 Antibiotics in Farming
42 M-Pesa
43 Property Registers

VII. Inventing the Wheel
44 Paper
45 Index Funds
46 The S-bend
47 Paper Money
48 Concrete
49 Insurance
50 Lightbulb

Ratings and previous books are in the library.