Burning With Suspense


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Review of American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Landby Monica Hesse

Alfred Hitchcock would have appreciated Monica Hesse’s new book, American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. It is the true story of a series of arson fires in Accomack County, on Virginia’s mostly rural Eastern Shore, which Hesse initially covered as a reporter for the Washington Post. Wasting no time, she gives away the ending on the first page of the Preface – in fact, on the inside jacket. So we know from the outset that Charlie Smith pled guilty to setting sixty-seven fires, all in abandoned buildings, and that he confessed to the crimes shortly after he was apprehended. The book is highly suspenseful, however, because we still need to find out just how Charlie was finally caught in a remarkable spree that extended over five months and, more importantly, why he did it.

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Steven Lubet — The New Rambler

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The Trouble with Incentives


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Human beings are complex. It is difficult to predict their response to incentives. Today’s needull is a review of the book – The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are no Substitute for Good Citizensby Samuel Bowles.

According to legend, when the father of modern Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, attempted to address the malnourishment of his people by importing and freely distributing potatoes, the Greeks roundly rejected his offer. Heeding Laocoön’s ancient wisdom, the people of the Peloponnese knew better than to trust a Greek bearing gifts. As the story goes, Kapodistrias responded to the people’s refusal to accept the potatoes by unloading a shipment on the streets of Nafplion and instructing his soldiers to pretend to stand guard. The untrusting Greeks would not accept free potatoes—if they are free, something must be wrong with them—but were more than happy to steal provisions so important they needed to be guarded by the army. Kapodistrias’ ploy worked, and potatoes soon became a staple of the Greek diet. In Nafplion, the offer of free potatoes did not stimulate demand. Nor did the threat of punishment deter theft. Instead, the threat of punishment communicated the value of the potatoes. If something is worth guarding, it is worth stealing, and the Greeks responded to the new information by stealing more.

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Dimitrios Halikias – The New Rambler

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The Shame of Work


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Way back in 1930, Keynes had made a prediction. People would work just 15 hours per week and would have far more leisure as their material needs were satisfied. We have moved in the opposite direction. Today’s needull is a review of the book “The Refusal of Work: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Work, by David Frayne”. This needull has some interesting points on the nature of work itself.

If ever a book was designed to help you question the value of the work ethic and look anew at our modern obsession with productivity and promotion, this is it. Frayne has accomplished something worthy of admiration. He has written the best primer and introduction to the anti-work philosophy; a fascinating ethnography of people who actively try to resist work; and has married this to some original and provocative insights into the contemporary workplace. What’s more, he has done all this without resorting to the stodgy, jargon-laden prose that is common among left-wing critics of work. It is all conveyed in a fluid and assured manner.

The book is very much of two halves. The first half is the provocation: the invitation to the reader to look at work with a more critical eye. The second half is the ethnography: insights culled from Frayne’s experiences of interviewing and living with people who actively resist work in the United Kingdom. The two halves are held together by a common set of themes and capped off with a concluding chapter that represents something of a ‘call to arms’.

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John Danaher — The New Rambler

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