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Another slow month for reading, and that’s how it goes sometimes. Good thing yr not paying money to read this blog, right?

The Parables of PeanutsThe Parables of Peanuts by Robert L. Short

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Short’s The Gospel According To Peanuts, which explored how Peanuts cartoons reflect the teachings and message of Jesus. This one casts a wider and deeper net, starting with the idea of art as parable, the role of parables in the Bible and how Peanuts serves a similar function. It veers off from there into a theological exploration of what is required to lead a Christian life (which is itself a criticism of the watered-down theology American churches were apparently preaching in the 1960s when he wrote it).

For me, this one is less successful in its mission statement than the first one. What is billed as an exploration on how Peanuts strips double as Biblical parables is really more Short’s theological treatise on Christian living using Peanuts strips to back his point – which might be okay, except that frequently it’s not clear to me what a given strip has to do with what he just wrote. The other big problem is that he also backs his points by quoting his favorite theologians, philosophers and novelists (mostly Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, Dostoyevsky and Albert Camus) at length – so much so that I felt as though if you edited out all the blockquotes, the book would be about half as long.

In any case, the result is a somewhat jumbled argument bogged down by excessive quotations that tries too hard at times to make a connection with Short’s favorite comic strip. (I’m sure some of Short’s more controversial theological beliefs will put some readers off too, though they're not idiosyncratic – I’ve come across them before.) Short does make a few good points here and there, and like the previous volume, at the very least you get a nice collection of classic Peanuts strips for your money, which is fine. But you can get those elsewhere, so I wouldn’t recommend getting a copy just for that.

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-RichPlutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich by Chrystia Freeland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book from 2012 examines the issue of widening income inequality as the 1% (or, more accurately, the 0.1%) get richer and the rest of us, for the most part, don’t. As the title implies, the book focuses on the plutocrats, but it’s not Lifestyles Of The Uber-rich profiles so much as a study of the economic/political conditions that enabled their rise, how they see their role in the world – and what that means for the rest of us.

Chrystia Freeland – who has written previously about the rise of the Russian oligarchs – does a really good job of explaining how technology and globalization are combining to enable a new wave of plutocrats, how this wave is different from the rise of the super-rich during the first industrial revolution in the West, why the resulting concentration of wealth (not just in the US but globally) is not good news for everyone who isn't already in plutocrat class –and why most plutocrats fail to understand this.

Notably, it’s by no means an anti-capitalist screed about how the 1% are evil and need to be taxed out of existence, but rather a call for reason that the normal rules and tropes of capitalism that shaped economic prosperity in the 20th century – especially low taxation and deregulation as innovation/investment drivers – don’t apply in a globalized economy when the 0.1% have the money, power and influence to write their own rules. What others think about this will undoubtedly depend on the political ideologies they bring to the table, but personally I got a lot of out of it, and I certainly came away with a better understanding of why the wealth inequality issue is so important.

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