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Feb 26, 2010 3:03 pm

Modern History Notes

Dominic Sandbrook for the Telegraph, 23 February, and Scott McLemee,"Darkness after noon," The National, 25 February, review Michael Scammell's Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual.

Larissa MacFarquhar,"The Deflationist," New Yorker, 1 March:

... Krugman went to Yale, in 1970, intending to study history, but he felt that history was too much about what and not enough about why, so he ended up in economics. Economics, he found, examined the same infinitely complicated social reality that history did but, instead of elucidating its complexity, looked for patterns and rules that made the complexity seem simple. Why did some societies have serfs or slaves and others not? You could talk about culture and national character and climate and changing mores and heroes and revolts and the history of agriculture and the Romans and the Christians and the Middle Ages and all the rest of it; or, like Krugman's economics teacher Evsey Domar, you could argue that if peasants are barely surviving there's no point in enslaving them, because they have nothing to give you, but if good new land becomes available it makes sense to enslave them, because you can skim off the difference between their output and what it takes to keep them alive. Suddenly, a simple story made sense of a huge and baffling swath of reality, and Krugman found that enormously satisfying.

Historiann and her readers think about Krugman, the erstwhile historian.

Congratulations to Robert A. Caro, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Levering Lewis and William H. McNeill, who received National Humanities Medals last night from President Obama.

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