Thursday, February 6, 2014

Favorite Book

My favorite book is back, via the University of Chicago press, in both electronic and print form. A consequence of digital technology, books that once were permanently out of print now can be found again. E-books and short-batch print are great innovations. (Most if it is also on Google Books, a great place to sample.)

I won't pretend objectivity -- or that this has much of anything to do with economics or finance.

What's so great about the book? The writing for one. Sit back and enjoy. Read between the lines too for the breathtaking primary-source scholarship.

This is a book about dead white men and their ideas in an unfashionable time -- the Medici as grand dukes, not the republic and early renaissance. Start right in on p.6-9 with the realities of why the republic did not work, in the circumstance of 16th century Florence. But if you didn't like unfashionable ideas, you wouldn't be here.

It's greatest lesson, to me at least, is empathy. It forces you to work hard to understand how people saw things, and not to fall prey to that common habit of reading our own values and judgments on historical characters. Decisions that make little sense from modern sensibilities become inevitable if you really understand the circumstances, knowledge and mindset of people at the time.


There are great stories. Young Cosimo, happily hunting in the Mugello, called suddenly to lead, and needing to outwit the would-be puppet masters who called him. Galieo's story has not been better told, including great olive oil and genuine faith.

Economists, don't miss the liberal (in the old sense of the word) reforms of the 18th century, Book VI, such as "How Gianni tried to replace a controlled economic system with a free one." And a thread running throughout the book, centuries of efforts to raise the lot of the peasants, none of which worked until  the "miracolo economico" of the 1950s.

If you've just enjoyed going to Florence and walking form beautiful church to spectacular museum, you might enjoy reading about some of the characters who inhabited it in its ducal centuries, "forgotten" no more. (BTW,  Carolyn Sargen't guide to Florence is great too.)

Update. Yes, Eric Cochrane was my father, in case that wasn't obvious. Watching this book get written, I learned that writing is not easy. I also got a lot of great pizza and gelato, and a shared love for a wonderful city.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the nice reference to the book. I will check it out. I guess what is missing in the post is the fact that late Professor Eric Cochrane is your father. And that should also mean that you must have a Steinway piano at home!

    Cheers, Mauricio

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  2. They were interesting times. Popes had mistresses and openly acknowledged their bastards. I read "Magnifico" last year and I recently finished a book about Cesare Borgia, who was probably Machiavelli's model for "The Prince".

    Although they might not be judged favorably by today's standards they were men of their time and what distinguished them was that given the existing set of "rules" they played the game better than the competition. If you're a Florence fan (I am) "Brunelleschi's Dome" is also a great read. There is also an app in the google store "TooMuchFirenze" that has all sorts of little oddities in it that you might walk right past without noticing, such as the marker where the ball fell off the Duomo or the spot where they burned Savonarola.

    Sounds like a great book. I'll check out the ebook.

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  3. Thanks John. Going to EUI Florence for a week or so in May. You have supplied the perfect pre-trip reading!

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  4. I had no idea your father was such an authority on the Italian Renaissance, probably one of my most favorite eras of all of history. As a history major in undergrad, with an emphasis in medieval/renaissance history, I will DEFINITELY be adding this to my reading list. Thank you for sharing!!

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  5. I'd supposed that your father must be the statistician William Cochrane. Lots of talented Cochranes around, I guess.

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