September 10, 2005

Ben's Reading List

NOW THAT my weekend is here -- huzzah -- I've set aside a few books I plan to start reading in those rare moments this fall when I'm not watching sport. I must admit, though, that I'm not entirely sure about how some of these particular titles will turn out.

First up on my list is Howard Karger's Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy. In summary, Prof Karger's work looks at how pawnbrokers, check cashing shops, payday advance lenders, and myriad other businesses legally extract great sums of money from the poor. Prof Karger argues the practices of these firms are immoral and exploitative.

I'm only a little way through it so far, but Prof Karger's work seems as if it will prove more useful for its empirical research than its conclusions. There's no denying that those who patronize such establishments often get a raw deal. Still, one must ask whether it would be better for those customers to face the alternative of having no credit at all. Perhaps it would be, but I'd venture to guess that those who would agree with that statement aren't in the position of having their lights shut off. We'll see how Prof Karger deals with that idea.

One must also ask whether a borrower, knowing the terms of the agreement through which he is provided credit, and agreeing to them of his own volition, can thus be "exploited." This is not to argue that the poor bastard isn't getting nailed to the wall when he pawns his DVD player. I am, however, suggesting that folks generally know what they're getting into when they walk into the store. We'll see how Prof Karger deals with that idea too.

Oh, and one last thing. Maybe it's just me, but I'm feeling a bit shortchanged at having paid $24.95 for a thin volume that's roughly 250 pages in length. I mean, maybe that's some kind of inside joke, but come on.

I'm feeling considerably more optimistic about C.V. Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War, which I'm reading as part of my continued attempts to learn about what life was like for my ancestors back on the Old Continent. (Delving into family history is a really good way to get perspective on things).

Anyway, I have no doubt Dame Wedgwood's work will prove eminently thrilling and good history, as she received high marks for this volume. One quibble, though -- the foreword to the book, which a Princeton historian wrote, is annoyingly fawning in tone. The man goes so far as to call Dame Wedgwood "the greatest narrative historian of the twentieth century," which is just silly. But again, that's just a quibble. I have no qualms about being shortchanged on this volume -- particularly at 520 pages!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 10, 2005 12:27 AM | TrackBack