Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Lowy Institute books of the year 2016 (part two)

Photo: Getty Images/David Ramos
Photo: Getty Images/David Ramos
Published 21 Dec 2016 

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris, Lived, Loved, and Died under Nazi Occupation, by Anna Sebba. Selected by Interpreter contributor Milton Osborne

Anna Sebba’s highly readable Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris, Lived, Loved, and Died under Nazi Occupation, joins the growing number of books about France’s ‘dark years’ which provide a more nuanced view of this troubled time than Charles de Gaulle’s mythic narrative.

While Sebba refers to prominent women who literally embraced the German occupiers - 'Coco' Chanel and the actress Arletty were prime examples - it is the personal histories of dozens of women whose acts of resistance are not well known outside France that make this book so fascinating: women such as Jeannie Rousseau whose determination not to bend to German orders even extended to her time as a prisoner in Ravensbrük, an experience she survived.

On a personal note, when I undertook research in Paris in 1965-66 the patronne of my pension was a decorated résistante. Reading of the women in Sebba’s book reminds me vividly of her powerful personality.  

Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows. Selected by Lowy Institute research associate Hannah Wurf

Dreaming in Chinese is a short book reflecting on learning Chinese. I read it after James and Deborah Fallows visited the Lowy Institute in May this year and spoke about their time living in China.

There is a whole genre of books about 'being a foreigner in China' (so much so that this informative flowchart was put together. This book stands out for its focus on the minutiae of daily life. Deborah learns most about the Middle Kingdom through her interactions with the laobaixing 'ordinary people'.

What I liked was that the book captures the joy of learning another language – and the small victories that come from understanding others and making yourself understood in a foreign place.


The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert Gordon. Selected by Lowy Institute nonresident fellow and Interpreter contributor Stephen Grenville.

Which contributes more to your living standard – your flush-toilet or your smart-phone? For Robert Gordon, author of 'The Rise and Fall of American Growth', the answer is clear. All the really important life-enhancing inventions (the internal combustion engine, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, urban sewerage, and modern communications) were innovations of the century 1870-1970. Gordon takes the implications further. With useful technological advance slower, investment and growth will both be much slower. The old American norm of doubling real income each generation is a thing of the past.
Of course Gordon might turn out to be wrong: the IT revolution is far from over. And a good part of the world is still waiting for the flush-toilet and clean piped water to arrive. So let’s not be too gloomy. Those of us with high living standards can adapt to getting better-off more slowly, and those who have been left behind can catch up, just by applying all the smart ideas we already know about.

Strangers in their own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.  Also selected by Stephen Grenville.

If you want to understand why Trump won, read this book. It shines a light on the thinking in the poorest southern states where the core of white working-class vote is congenitally suspicious of government in general and Washington in particular. It helps explain why Trump, with all his eccentricities, retained the same share of this voting bloc as Romney, a conventional Republican candidate. These voters believe the elites’ concerns with the environment threaten their jobs and think social programs push them to the back of the 'queue for the American Dream'. Above all, they are sick of being disparaged – Clinton’s 'deplorables' comment was the last straw. Just as psychologists like Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow), opened our eyes to behavioural economics, economists have a lot to learn from sociologists who give us new insights into the complexity of human behaviour.


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