Some weeks, as I try to chase down a particular idea or understand a particular event, my reading lists have clear themes: what to read to understand X; three books on Y.
This is … not one of those weeks. Instead, I’ve been feeling intellectual entropy, pinging from one topic to another. I’ve decided to lean into it, letting my brain range freely and trusting that it will take me somewhere interesting.
I’m pleased with the results: a fascinating new book on China, a new political science paper that explains a quirk of far-right politics and a puzzle-box mystery novel set a few miles from my house. Here’s my eclectic reading list:
“Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World,” by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, turned out to be particularly topical this week after reports that a researcher deep inside Britain’s Parliament had been arrested in March on suspicion of working for the Chinese government. Allen-Ebrahimian, the China reporter for Axios, smartly combines analysis of China’s efforts to infiltrate western institutions via “authoritarian economic statecraft” with a look at why the West is vulnerable to such influence campaigns. And although the book is from a nonfiction genre in which prose styling tends to take a back seat to argument, “Beijing Rules” contains some lovely writing, making it a pleasure to read.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long been a well-known saying, but now, thanks to this interesting new paper in the American Political Science Review, it’s also political science. The authors investigate whether hostility to immigrants, particularly Muslims, has actually helped to generate support for L.G.B.T.+ rights among otherwise conservative nativist voters.
They found that citizens “strategically liberalize” their stance on L.G.B.T.+ rights when they are told that people from an ethnic out-group — for example, Muslim immigrants in Europe — oppose such protections. In a particularly high-profile example, after a Muslim man committed a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in 2016, Donald Trump gave a speech calling the attack a “strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation” and “an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity.”
That probably means public support for gay rights is weaker than it appears, the researchers conclude, because some of the apparent support for inclusion is actually a desire to exclude others. (Here again, Trump is a useful exemplar: Although he embraced gay rights in the Pulse speech as a cudgel against Muslims, in practice his administration dismantled L.G.BT. protections, including rolling back rules against workplace discrimination and banning transgender people from the military.)
“The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels,” a new mystery by Janice Hallett, was my lighter reading. Hallett structures her novels as dossiers of found documents, transcripts and other evidence, leaving the reader to try to find the real story among unreliable narrators’ statements. That process appeals to the journalist in me, which might explain why I read about 80 percent of this in a single sitting. It clearly also appeals to a lot of other people — Hallett’s books are best sellers in Britain.
But as with her last book, “The Twyford Code,” there is a tension between the elaborate twists and turns needed to keep the puzzle interesting, the realism of her characters and the plausibility of the plot resolution, which left me a little cold.
What are you reading?
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