Jay Weiser Articles

The Hills Beyond

How an Appalachian range became the Catskills.
Feb 08, 2016

Stephen Silverman and Raphael Silver offer a boisterous, colorful history of New York’s Catskill Mountains, but like the tummlers of yesteryear, once they depart, it's hard to remember what the noise was about. The Catskills have always been at the edge of the American experience—a hinterland of New York City. Unlike William Cronon's classic Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, which examined how 19th-century Chicago transformed the Midwest's ecology and economy, The Catskills offers loosely linked stories where the Big Apple is forever popping up to take over the narrative.

As the authors note, only in the last two centuries have people even called the Catskills a single mountain range.

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Loose Change

Measuring history by the money supply.
Aug 03, 2015

Coined is like Malcolm Gladwell for investment bankers, with intriguing anecdotes to close the quick sale while obscuring the larger picture. Money matters: Over the last half-century, the world economy has swung from high inflation to financial crisis to zero interest rates. But Kabir Sehgal, an investment banker, offers “a multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary portrait of currency through the ages” without much ability to tie it together.

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The Lending Game

The culture of banking, in history and politics
Mar 30, 2015

Fragile by Design is James Madison for depressives—and he’s even a protagonist. Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber argue that states are essential for banking systems (and vice versa) and that rent-seeking bargains drive their joint structure. No mere reverse Panglossians, Calomiris and Haber demonstrate that bargains change with the underlying social forces—sometimes even for the better.

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The triumphs and tribulations of the English-speaking peoples
Oct 06, 2014

The Anglosphere is everywhere. In this engaging and tendentious popular history, Daniel Hannan offers an unofficial update of Winston Churchill’s massive History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-58). A British member of the European parliament, Hannan has taken upon himself the mission of saving his native land from sinister, supranational, statist Brussels—a goal many voters across Europe seem to share.

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Laureate of Dogpatch

How a bad man became a great cartoonist.
Jul 08, 2013

Despite their striking resemblance, Li’l Abner, the midcentury comic strip hero, was everything his creator Al Capp was not: an unlettered, unambitious, all-American hillbilly who was strapping (rather than one-legged) and repelled by sex with women (rather than compulsively bedding them). Al Capp springboarded the success of the strip into three decades as a multimedia celebrity/commentator/shock jock, transitioning from New Deal liberal to conservative—only to be brought down by social changes he had helped create.  

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The Big Store

The mythology of small business meets a retailing giant.
Apr 29, 2013

Not long ago, New York City stopped a Walmart store from being built in its downtrodden East New York neighborhood, another defeat in the giant discounter/grocer’s six-year effort to enter the five boroughs. Small retailers and unions, in prevailing, embraced a century-old tradition of political suppression of retail competition. Notwithstanding the loud American romance with entrepreneurship, Marc Levinson’s history of the erstwhile supermarket giant A&P—the Walmart of its day—rewrites the story.

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Gal Reporter

A lifetime of adventure, romance, and unlimited budgets.
Sep 17, 2012

I first saw Brenda Starr at midnight, lured to a derelict pier by a promised interview. Suddenly the moon, skewing shadows on twisted steel beams, silhouetted yachtsman Broker Proffitt against the glinting bay beyond. (Brenda preferred her villains upscale.) As he drew a gun, Brenda was seized with regret: “If I had known my life would be this short, I would have picked a better-paying career.”

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Credit Is Given

Indebtedness (and its discontents) is as old as human nature.
Mar 05, 2012

Doomsayers have denounced consumer debt for decades. But today, for the first time since the 1930s, consumer chickens have come home to roost, with a debt crisis in the housing markets and a looming student loan debt disaster. Debtor Nation digs through a century of trade publications and government documents to offer an

institutional history of the business-government interaction that created our current, massively over-leveraged consumer debt system.

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