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Reading List December 07, 2019

Our Top Essays of 2019

From Walt Whitman to Arundhati Roy, here are the essays that were read the most over the past twelve months.
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As 2019 draws to a close, we have been diving into our analytics to find out which essays you loved the most from the past twelve months. From Walt Whitman’s complicated homosexuality to the mobile lending crisis that is crippling Kenya, the list below serves as a perfect microcosm of the incredible variety of pieces we publish at Boston Review. And what’s more, we are proud to note that seven of our top ten essays were written or co-written by women!

—Rosie Gillies


Economics After Neoliberalism
a forum with Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman

“Neoliberalism—or market fundamentalism, market fetishism, etc.—is not the consistent application of modern economics, but its primitive, simplistic perversion. And contemporary economics is rife with new ideas for creating a more inclusive society.”

• • •

The Government Is Targeting Immigration Lawyers, Activists, and Reporters
by Lauren Carasik

A leaked Department of Homeland Security database confirms what many suspected: the U.S. government is actively trying to punish and intimidate people advocating for immigrant rights.

• • •

Don’t Overthink It
by Agnes Callard

“No matter how much we increase our investment at the front end—perfecting our minds with thinking classes, long ruminations, novel-reading, and moral algebra—we cannot spare ourselves the agony of learning by doing.”

• • •

Walt Whitman’s Boys
by Jeremy Lybarger

With this year having marked the poet’s bicentennial, we saw praise for his political idealism and gauzy reclamations of him as an LGBT ancestor. But it remains difficult to talk about the connection he saw between patriotism and his love of young men.

• • •

How to Think About Empire
an interview with Arundhati Roy

“India, which has the most malnutritioned children in the world, where hundreds of thousands of debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide, where it is safer to be a cow than it is to be a woman, is still being celebrated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.”

• • •

The Why of the World
by Tim Maudlin

“The evidence for causation seems to lie entirely in correlations. But for seeing correlations, we would have no clue about causation. And thus a puzzle arises: if causation cannot be reduced to correlation, how can correlation serve as evidence of causation?”

• • •

Debunking the Capitalist Cowboy
by Nan Enstad

“For five decades, one of the central characters in capitalism’s mythology has been the nineteenth-century maverick cigarette entrepreneur, James B. Duke. The problem? His story is false: mid-century business historians fabricated it to accord with the theory of creative destruction.”

• • •

Perpetual Debt in the Silicon Savannah
by Kevin P. Donovan and Emma Park

“Kenya’s new experience of debt is worrying. It reveals a novel, digitized form of slow violence that operates through the accumulation of data, the commodification of reputation, and the instrumentalization of sociality.”

• • •

The Future of Political Philosophy
by Katrina Forrester

For five decades Anglophone political philosophy has been dominated by the liberal egalitarianism of John Rawls. With liberalism in crisis, have these ideas outlived their time?

• • •

Succeeding While Black
by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

“In Obama’s telling, racism is not the defining feature of black life, and her profound success is a testament to the ways that striving and self-motivation are the difference between those who succeed and those who do not.”

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Previews are delivered to members every Sunday. Become a member to receive them ahead of the crowd.

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