Review of Unhappy Union by John Peet and Anton La Guardia

Publisher: Public Affairs, 2014 (in conjunction with The Economist)

This intriguing account of the economic and political issues facing the European Union left me a bit cold.  On the surface it appears to be a good read: a short book (180 small pages) about a highly relevant set of issues.  That, and a Wall Street Journal review, sold me.

The Wall Street Journal had said the writing was a bit too technical and I thought I could work through that.  It’s a fair criticism and there’s nothing too bad about highly technical writing, though the book loses some of its interest when it gets too technical.  But for me the issue was not how technical the writing was, but rather a very poor method of organization, which wound up resulting in the technical writing.

What I mean by this is the following: the EU has two basic philosophical problems: 1) it has 28 members but only 18 use the Euro, and 2) there is a gap between it and the democratic process, and associated gaps between it and national governments.  Almost everything else can be explained around and through these philosophical premises, from the political aspects of those who are in the union but not the currency, between members who are in the currency, between debtors and creditors, between northern and southern countries, between austerity countries and heavy-spenders, and so on and so forth.  The steps taken to address these conflicts can then be explained.  So if you mention these things at the beginning, the rest of the writing process becomes much easier.  You do not have to resort to the highly technical stuff, or when you do it comes off a good deal smoother.  In essence, you start big, then go to details to illustrate.

These authors, however, started with the details, then tried to go to the larger philosophical problems two-thirds of the way through–that is to say, they wrote the book backwards, and it caused them to engage in almost illiterate babble for much of the first several chapters.  With some books this might work; with this one it didn’t, because the subject matter is somewhat complicated.  Even for me.

So, I suppose, what I am saying is that while I have a better understanding of some of the problems facing the EU, and thus can invest my money better–which was why I got this book–I also feel that the knowledge I have isn’t as clear as it could and should be, and that this is a result of author incompetence, rather than slowness of mind.  I am not saying this book is worthless, but I am saying to be cautious when buying and to look for alternatives which may be superior as resources.


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