OK, I'll fess up to the one other bit of work I did, which was to plan (at a basic conceptual level) my remarks at the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium this Thursday, where we will discuss "How Americans Think About Taxes: Public Opinion and the American Fiscal State," a forthcoming (Princeton University Press) book excerpt by Andrea Louise Campbell of MIT's Political Science Department. I like the excerpt, which discusses why tax politics has moved recently in a less progressive direction despite the arguable financial self-interest to the contrary of non-rich American voters. Campbell uses, among other inputs, detailed polling data over several decades and a sophisticated theory of perceived cost-benefit from tax rules. Naturally, given my work and interests, this is a topic on which I have plenty of my own ideas. I anticipate a fruitful discussion.
I also found the time to read 4 books. (Reading fast is a bloody nightmare when it comes to packing for a vacation trip - you end up with plenty of bulk and still have to worry about running out.) First was "Zhou En-Lai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary." This perhaps unlikely bit of beach reading is a book written by a Chinese exile and U.S. emigre who for years had access to top secret Chinese Communist Party files from the 1960s and 1970s. After a slow start it became fascinating and even genuinely moving, showing how Zhou worked with the utterly mad and monstrous Mao, trying above all to survive and also to moderate him but also enabling him. The book reaches the conclusion that Zhou tried to be a decent person but failed because of the demands the system placed on him plus his own human failings such as the need to subordinate himself and comply. Extra points for satisfying the curiosity of one who grew up reading the crazy news from China in the Cultural Revolution era without having any information (which no one in the West had) about what was really going on behind the scenes. E.g., what was the deal with Mao's "closest comrade in arms," Lin Biao? Now I know, and it's a much more interesting story than I had expected.
Second book was "Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer" by Chuck Thompson, an at times uproarious collection of travel experiences packaged as an expose of all the fakery and hype in the travel industry. Good not so clean fun.
Third was "Mayflower," by Nathaniel Philbrick, a history of the Plymouth Bay and related settlements from founding through the horrific Indian wars of the 1670s. Guess who were clearly the bad guys. A good read but not in my view great.