BOOK REVIEW: RIDING THE BUSINESS CYCLE by William Houston

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The Independent Culture
RIDING THE BUSINESS CYCLE by William Houston, Little Brown, 17.50

Anyone whose rosebuds have been nipped by a late frost will know that business life enjoys a close and busy relationship with the weather. So it doesn't take much to point out that when crops fail, farmers go bust. But this exhausting analysis of human history seeks to prove, at considerable and pompous length, that economic cycles are actually symptoms of climatic shifts, of sunspots and sudden fluctuations in global temperature. Warm- wet times are boom times; everything falls apart when it's cold. Leonardo da Vinci flourished because of a double temperature dip over 15th-century Florence, and 13th-century Scots marched into England because the air bit shrewdly. What a theory! It explains, at last, why there aren't any millionaire cattle ranchers in Antarctica! The author seems to think this both exciting and controversial, but much of it is, well, far from new: "the sun has been an integral part of man's life . . . volcanoes can be very dangerous . . . People become anxious if there is a food shortage.'' Apart from anything else, can a man able to refer to a volcanic eruption like Krakatoa (death toll: 36,000) as a "distinguished upheaval'' be trusted to ride even a baby business cycle without falling off?

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