Useful reading for readers seeking a mostly accessible overview of the banking industry.




Two London-based economics professors argue that banks make much of their profit not by serving depositors and borrowers fairly but rather by cheating.

Nesvetailova (Financial Alchemy in Crisis: The Great Liquidity Illusion, 2010, etc.) and Palan (The Offshore World: Sovereign Markets, Virtual Places, and Nomad Millionaires, 2003, etc.) explain that they chose the title after extensive consideration about its explosive implications. As the authors clearly show, the institutions highlighted in the book—Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bear Stearns, Deutsche Bank, among others—act dishonestly with their clients, their competitors, and their national governments as a matter of everyday operations. Even if they observe the letter of the law, they rarely observe the spirit of the law. At times, note the authors, the cheating crosses into the realm of criminal conduct. Of course, greed underlies much of this behavior; operating honestly can lead to lower-than-desired earnings and limited bonuses. Government regulators become so focused on maintaining the financial stability of the banks—an admirable goal—that unsavory practices go unnoticed or at least mostly unpunished. The authors look backward for much of their evidence, relying heavily on the economic theories of American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen and on a congressional investigation from the 1930s led by Sen. Ferdinand Pecora. Nesvetailova and Palan state that the findings from the Pecora investigation closely resemble banking industry sabotage that is widespread in the current markets. As the authors consider reform, they insist that everybody involved must abandon the traditional binary dichotomy of “market vs. regulation.” The dilemma of excessive profitability should become the core of how to proceed with reform. They close with a series of “simple but important intellectual steps towards a more adequate regulatory framework.” The last step is “to stop thinking about finance as a business for managing ‘other people’s money.’ Finance is the business of creating and managing our wealth, and it needs to be understood and regulated as such.”

Useful reading for readers seeking a mostly accessible overview of the banking industry.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61039-968-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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