Hard-hitting reporting and fluent writing bring the utter devastation of the Great Recession to life—with John Cassidy’s How...

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ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

A closely written account of the late financial meltdown, when, in the words of one analyst, “we went from a collective belief in soundness to a collective belief in insolvency.”

That change of attitude is entirely understandable, inasmuch as the financial system was predicated on abstractions. The origins of the meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession, write former Fortune and current Vanity Fair contributor McLean (co-author: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, 2003) and New York Times reporter Nocera (A Piece of the Action : How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class, 1994), largely lie in the speculator’s dream called the mortgage-backed security, which “allowed Wall Street to scoop up loans made to people who were buying homes, bundle them together by the thousands, and then resell the bundle, in bits and pieces, to investors.” This innovation netted fortunes for the players at the top, undoing the former bond between buyer and seller and leading directly to the rise of the subprime industry and its toxic holdings. Ironically, write the authors, the securitizing of mortgages was not an invention of Wall Street but of government, with the federal agencies Ginnie Mae and then Freddie Mac selling securities 40 years ago. Scrupulously fair, McLean and Nocera look inside the closed doors of agencies, some now extinct, such as Bear Stearns and Countrywide, which took the official rhetoric, shared by George Bush and Bill Clinton alike, that there is something near-sacred about homeownership and ran with it. Interestingly, the authors attribute the failed policing of the subprime industry, whose criminal business practices were the engine of the meltdown, to a very real fear on the part of the government that cracking down would harm the people who most needed help. Those little fish were soon swallowed up by the Wall Street sharks, who sagely played the odds to the end, when it finally became apparent that the system was being hit by a perfect storm far beyond the worst of worst-case scenarios.

Hard-hitting reporting and fluent writing bring the utter devastation of the Great Recession to life—with John Cassidy’s How Markets Fail (2009) an essential aid to understanding where all the money went, and who benefited.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59184-363-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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

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EDISON

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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