Catnip for monetary policy wonks, particularly those on one side or another of “the ideological divide between Bitcoin’s...

A long but fast-moving tale of digital currency and its discontents.

Brother, can you spare a byte? Digital currencies are a new feature of the financial landscape, and none to date has been as successful as Bitcoin. The brainchild of libertarian hackers, “pioneers who risked their money, time, and freedom to build the early infrastructure of a new economy,” Bitcoin now runs the risk of going legit. That is to say, writes financial journalist Eha, the hedge fund crowd on Wall Street is now aware of Bitcoin and its possibilities, so much so that its capitalization now stands in the billions. The author, who has been writing about the currency for the last five years, traces the evolution of Bitcoin in a shadow economy backed by a computer network vastly more powerful than anything the straight economy can muster, all designed to move money around in a river of wealth undetectable to the world’s governments and tax authorities. That it has become successful, manipulated by private funds and venture capitalists, is testimony to what Eha praises as its triple-threat nature: it functions as a “store of value, like gold,” as a point of payment system like a credit card or PayPal, and as a financial network on par with the Western Union of yore. It is also a $1.2 trillion industry, which explains why the capitalists are circling. As they do, writes Eha, some of the founders aren’t happy that their idealistic venture is now turning into a beast covered with leeches. One visionary who divined that a serious Bitcoin economy would have to build a serious infrastructure of companies around it has relocated to Japan, which for all its economic woes is still a forward-looking place, and others have migrated to places like Panama City, where looser regulations may help advance the cause of digital currency.

Catnip for monetary policy wonks, particularly those on one side or another of “the ideological divide between Bitcoin’s libertarian-anarchist wing and mainstream technocrats.”

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78074-658-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019



A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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