RIDING THE RUNAWAY HORSE

THE RISE AND DECLINE OF WANG LABORATORIES

The cautionary tale of a world-class high-tech enterprise that hit the skids faster than it reached the heights. Drawing on interviews with key principals, disclosure documents, and allied sources, Boston Globe correspondent Kenney recounts what, save for hubris, could have been a classic American success story. His protagonist is the late An Wang, an inventive genius who left China for the US after WW II. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard and working on several of the university's pioneering computer projects, Wang went into business for himself in 1951, at age 29. Profitable from the outset, Wang Laboratories rode the crest of the electronic calculator boom and transformed itself into a leading supplier of minicomputers during the early 1970's. The subsequent addition of user-friendly word-processing systems to its product lines helped make the company a multinational colossus with annual revenues topping $3 billion—and a Wall Street favorite. Notwithstanding more than a decade of spectacular growth, however, Wang Labs proved vulnerable on several counts. Its high command, for example, failed to appreciate the potential of personal computers, losing this lucrative market to archrival IBM, which went on to set the industry's standards. As Kenney makes clear, moreover, the vaulting dynastic ambitions of the firm's patriarchal founder (described by one close associate as ``a humble egomaniac'') led to operational and morale problems. Indeed, the reversal in the company's fortunes was so pronounced that by 1989 Wang (who died a year later) felt obliged to fire his son Fred from the presidency (for which, by all accounts, he was unqualified) and bring in a professional management team. Back from the brink of bankruptcy, Wang Labs, Kenney says, will survive as a going concern, albeit in neither the generation-spanning nor cutting-edge form envisioned by its creator. A corporate history bearing vivid witness to the warning that pride goeth before a fall. (Twenty-two photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: March 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-316-48919-0

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1992

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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