Interesting thought experiments that would have been made more interesting with a more vigorous use of actual dollars and...

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OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNES

THE TWELVE SURPRISING TRENDS THAT WILL RESHAPE THE GLOBAL ECONOMY

Economic prophesying by a consultant who makes no claim to being “the economic Nostradamus.”

Altman opens by examining the business of economic forecasting, an art and science that could use a few Nostradamuses, but that is hampered by uncertainty—not least the experimental bias by which “predictions themselves may affect the future.” This, writes the author, is often the whole point of forecasting, warning of looming dangers and disasters that might sink an economy. He takes a longer view, however, and whether it can keep the ship from sinking we will not know for decades. One potential source of comfort for America-firsters is the roundabout view that China may well become an ever more important economic power, particularly if its government loosens controls on the economy to encourage foreign investment. However, “China is likely to fall short, both in its business practices and in the role of its government,” in the realm of technological innovation and implementation, which may be a more important determinant of economic strength. Such a forecast is debatable, of course, notably given the demographic pressures that are upon the West, with declining populations and lumbering social-welfare networks that will encourage workers to seek greener pastures (in Europe, writes Altman, in countries that are “endowed with essentially Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian legal traditions”). The author ventures into such politically thorny areas as illegal immigration (“frequently an economic necessity”) and the current backlash against capitalism in many developing areas (which probably will not last). Meanwhile, he predicts, rich countries will become cleaner and richer and poor countries dirtier and poorer—reason enough to want to live in rich countries.

Interesting thought experiments that would have been made more interesting with a more vigorous use of actual dollars and cents (and yuan and euros). As to whether Altman is right, check back in half a century.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9102-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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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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