A breezy account, with a special attraction for those who would rather not digest full-length biographies of Jobs, Branson...

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WHAT SEPARATES SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS VISIONARIES FROM THE REST OF US

A journalist who has tried to understand visionary business entrepreneurs by hanging out with them adds a study of brain science to the mix.

Calonius (The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set Its Sails, 2006) interviewed Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and other famous business visionaries while reporting for the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. Eventually, the author decided he needed to supplement what the visionaries told him about their successes with an intense study of neuroscience, including the field of cognitive psychology. The human brain recognizes patterns, and Calonius hoped to determine how the patterns recognized by his subjects led to success. The author looks at Branson at the Virgin group of businesses, Jobs at Apple computing, Berry Gordy Jr. at Motown records, Andy Grove at Intel and a few others (women entrepreneurs are nearly absent, except for second-tier attention to clothing designer Diane von Furstenberg). Although the path to success is littered with luck (treated in its own chapter), Calonius isolates human factors that he labels awakening, seeing, intuition and scaling up the vision. He explains each factor through a mixture of anecdotes and tutorials on brain functioning. Visionaries sometimes surprise family members, high-school classmates and others who knew them before they broke through, and they do not tend to be voted most popular in the class. However, if they do win that accolade at a young age, they are even less likely to be voted most likely to succeed. Although some of the author’s portrayals are infused with hero worship (especially regarding Branson), the personal narratives make the hagiography palatable. Through no fault of Calonius, some of the lessons are maddeningly vague. Intuition, after all, is tricky to describe in concrete language, especially when it seems like nothing more than “going with the gut.”

A breezy account, with a special attraction for those who would rather not digest full-length biographies of Jobs, Branson et al.

Pub Date: March 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59184-376-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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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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