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An erudite but sluggish overview of the role of money throughout history.

Harper’s contributing editor Kaufman looks at the hidden meanings of money and its uses in ancient and modern cultures.

The author trades the brisk, shoe-leather reporting of Bet the Farm for a dense, scholarly history of cash and its metaphorical significance. He posits that money is an allegorical “fiction” in which every element “corresponds to something other than itself and it is up to the reader to break the code and translate the meaning.” Drawing on disciplines such as narrative theory and cross-cultural anthropology, Kaufmann analyzes the messages latent in money or its stand-ins, which range from the ostrich-egg-shell beads of Neolithic Kenyans to bitcoin. “Currencies” have included slain warriors’ wives, who often became concubines of their husbands’ killers in ancient Greece, and Native American wampum, which served as a “historical record of treaties and transfers of property.” Tracing the impact of the rise of financial markets, Kaufman links events and ideas as disparate as Richard Nixon’s decision to untether the dollar from gold and Claude Lévi-Strauss’ concept of the “floating signifier.” The author is skeptical of newer, near-inscrutable tools like the Chicago Board of Exchange’s volatility index, or “the Fear Index.” If we can’t decrypt such innovations, we risk “becoming pawns and shells ourselves, other people’s money.” Kaufman’s prose is often turgid—one example: “The acolytes of Bachelier, Bhattacharya, Black, Scholes, and Natterberg live in a world only they can perceive; a world where a Delta hedge is simply one of a multitude of back spreads, front spreads, diagonals, Christmas trees, butterflies, condors, strangles and other baroque trading strategies”—but the book may interest readers with tastes broad enough to encompass ancient Greek philosophy, The Golden Bough, corporate strategy, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, cryptocurrency, and detailed discussions of literary theory and its relation to monetary policy or investment strategy. Others may wonder if its ideas, complex as they are, couldn’t have been more effectively presented in a long-form magazine article.

An erudite but sluggish overview of the role of money throughout history.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59051-718-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

A helpful guide to working effectively with people from other cultures.

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work,” writes Meyer, a professor at INSEAD, an international business school. Yet they face a wider array of work styles than ever before in dealing with clients, suppliers and colleagues from around the world. When is it best to speak or stay quiet? What is the role of the leader in the room? When working with foreign business people, failing to take cultural differences into account can lead to frustration, misunderstanding or worse. Based on research and her experiences teaching cross-cultural behaviors to executive students, the author examines a handful of key areas. Among others, they include communicating (Anglo-Saxons are explicit; Asians communicate implicitly, requiring listeners to read between the lines), developing a sense of trust (Brazilians do it over long lunches), and decision-making (Germans rely on consensus, Americans on one decider). In each area, the author provides a “culture map scale” that positions behaviors in more than 20 countries along a continuum, allowing readers to anticipate the preferences of individuals from a particular country: Do they like direct or indirect negative feedback? Are they rigid or flexible regarding deadlines? Do they favor verbal or written commitments? And so on. Meyer discusses managers who have faced perplexing situations, such as knowledgeable team members who fail to speak up in meetings or Indians who offer a puzzling half-shake, half-nod of the head. Cultural differences—not personality quirks—are the motivating factors behind many behavioral styles. Depending on our cultures, we understand the world in a particular way, find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, and consider some ways of making decisions or measuring time natural and others quite strange.

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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