THE GREAT GAME

THE EMERGENCE OF WALL STREET AS A WORLD POWER, 1653-2000

This sparkling account (the basis for a forthcoming CNBC TV special) finds in Wall Street a remarkable microcosm for American invention, eccentricity, and double-dealing. Compressing centuries of economic arcana and dozens of complicated characters into a concise history is no easy task. But Gordon (Hamilton’s Blessing, 1997, not reviewed), an American Heritage business-history columnist and a commentator for PRI’s —Marketplace,— manages to make it all go down smoothly. He shows how from the time of its original Dutch builders, Wall Street assumed a cosmopolitan, commercial character. Opposing this tendency was the Jeffersonian suspicion of any central banking system, leading America’s financial markets to rely for their smooth functioning not on the government but on the sense and good will of individual companies. Although this lack of interference permitted the rise of such financial geniuses as —Commodore— Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, and Charles Merrill, it also gave free rein to Wall Street’s classic rogues, including Ivan Boesky, Richard Whitney, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. (The last two pulled off what Gordon, with ironic grandeur, describes as —the greatest single act of financial derring-do in the history of the Street.—) Gordon discloses how Wall Street was responsible for many major institutions taken for granted in American life, including modern accounting, fast food, and zoning laws. When he’s not serving up delicious trivia, Gordon expertly analyzes the trends that spurred Wall Street and consolidated its power. Especially important was technology: the Erie Canal, which sparked business for its brokers; the telegraph, which solidified New York City’s place as the nation’s financial capital; and computers, which resulted in globalization and the integration of the world’s financial markets in the last few decades. Refreshingly free of ideological cant, Gordon happily chastises the excesses of both government micromanagement (leading, for example, to robber barons— bribery of state legislatures) and free-market capitalism (the adored, still unprofitable Amazon.com). American business history depicted with infectious delight. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83287-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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 readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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