An imperfectly constructed but knowledgeable personal-finance book.

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Stories of the Indebted

Newbery (Punk Rocker, 2016, etc.) shares stories of cleverly settled debt in this memoir.

During his career as a property owner in the early 2000s, the author accrued his fair share of debt; at one time, he writes, he owned more than 4,000 apartments across the United States. By dealing with his creditors and attempting to negotiate his way back into the black, he says that he learned how the American financial system is stacked against borrowers. Luckily, he also learned ways that borrowers can use that system to their advantage to escape huge amounts of debt without bankrupting themselves or losing their homes: “every debt has a unique set of circumstances,” Newbery explains, “and creditors are constantly making errors. You just need to find the errors and exploit them.” The best thing to do, he warns, is to not go into debt, but for those who already have, he offers some advice. He walks readers through a series of chapters that each deal with a peculiar debt scenario, and he shows how informed and assiduous debtors (real people, with names changed) extricated themselves with minimal damage. In one chapter, for instance, he recounts how he settled a $5.8 million debt for only $225,000. In another, he tells how he helped a friend avoid a foreclosure on her home with a passive-aggressive strategy of inaction. In a third, he reveals how a tumultuous breakup with his beloved Southwest credit card led to embarrassment while trying to pay a bill at an Olive Garden restaurant. Newbery clearly knows his stuff: the scenarios he describes are highly particular, and he spends time going into great detail, weighing the various options available to the person in question. However, his decision to offer lightly fictionalized anecdotes, rather than essays, is curious; they read like Socratic dialogues, and the artifice of the form is somewhat distracting. Even so, readers will be able to glean a great deal of helpful information from Newbery’s experiences, and they’ll walk away with a firmer understanding of the intricacies of his subject.

An imperfectly constructed but knowledgeable personal-finance book.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61961-491-8

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Community Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

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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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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