IN GOOD FAITH

THE INSIDE STORY OF PRUDENTIAL-BACHE'S MULTI-BILLION-DOLLAR SCANDAL THAT DEFRAUDED THOUSANDS OF INVESTORS AND FRACTURED THE ROCK

A hit-or-miss recap of events leading up to a 1993 decision by Prudential Securities to settle fraud charges with the SEC, albeit without admitting guilt, from a journalist who is not up to the job of explaining, let alone illuminating, a perdurable scandal. Drawing mainly on secondary sources and interviews with a handful of minor players with axes to grind, Sharp offers a rough idea of the trouble Prudential Insurance bought with its 1981 acquisition of Bache, a second-rate Wall Street brokerage firm. A financial force to be reckoned with, Pm has 140-odd subsidiaries, vast resources, and an enviable consumer franchise (reinforced by its familiar Rock of Gibraltar logo). For all its assets, the mutual insurance company's foray into retail brokerage proved a disaster. Bache's stock in trade was limited partnerships, which its registered reps hawked as tax shelters with high-yield investment appeal. Although federal tax law changed during the mid-1980s, Pm-Bache's venal, high-pressure tactics did not; tens of thousands of clients were duped into buying inappropriate and economically unsound LPs. Lawsuits were filed, and regulatory authorities eventually got into the act, but not before $5 billion was lost. In her first book, Sharp attempts to tell this sorry tale through low-echelon hucksters who either left or were dismissed by the firm and a few investors who lost money on Pm-Bache deals. Her approach will leave most readers puzzled as to whether the corruption was systemic or attributable to a few rogues (as the parent organization still insists). The narrative's clarity also suffers from the author's bent for going off on tangents. At no point does Sharp probe the cultural differences that make buttoned-down insurance underwriters and freewheeling brokerage houses strange bedfellows in the first place. A dispensable take on fiscal misdeeds that await perceptive coverage.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0312304595

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1995

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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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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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