The book’s revelations make Wall Street corruption seem tame by comparison.

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THE SECRET WORLD OF OIL

Energy journalist Silverstein’s study of the routinely corrupt but immensely profitable world of oil “fixers.”

When it comes to democratic nations conveniently turning a blind eye to the human rights violations of dictatorial regimes around the world that also happen to be rich in oil, we’re not talking about a new story. Where Silverstein’s debut breaks new ground is through the exposure of the oil “fixers”—the middlemen serving as the all-important connection governments and corporations need for gaining a foothold in countries where there are newly exploitable oil resources. Silverstein’s book, however, is not only about these so-called fixers, but also about the corrupt dictators making billions of dollars from selling their country’s energy resources while putting nothing back into their respective economies. The “stars” of the book, so to speak, are dictators such as Equatorial Guinea’s Teodorin Obiang: The details of Obiang’s vast, oil-soaked wealth and ridiculously excessive playboy lifestyle are dizzyingly unreal and almost inhuman; he also advocates torture and murder in his own country. Yet, since banana republics like Equatorial Guinea have become oil-rich nations with American corporations on their soil, the American government has only paid lip service to these countries’ excessive human rights violations. Of the fixers, Silverstein spotlights kingpins like Ely Calil, who made untold millions from shady dealings with the Nigerian government. Just as importantly, he outlines the dirty deeds of peripheral figures such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his gun-for-hire PR business, which routinely propped up countless amoral Third World dictators with big-oil connections. Silverstein writes with keen reportorial objectivity but also understandable skepticism about these sketchy middlemen and the frighteningly tyrannical hold that oil has on the free (and not-so-free) world.

The book’s revelations make Wall Street corruption seem tame by comparison.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78168-137-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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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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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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