If you’ve ever had the feeling that the system is out for itself at your expense, well, look no further. A riveting,...

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FLASH BOYS

A WALL STREET REVOLT

In trademark Lewis (Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, 2011, etc.) fashion, a data-rich but all-too-human tale of “heuristic data bullshit and other mumbo jumbo” in the service of gaming the financial system, courtesy of—yes, Goldman Sachs and company.

That stuff you see on TV about dinging bells and ulcer-stricken traders pacing the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? It’s theater. The real speculative economy lives invisibly in little wires that go to nodes in out-of-the-way places, monitored by computer, shares bought and sold by algorithm. If you send a sell order, it might get intercepted for a fraction of a second by an intermediary that can manipulate the order to squeeze off one one-hundredth of a penny in profit—small on the individual level but big when you consider the millions of trades made every day. Both the system and that process are considerably more complex than that, but this fact remains: It dawned on someone that a person could grow rich laying ever faster optic cables to selected clients, cutting deals with the governments of towns and counties “in order to be able to tunnel through them,” all perfectly legal if not exactly in the spirit of the market. Lewis follows his tried-and-true methods of taking a big story of this sort and deconstructing it to key players, some on the inside, some on the outside, at least one an unlikely hero. In this case, that unlikely hero is an exceedingly mild-mannered Japanese-Canadian banker who assembled a team of techies and numbers nerds to track the nefarious ways of the HFT world—that is, the high-frequency traders and the firms that engaged in “dark pool arbitrage” as just another asset in their portfolios of corruption.

If you’ve ever had the feeling that the system is out for itself at your expense, well, look no further. A riveting, maddening yarn that is causing quite a stir already, including calls for regulatory reform.

Pub Date: March 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24466-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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