A knowledgeable, clearly written exposé.

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THE MONSTER

HOW A GANG OF PREDATORY LENDERS AND WALL STREET BANKERS FLEECED AMERICA—AND SPAWNED A GLOBAL CRISIS

Another look at the subprime mortgage lending meltdown, with a focus on the predatory housing finance corporation Ameriquest and the once-venerable Wall Street firm of Lehman Brothers.

Formerly a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Hudson (editor: Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits from Poverty, 1996) is now a senior investigator at the Center for Responsible Lending. Recent books about the global financial meltdowns have designated a variety of villains. Roland Arnall (1939–2008), founder of Ameriquest, has appeared in many of those previous books, but Hudson makes him the center of his narrative. The immigrant son of a Czech mother and a Romanian father, the boy settled in Los Angeles and became a real-estate developer before entering the mortgage-loan business. In Hudson’s eyes, Arnall always lacked a moral compass. He obsessed about hiring as many young salesmen as possible who would lie to potential customers and forge documents if it meant bringing a new mortgage into the portfolio. The consumers must share the blame because they signed papers they failed to understand, but that was part of Arnall’s plan—prey on poorly educated marks, many of them minorities and widows, starting in Orange County, Calif., and working outward from there. The insanely profitable business became more profitable still after the entry of Wall Street investment bankers such as Lehman Brothers, which could package the financially unsound mortgage loans and sell them to greedy investors. Hudson does a workmanlike job unfolding Arnall’s biography, though the facts about his business tactics, personal life and emotions never quite solve the puzzle of how he slept at night, given the huge numbers of lives he ruined as the marks lost their homes. The saga is doubly depressing because Arnall hired from a seemingly endless supply of amoral salesmen and managers. Hudson is a master of context, supplying the pre-1990s history within the mortgage-lending business, Wall Street and the government-regulation realm.

A knowledgeable, clearly written exposé.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9046-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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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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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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