CAPITAL IDEAS

THE IMPROBABLE ORIGINS OF MODERN WALL STREET

A savvy appreciation of how a small band of disinterested academics has revolutionized the way Wall Street and its offshore counterparts manage the world's investment wealth. A securities-industry veteran and founding editor of The Journal of Portfolio Management, Bernstein provides a lively, lucid history of the scholarship that has helped advance institutional investing beyond the more-art-than-science stage. For openers, he focuses on an obscure French polymath whose turn-of-the-century doctoral thesis on the unpredictability of stock prices anticipated Einstein's work on relativity. Over the years, this Gallic ground- breaker was followed by other pioneers, including an English statistician who put paid to any notion that securities analysts can pick undervalued issues with any consistency, and an American astronomer whose main claim to financial fame was his discovery that stock prices move in random patterns. Eventually, a host of Nobel laureates in Economics (Harry Markowitz, Franco Modigliani, Paul Samuelson, James Tobin, etc.) contributed as well. As Bernstein makes clear, however, professional investors at bank trust departments, foundations, insurance companies, mutual funds, and elsewhere long resisted unconventional wisdom—in particular, that originating with ivory-tower theoreticians. Once the bear market of 1973-74 had wreaked its havoc, though, many of the recalcitrants conceded there just might be something in the idea of systematically controlling risk in the competition for above- average investment returns. At any rate, less than two decades later (with a big assist from powerful numbers-crunching computers), asset allocation, diversification, hedging, performance measurement, portfolio insurance, and allied techniques are norms, not novelties, in the management of large pools of money. While his text may prove a bit difficult for market tyros, Bernstein makes a fine job of tracing the town/gown links that are restructuring big-time investment strategy and practice.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 1991

ISBN: 0-02-903011-0

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1991

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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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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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