A welcome user’s manual for anyone invested in the market or otherwise engaged in the financial sphere.

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THE NEW WORLD ECONOMY

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE

Thoroughgoing survey of the globalized, interleaved economy and its discontents.

If there is a single takeaway from management consultant Epping’s (A Beginner’s Guide to the World Economy, 2001, etc.) book, it’s that chaos is king and control nearly impossible, whether of a command economy or of world trade. “Success in the new fusion economy,” he writes, “may depend in large measure on learning that we can’t control everything.” Just so, there are many variables in determining whether an economy is performing well or poorly and no single gauge of success or failure; trying to impose that control on it may produce inflation on the one hand or recession on the other—or, for that matter, the mix of both known as stagflation, “a worst-case scenario.” The author takes a somewhat contrarian view on certain matters: While he notes the shortcomings and costs of cryptocurrency, among them the fact that “bitcoin mining” annually uses as much energy as the entire nation of Ireland, he also opines that “the current system isn’t necessarily better than an alternative system using cryptocurrencies.” Epping looks at the facts of global trade and, without naming names too pointedly, exposes the folly of trade wars, tariffs, and other hallmarks of economic nationalism: “Politicians who speak of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in trade don’t understand that all trade in goods and services is balanced by monetary transfers moving in the opposite direction.” In the global sphere, it’s more sensible to blame governments that “allow most of the new wealth to flow into the coffers of the rich" than to blame globalized trade for our woes. Among the other topics that Epping discusses are the externality of pollution, hitherto seldom factored into the cost of doing business but now increasingly important to reckon with, and the economic behavior of different generations, from the acquisitive and consumptive baby boomers to the comparatively frugal (necessarily, as it happens) millennials.

A welcome user’s manual for anyone invested in the market or otherwise engaged in the financial sphere.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56320-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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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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