While some passages can be a bit bland, this financial work delivers a succinct helping of historical illumination.




A debut book examines charitable gift annuities in America.

A charitable gift annuity—a financial device in which in exchange for an offering, a nonprofit organization provides fixed payments to a donor—is a concept that seems simple enough on the surface. But in Brown’s exhaustive work, readers learn that these annuities have a storied past. While the author makes mention of similar instruments in Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages, his in-depth investigation begins with a man named Benjamin Silliman. Silliman helped strike quite an arrangement for Yale in 1831, in which in exchange for paintings of the American Revolution by John Trumbull, the university would agree to pay the artist $1,000 annually for the rest of his life. The deal would require hard work and negotiations due to the fact that $1,000 was a considerable sum at the time and Yale was in need of funding. Following particulars of the Yale agreement, the book transports readers to the 1920s, a time in which there was a great interest in gift annuities. The gift annuity campaign of the American Bible Society was flush with advertisements and informative pamphlets. Of course throughout the rise of these annuities, a main concern was always the threat of default—“a nonprofit failing to make its legally required payments to annuitants who trusted the charity and depended on its promise of lifetime payments.” Later portions of the work explore methods to prevent defaults and the necessarily morbid concept of assembling “mortality tables” for donors. While charitable gift annuities seem an unlikely subject for a Ken Burns documentary anytime soon, this book offers some intriguing insights. Readers may not thrill to the finer points of ABS meetings (such as this quote from one in 1927: “At this conference a detailed report on annuity rates as determined by objective was made by George A. Huggins of Philadelphia, the actuary who made the detailed study of the ABS’s annuities about a year ago”). But many details are extremely telling. To realize the renowned Yale needed money in the 1800s because, among other concerns, “the library was aging and small” is to appreciate the ways in which times and institutions change. In a similar vein, the explosion of gift annuities during the booming ’20s is an item even history-conscious readers may be unaware of. Audiences with any interest in America’s past know that the ’20s were roaring, but that they thundered with ABS ads touting an economically practical way for believers to give is likely to come as a revelation. Aside from the obvious takeaway of learning about charitable gift planning, the volume provides a further understanding of various periods and how beliefs from those eras have helped shape the present day.

While some passages can be a bit bland, this financial work delivers a succinct helping of historical illumination.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5301-9732-3

Page Count: 389

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2017

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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 readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.


A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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