A NATION OF DEADBEATS

AN UNCOMMON HISTORY OF AMERICA'S FINANCIAL DISASTERS

A revisionist history of financial collapses in the United States radiating to other parts of the globe, with implications for what really caused the ongoing economic meltdown.

Nelson (Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend, 2006, etc.) is a professional historian with a nonestablishment focus. The major problem with traditional historic accounts is that they diminish the role of ordinary citizens—i.e., debtors—while overplaying the roles of gigantic banking institutions. Though the economic declines documented here occurred long before the current mess, the author makes the case that each of those declines (in 1792, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929) share common factors and can teach important lessons for contemporary policymakers. Systemic declines would probably never occur if not for the huge numbers of individual consumers wanting material goods, spending beyond the realm of common sense and then defaulting on promised payments. What happens next rarely stops at national borders, with panics crossing oceans and continents throughout the international economy. Additional fallout includes the formation of new political parties or the rejuvenation of existing but moribund parties. One compelling example, ably delineated by Nelson, is the rise of Andrew Jackson to the presidency due to fallout from a financial disaster. This revisionist account is eminently readable, in large part because Nelson offers flesh-and-blood examples rather than relying on abstractions. He opens the book with the story of his father’s career as a repo man. In that job, he dealt with deadbeat consumers every working day, gaining an acute understanding of how widespread financial collapses begin at the community level. A fascinating historical narrative, even if Nelson occasionally confuses cause and effect with correlation or even coincidence in some of his case studies.   

 

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-27269-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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