A detailed, dismaying and damning summation of recent Wall Street-Washington collusion—and the recurrent risk of financial...

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13 BANKERS

THE WALL STREET TAKEOVER AND THE NEXT FINANCIAL MELTDOWN

A stinging indictment of the reckless “new American oligarchy” that led the nation to an economic precipice—and which, because of the government bailout, the authors say, threaten to put U.S. taxpayers on the hook again.

Unlike Andrew Ross Sorkin in his book Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves (2009), economics expert Johnson (Entrepreneurship/MIT Sloan School of Management) and business consultant Kwak prefer long-view analysis to microcosmic narrative. The authors trace suspicion of concentrated banking systems to the beginning of the republic. Jefferson suggested that supporting a federally chartered bank was tantamount to treason. Subsequent tectonic shocks—especially the Panic of 1907 and the Great Depression—led to the financial apparatus of the mid-century—the Federal Reserve, designed to backstop Wall Street in a crisis, and the New Deal, which, by separating commercial and investment banking, protected the ordinary investor from the perils of the system. During the past three decades, however, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have accommodated the CEOs of America’s largest financial institutions as they plunged into new, larger markets. Techniques pioneered or expanded—structured finance, credit default swaps and subprime lending—built a real-estate and financial house of cards. Presidents placed former Wall Street players in senior Treasury and Fed posts because only they, it was felt, could understand this brave new world of modern finance. In this environment of “the soft power of access and ideology,” regulation fell by the wayside, ballooning the industry and compensation. The authors argue convincingly that the philosophy behind the bailout—“too big to fail”—only consolidated more power in fewer firms, solidifying the remaining giants’ influence over legislation and necessitating their breakup into smaller units.

A detailed, dismaying and damning summation of recent Wall Street-Washington collusion—and the recurrent risk of financial folly.

Pub Date: April 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37905-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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