A well-informed history of silver’s allure.

THE STORY OF SILVER

HOW THE WHITE METAL SHAPED AMERICA AND THE MODERN WORLD

A history that shows how silver has been central to economics, politics, and foreign affairs.

Silber (Finance and Economics/New York Univ. Stern School of Business; Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence, 2012, etc.) examines the significance of silver from the nation’s founding to the present. Deeply researched and authoritative, the book begins with Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, who advocated a bimetallic backing for the dollar to prevent a shortage of either silver or gold. Throughout the 19th century, however, the use of silver as monetary standard was fiercely debated: Ohio Sen. John Sherman pushed through the Coinage Act of 1873, establishing gold as “sole legal tender for all obligations.” Nebraska congressman William Jennings Bryan, in his famous “Cross of Gold” speech delivered during his presidential campaign of 1896, advocated for the cheaper metal, silver, which his constituents believed would result in more circulating currency and higher prices for Nebraska’s commodities. Later, Sen. Key Pittman from Nevada—the Silver State—found an ally in Franklin Roosevelt, who took the U.S. off the gold standard and subsidized silver production, with the hope of mitigating the effects of the Great Depression. Making a case for the worldwide consequences of this decision, Silber asserts that Roosevelt’s strategy strengthened the Japanese military and exacerbated the Sino-Japanese conflict that left China vulnerable. During World War II, a shortage of copper for use in electrical wiring led to the withdrawal of silver, a fine electrical conductor, from its depository at West Point. The Manhattan project alone used 14,000 tons of silver. In his effort to show the tentacles of silver’s influence at home and abroad, the author makes the unsubstantiated assertion that John F. Kennedy may have been “murdered for downgrading the silver subsidy,” a conjecture he finds “as least as plausible as the rest.” Silber’s detailed recounting of the fluctuating prices of silver throughout history is enlivened by portraits of some obsessed silver investors, including psychiatrist Henry Jarecki and Nelson Bunker Hunt, a right-wing oil baron who was once the world’s richest man.

A well-informed history of silver’s allure.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-691-17538-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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