I am an avid eclectic reader.
I have read several books recently on the financial crisis we are just coming out of. I read “On the Brink” by Hank Paulson the former Secretary of Treasury, “House of Debt by Alif Mian and Amin Safi, economist, describes the large amount of empirical research done since 2008. Now I have read “Stress Test” by Timothy F. Geithner whose book unlike the prior books provides an insider’s view point of the crisis. I am sure that this will be a controversial book and people will take sides according to their personal belief and only a few people will read it for the facts without judgment. Geithner served as President of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003 to 2008 and Secretary of Treasury from 2009 to 2013. Geithner starts the book with his childhood growing up in various countries as his father worked for the Ford Foundation. He says he learned to speak Hindi, Japanese and Chinese. Geithner describes his education at Dartmouth University and his graduate studies at the Graduate School of International Studies at John Hopkins. He tells about his personal life meeting his wife getting married having children. But he spends most of the book on his employment at the Treasury. He tells about his work in the International department working on helping countries with their financial crisis such as Mexico, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. He says the lessons he learned helped him deal with the current worldwide financial crisis. Geithner goes into great detail about how the crisis development and people were caught off guard as people were complacent because of our long time of stability in the markets. He implies that greed and lack of proper inspections lead to some of the problems. He explains what was wrong, and how they attempted to fix or relief some stress on the markets. He goes into depth about the stress test they designed for the banks to avoid future problems. Geithner explains what attempts were made at legislation to prevent future problems along with what is good, adequate or poor and what is missing and needs to be corrected. The description of our dysfunctional government comes through crystal clear. He mentions Elizabeth Warren as she worked under him as temporary head of the new consumer bureau. I noted Warren was more interested in how the crisis was affecting the individual and Geithner was more interested in the institutions and countries. One of the biggest problems during the crisis was Geithner’s inability to communicate adequately. He has done an excellent job with this book so I wished he would have written his explanations and had someone read them maybe that would have gave us the confidence that comes with understanding. It is obvious from the book the man did his best in an extremely difficult situation.
Michael Lewis has a spellbinding book with drama in a complex highly technical subject of high frequency computerized trading (HFT) in United States stock markets. This is a highly complex field that few understand; Lewis tries to explain it in terms we all can understand. This is a non-fiction book but the author made no effort to be unbiased. According to Lewis the HFT was encouraged by a regulation passed in 2005, which aimed to open large exchanges such as NYSE and NASDAQ to stiffer competition. Instead in Lewis’s view point the stock markets now are rigged by traders who go to astonishing lengths to gain a millisecond edge over their rivals. As an innocent investor presses a button to buy shares, the HFT trader leaps invisibly into the electronic market to profit from the order and thousands of other, siphoning off billions of dollars a year. The author turn it into a human narrative by telling the rise of HFT through the eyes of Brad Katsuyama a former Royal bank of Canada trader who came to Wall Street and was shocked by what he found. The story tells how he found his own exchange (IEX) that is designed to outwit the HFT abuser. If Lewis is right the regulators have failed and allowed a huge financial scandal to take place under their nose and they also have encouraged the deregulation the stock market. One of the subplots is about the role of Russian computer programmers including Sergey Aleynikov an employee of Goldman Sacks who was arrested by the FBI after leaving the bank in 2009 and charged with stealing computer code. Lewis attempts to explain why Aleynikov is not guilty even thought the jury found him guilty. Many of the Wall Street HFT elite are Russian. American’s lack of mathematical skills opened the field to the Russian mathematical and computer professionals I found this to be an absorbing fast paced story and I sure hope that Lewis has exaggerated the problem to make a good story. Dylan Baker did a good job narrating the book.
Unlike some of the other reviewers I found this book interesting and thought provoking. The book went back and forth between what is coming in technology and how it can be used by the individual, corporation, or NGO, for good or bad. What I found most intriguing is their discussions on how government can use the coming technology for good or evil. Jared Cohen worked at the State Department under both Rice and Clinton so I felt he had a good understanding of the various types of government in the world and what they would or would not do with the technology. They went out of their way to point out technology such as, the smart phone, will give more power to all the people of the world. It was interesting how they see the use of communication technology in helping in natural or man made disasters in the world. They used the example of Haiti to show what would have worked better and how various technologies could improve the reconstruction phase post disaster. In listing all the new advancements coming in the future I felt like one day we will pass the wonders of Star Trek. One question they asked was, for each of us to think, at what point do we draw the line of how much privacy will we give up for security. Lots of information along with pros and cons of use and abuse, over all I was fascinated with the information in the book.
Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
The book assumes that you sort of know that the normal distribution is grossly overused in all kinds of science and pseudo-science. It explains in very easy to understand terms why this leads to a host of misunderstandings about the way the world really works. Examples include the recent sub-prime problems.
At some level this is something that serious students of mathematics have understood for a long time, but few are able to explain it this well and this systematically.
The style of the book will strike many who prefer more traditional prose as juvenile and narcissistic. But the brilliance of the book tends to overcome these annoyances.