This book might start awkwardly for one accustomed to less academic works. But hang in there, if you like bright, clear, disciplined presentation of big ideas, in depth, with enough history to make sense of it all. I always wanted to dig further into "liberty," "property," "pursuit of happiness," and such ideas, feeling unsatisfied with the shallow syntheses I saw dished up and tossed about in popular books and media. Well, here is a deep exploration of the thinkers and thoughts that fed into the foundations of our society and legal systems (and now much of the world's), and it is so listenable, so well put. This might stand as my favorite audiobook to date (among hundreds). This work goes much further than my law school education did. And where there were a variety of thoughts and positions on these themes among the thought leaders of the day (as of course there were), we get a fine survey, rather than some pre-bent sale-job of one side. That's good scholarship. The next time some blowhard starts bloviating about what the founders supposedly thought and meant, I'll be ready.
For those who have followed financial services and the trends in regulation since '08, a lot of this is not new. The narrator, with his blandly casual, unvarying bored yuppie intonations intensifies the feeling at moments of listening to an interminable corporate slide show; every single sentence (no exceptions) begins and ends in the exact same sound registers, and I get the feeling he was just clocking in and picking up a paycheck. The review of recent history was very pedestrian and unimaginative, and I didn't hear anything at all new until some time in the 30th minute. Maybe every half hour I heard something that really made me perk up. The fresher ideas (at least, fresher in my experience, having absorbed many of the big mainstream books on this area) involve thinking in new patterns about future growth and change in this industry. Though few sharp-etched answers are offered, and plenty of bromides are here about honoring all stakeholders (without really digging into how incentive structures can specifically and concretely change to get us there), the listener is invited to consider many directions and niches for banking in the near future, and some opportunities and dangers, from the community level to internationally. I don't regret hearing this one, though I will refrain from much, if any, "wow" response.
This is maybe the sixth book I have read on Enron. Full disclosure: I am an aficionado, fan and amateur scholar of the Enron story. This one (for readers who already have a basic grasp of the narrative) has its own useful and illuminating angles and facts, large and small. Sherron Watkins' personalized journey through the company helps show the nervous, semi-entrepreneurial kind of path many felt they must follow, to be linked to the personalities and the "action" where advancement and even survival could be found. On occasion, the personal trivia veered into the stupid -- ski and paintball encounters and such. But I guess this shows some of the silly juvenile trash that I am given to understand still permeates the halls of many corporations, as team- and spirit- building exercises. Apparently the cheerleaders still stalk the halls of business. But these sidetracks are mercifully short, and the discussion often touches (if simplified, then comprehensibly) on quite substantive matters -- some details of accounting devices used to puff up revenues and hide debt, and the legalities of entering, say, retail electricity sales in multiple states. Then, too, we get a good portrait of the principals' (Skilling's and Fastow's, particularly) reactions to such obstacles, as mere technicalities to be creatively overcome. And there, the story is quite current, in view of globalized corporations' armies of numbers and law personnel brainstorming to "arbitrage" every such obstacle. Some of this is a natural (and not necessarily always nefarious) part of doing business -- creativity IS often about stretching existing boundaries and obstacles. And sometimes the legalities ARE sketchy. Of course, Enron became a caricature and a cartoon of this, as is skillfully laid out here. The narration is clear, punchy and quite suitable.
The Gordian knot entangling the Euro members is fascinating and well explicated. This author's prescriptions strike me as pretty straightforward neo-(neo-) Keynesian, but I wouldn't let that dissuade me from hearing him out. He does at least roughly map a lot of areas that need vigilance -- we are not (ever) out of the woods.
I'm primarily a "business history guy," and not into fiction much. But I'm also an Anglophile, raised on Shakespeare, and this play is very revealing of much business/cultural history. Modern ears, I think, will likely deplore the injustices done to the Jewish merchant Shylock, which might not have been Shakespeare's (or his audience's) views at all. This was billed as a "comedy," right? As in, having a "happy" ending? But I love the way the pretzel logic leaves everyone, even the most virtuous, tinged with a bit of larceny and trickery. The hypocrisy of the supposedly virtuous Establishment gentiles was well on display here (perhaps unintentionally?). The performance I thought delightful all around. I can only wish audible would produce the earlier Christopher Marlowe play "The Jew of Malta," and maybe the nonfiction book "Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe" by Derek J. Penslar. But meanwhile, Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money" is available, which sheds some limited light on the topic.
This ride through 60s Wall Street moves well, though unevenly here and there. Everywhere are telling details and anecdotes (matching cultural tidbits I remember, though I was a kid) in tales of every kind of operator from wiser financiers to high-fliers. There are countless wise observations of the fascinations and failings of markets, that are still meaningful today. In the foreword, Michael Lewis seems to damn it with faint praise, but I might speculate there's a little envy here, for the work of such an animated storyteller. As I listened to this, I also read "The Money Game" by (the pseudonymous) 'Adam Smith,' a similarly wry-and-sprightly-yet-wise look into many matching stories and aspects of 1960s markets and their denizens. I enjoyed mentally comparing this account of the mild downturn of 1970 (ending the "go-go years") with our Great Recession: quite amusing was the author's lamenting unemployment at a whopping 6-plus percent, and such awful privations for the middle class as replacement of steak meals on airliners with sandwiches, and cloth napkins with paper ones! Oh, the horror! I see many Americans in that time period as spoiled brats squandering their historic world supremacy and opportunities, veering into zany and infantile frivolities, and there is ample evidence of that here. But knowing the rest of the story, the way the 1970s did unfold into some serious macro-problems, casts a sobering light back onto this. I see more books by John Brooks recently released here, and I look forward enthusiastically to hearing them. This author can convey a lot of useful and meaningful content in an engaging and listenable, non-technical form.
This is one of my favorite audiobooks ever (and I've listened to hundreds). I took financial and managerial accounting classes a few years ago. This worked as a refresher and went beyond that into solid, basic finance topics, very effectively. The information is useful to me for personal finance decisions as well (such as, using discounted value of future cash flows in decision support). Rarely have I found so much useful information so well and so compactly delivered. I will listen to it many times. I hope for more content form this author.
I am grateful for the lack of razzle-dazzle and the straight-faced discipline here of sticking to known facts. Lansky was a cautious man with a sharp memory and a good head for numbers. He was more honest in dealings than his cohorts generally, and would avoid direct participation in the worst excesses of organized criminals, but he would team with some with no such scruples, such as Siegel and Luciano. Lansky was not the sensationalized demi-god of international criminal finance he is sometimes exalted as (a narrative which might dovetail with the mythos of shadowy international Jewish conspiracies). There were plenty of people he could not bribe and corrupt. We hear this in the later stages of his life, where he was a guy with a weak heart and limited assets fleeing the Justice Department from place to place. His interactions with Israel, as he attempted to use the right of return to emigrate (and to die) there, were interesting and well told from a legal point of view. Though Lansky had made some efforts in aid of the combatants founding Israel, and put on a full court press with forceful lawyers to make his case, the Israeli justice system appears (in my opinion) to have come to the right conclusion in ultimately rejecting his petition for citizenship. Lansky's children are given brief roles, and they turned out to be as flawed as anyone, and did not come away with great fortunes. Often stories like this are embellished a lot, maybe for sales. But I prefer this approach.
By "better," I mean it is light and entertaining, as business fare goes, and has enough detail to give a sketch of the histories, personalities and so on. By "worse" I mean it dwells on superficial but attention-getting things like the perks of the scandal-mongers and their more glaring eccentricities, rather than really digging into deal details. In this phase of my business-finance education and sophistication, I tire quickly of the list of silly consumer goods and the mistresses and such that many of these characters pursue. So, I listen to this as a "relaxation" business book, when I am a little fatigued or distracted. In those times when I am more focused and really wanting to learn with precision, this shallow flashiness bores me. A person earlier or less sophisticated in business studies may benefit from the listenable quality of this -- I would term it "sugar coated."
I have recommended this to several friends who are novices in this area. It stands alongside "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" as a favorite introduction to investment thinking. These ideas have earned my trust in the markets. It ranges beyond stocks to give some limited, basic explanations of other investments and markets.
This work has changed my thinking and everyday experience -- my highest praise. It's not that I swallow whole every assertion made there about a narrative flow of the "end of the world," though a credible if very non-rigorous model is sketched. This is not a formal work trying to bring a microscope to the exact problems we face as a species. What uniquely grabbed me was the radical approach to meaning and experience that peels off every comforting and supposedly "safe" surface or refuge and instills an amazing vertigo and bracing penetrating discomfort about -- pretty much whatever one clings to. I admire someone with the courage to rip into my stodgy mental structures and at least shake them up. And aside from its content, its form is arresting too. I think this a great performance in the audiobook genre specifically. The narrator's intonations coupled with the writing style make it a work and experience of -- philosophizing art -- an incisive commentary and a prose poem in the same moment. The least appealing parts to my mind were perfectly fine (and occasionally brilliant) descriptions of modern art works and their rhetorics -- I preferred when the author put his mental scalpel right into the stuff of everyday experience and thought, and turned the same in effect inside out. If one wants to open doors of perception, there's no need to make recourse to drugs. Just strap this sucker on and take a walk, anywhere. It is like walking inside a vast many-faceted work of art.
People more versed in such schools as poststructuralism may not have this beginners' delight in the arresting clashes with the comfortable I find here. That's my next stop.
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