Here, the well-known jurist took a patient walk through the long development of many concepts in law, often starting in ancient times. As I teach law, I like to pick out anecdotes (for example, the image of an ancient bankrupt debtor having his body physically partitioned and the parts handed out to creditors -- not a world where one would casually buy a cappucino on the credit card). Ideas are traced from ancient forebears in the mists of pagan northern Europe and so on -- from vengeance, and seizure of many offending things (such as a tree that had fallen on a person, to the cutting off of lots of body parts), to the substitution of money damages, and other relatively kinder, gentler legal solutions of Holmes' day (here, the later 1800s). This book does for me what I like history to do: to provide a baseline to compare to things in my world today.
There is a great feel here for the moment, for phrases to capture it, for details large and small that fit, for the cadence of public events and actors in them, as high drama. Another reviewer has observed the author describes thoughts and nuances of inner life that are not explicitly sourced or documented, thus perhaps speculative to some degree. Yet, in that, this work shines with the author's talents (and deep apprenticeship; this takes immersion in great writers' and speakers' great works, one can hear echoing here). And these excursions into others' thoughts and strategies are consistently, highly credible. Every line has surpassing lyrical grace. As history, for its non-academic style, it is detailed and epic and captivating. I wonder whether this is self-consciously Darman's audition as a presidential speechwriter (he would have the job in a heartbeat if I was deciding it), but this would not detract from its qualities. For long stretches of the book I feel seamlessly as if I am each of the characters, facing their defining moments, deliberating, wary of enemies, scorched by memories and fears of failure, and making those decisions that became history across its biggest canvas. And the choice of the central non-biographical topic is great to me: the biggest of issues that this society has faced, the main competing visions of our economic, social and historical identity. I only wish I had the skills to describe these things as well as Darman does.
Minute for minute, this is a great example of the audio format, and great value. It is a very extensive survey (and refresher) of many corporate issues, in plain, commonly used and understandable terms. I plan to re-listen to this from time to time. I notice there is one by this author on IPOs also and I'm anxious to hear it.
This brief tutorial on offshore banking of course omits various advanced complexities. But it is a fine first look. The author constantly has an eye on compliance issues which is a good approach, because this is not a place for people to tread uninformed.
This account sticks to its knitting in the sense that it does not go far and wide into other contexts, such as vast historical panoramas, and it takes Muhammad as it finds him within his own times, place and cultural context. Of course his influence and impact on those things were vast, but we go into the narrative step by step, from the relative smallness of his beginnings through the daunting challenges at each turn, each level oif personal maturity and achievement, and the devising of solutions (or to take him on his own terms, the imparting of revelations) that worked, such as they did, within that time and place. The author has an even-handed, reasonably sympathetic stance in this work; it is not a polemic trying to aggressively adversely confront all of this. For example, the reality of the polygamy (and the respective characters and behaviors of his wives) is merely explained calmly as a part of the sequence of events, in its local context of the customs of the time and place. Those customs in the area of Mecca are explained well, helping to give meaning and context to Muhammad's actions and character.
I have been reading versions of Tao te Ching for decades. This is a balanced, serene, insightful one, that I think fits modern sensibilities better than any I've read (in several instances giving phrasings that better expressed ideas I had groped for, but not fully reached with other versions). It has a neat, non-frilly clarity that is ideal. The sound quality is good as far as the voice but I can hear quiet background noise going on and off as each little segment ends and the next starts. It is mildly distracting, but no big deal.
Here is a fly-on-the-wall, blow-by-blow of the Nixon and his team in action. Richard Nixon is a boundless case study, this eternally snarky, coarse, calculating poker player. Everything and everyone is another card to "play." Here are the ethnic and gender slurs, perhaps an echo of the onetime supply officer in the WW2 Pacific playing cards with his buddies, with a layer of ever-calculating scrappy lawyer on top. At moments, he literally growls and snarls. A terrific editing job has been done, moving seamlessly between the various players. Yes, I take anyone's self-justifying narrative with a huge grain of salt, and that includes John Dean's, and the later book makes me wince at moments. But that does not spoil the piece, because so much of its content is so well documented (and even includes tapes of the actual conversations). I think it's time for me to rummage through some more of these Nixon "straight up" audios.
I see another sub-plot here too, quite pertinent to today's evaporating privacy issues for politicians as well as everyone else. Nixon I believe anticipated his oval office tapes would be confidentially his alone, to vet and filter out at his leisure for the historical record. The press has always served the legitimate interest in widely disclosing matters of public news interest (of course alongside its profit motives). Nixon for his part was obsessed with the press and that dynamic -- and they were going for the jugular with him, and all kinds of people were leaking supposedly private information. This, mixed with his personality, brought us Watergate. But he was not completely unhinged -- his frustrations had serious elements for us to ponder. The public cannot demand every utterance of every government official at the moment it is made. But in our everything-networked world, are we losing something, with microphones everywhere, document retention rules? Can any of us function in a high pressure situation where we are every moment presumably speaking to eternal history as represented by an army of adversaries over long periods analyzing and parsing every word? This has been an issue not only for Nixon but for both Clintons. Political opponents on either side are quick to make hay from these things, but they should reflect that they live in glass houses themselves, in terms of a world that watches every event and never forgets. It is not new, but its intensity and these particular dynamics are recent. And much of this started here, as we can hear and consider. Our civilization is maturing through this tech revolution, and some will find themselves in a glare unimagined.
As a last remark: if judicial matters are of little interest to you, you might be bored. This is certainly not as "juicy" as secret bombing programs and such. But for me, it is rich.
As the book opened, its wanderings through the story of Anthony Drexel's father had me worried. Here we were with a vain young vagabond painter walking aimlessly around the mountain hamlets of Napoleonic Europe. But the point of the story, and the broad canvas across which it happened, quickly enough came into focus. (That gullible young man, Francis Drexel, in grand American fashion, would end his life a venerable Philadelphia banker.) His son, Anthony Drexel, was a man of extraordinary business sense wrapped in an outward plainness and modesty that modern sensibilities might gloss over. But the story unfolding all around him, in which he was time and again a major player, was at the heart of American business and financial history and politics in his times. Here, right down the street, is Jay Cooke, emerging marketing wizard of mass bond issues for the Civil War, later to crash and burn spectacularly in an insanely ambitious cross-continent railroad adventure; General (then President) Grant; all the banking firms and families of the times here and in Europe, and of course, Anthony's associates, Junius and John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan. In Drexel's virtuoso conception and building of his business relations with the Morgans, the confused younger Pierpont's life was changed at a critical point and redirected into its historical, planet-affecting path, still affecting us today. The personalities, conversations and steps in all this are lucidly told, easy to follow, and the narrator is ideal: clear and not flashy. Here we see not the march of business history (from the old family structures into more modern entities, ideally explained through actual decisions and deals, as when A. Drexel must favor partner J.P. Morgan's visionary business decision over his own partner-brother's wishes, on the eve of the crash of 1873). And on another level, for the business organization afficionado, we get a great sketch of such inspiring things as the ideal expression of private partnership based on character, in its most dynamic workings (between Drexel and the Morgans, especially J.P.), with scarcely a partnership agreement document in sight. (One can see by comparison how the sprawling structures of capital and control nowadays, as Adam Smith suspected, can undercut accountability and integrity.) We experience these things through the intimacy of personal correspondence, and then, time and again, the viewpoint seamlessly pulls back and shows a wider tableau. Through it all, as the biggest backdrop, we get a very economical and listenable explanation of major events and innovations of the later-mid 1800s in finance, fit perfectly with the details of the story, and the larger context of business history. (This is the most coherent explanation of these broader events among the dozens of related books I have read). This book is first-rate. Bravo!
The story here spans the arrival of Christianity as an official religion of Rome in the 300s, through Martin Luther's times. As my scholarship into these times in Muslim, Jewish and Christian spheres deepens, it is refreshing to have good lectures between heavier forays. These are not as ponderous as deeply scholarly books, and yet deep enough to give me a strong start into the subjects. As such they empower and accelerate my learning, with the light touch that lecture provides. There is much on European political history and particularly the Catholic church and its greatest thinkers in these times, alongside the Jewish thinkers and leaders. This work effortlessly, gracefully spans politics, philosophy, law, and theology, showing sensible links between them, as a great professor can do. The Jewish migrations and various related actions of Jews and Christians alike suddenly make a lot more sense to me, showing that Professor Neiman was a deeply thoughtful scholar of all sides of these matters. Time and again we receive fine insights into the actors in their times, finding themselves facing real-world problems unfolding in real time, to solve (often imperfectly, sometimes disastrously) with doctrines and the tools at hand.
He seems unfailingly charitable to the Jews' plights and perspectives, as I suppose I could expect, and I'm not scholar enough to completely critique this. Nevertheless, I never feel I am being shown one-dimensional Christians. Everyone is credibly an actual person in a world of fast-emerging, tough issues. My knowledge has gained immensely.
I would contrast the next work of his I am hearing, "The Jews in History." The style and approach are somewhat different. In "The Church and the Jews," some basic history knowledge and curiosity is all that is needed, and many characters, institutions, doctrines, terms, and concepts are lucidly and patiently explained. "The Jews in History" would seem to require a bit more pre-existing background in the listener, in the basic stories of the Torah, for example. E.g., we are expected to know some detail of the stories of Joseph and Moses, to make sense of the comments. It has a more familiar tone, and has less patient, smoothly accessible structure and continuity as is found in "The Church and the Jews." Yet, it has a quality and depth all its own.
Another title might be, "mud wrestling in a tangled snake pit over the privilege to steal other people's money." Yet another, "a bipartisan masterpiece of machinations and sleaze: following the bread crumbs, naming names, good and bad, and among the bad, the incredibly slippery." A few slither away with big money, and the final bill, in a familiar story, is handed to the taxpayer, with Congress hacks helping the perps, greatly enlarging that bill, and altogether making us all measurably poorer for life.
This may be a by-product of every go-go era, and go-go-eras have produced some great good for the public. This book focuses on the exploiters of such times, and I think we probably have another such prosperous phase of the cycle coming (so watch out).
Did Alan Greenspan really say he thought there shouldn't be fraud laws (as attributed here, as having been remarked to Brooksley Born?) If so, wow.
People plus econ theory can go to some very abstract, exotic places. That is, until one realizes: many hacks in the private and public sectors have their bread fundamentally buttered with information asymmetry: they actively embrace the view of a world of suckers and the suckered. The manipulators (and their house theory-propounders) make huge fortunes from it, want it, and must think the defrauded get what they deserve. Why should we slow down and take note of the fools who just haven't paid the information costs of being kingpins (and thus, in a sense, deserve their losses, and bargained for them)?
It is an interesting ethos and set of questions. Some version of it is also a central cash flow machine for a huge political and business elite, despite the protestations of many (hauling out the easy bumper sticker phrase) that this is merely the magical free market in operation. (Adam Smith knew better, castigating fraud and what is now called agency problems, but who really reads him? Might as well watch the adult cartoons on TV creatively cherry-picking his writings.) After all, the market finds its equilibrium at some point, and by then, the winners have unassailable amounts of winnings, free and clear and oh-so-cleverly stashed. The armies of well-greased syncophant experts see to that. Except that the defrauded in this latest round of this phenomenon (2008) are unprecedented numbers of the rest of us, especially via the system of government-(taxpayers)-as-insurance-for-the-macro-economy joined at the hip with continuing permissiveness of fraud. Watch it unfold again now: now whenever everybody's fear of macro-disaster subsides, the next echo of this familiar financing bubble will take off. Since interest rates can't and won't be lowered soon, the answer (proposed by many) to juice up the economy will be sharp financial deregulation. And again, as in this book, the downsizing of things like bank examiner budgets. The regulated businesses will again be touted by regulators as "our clients." And surprise, into many cronies' pockets, vast amounts of cash will flow. Everybody will feel (at least potentially) rich and studly for a little while, then comes the inevitable denouement. (I can't assume from this small sample that the cycles will continue to shorten and steepen. But it concerns me.)
And it feeds back into both major parties' coffers, and some very big political names, keeping the dance going longer, for bigger looting and losses, as this book shows.
This book spends most of its time in a blow-by-blow of the '80s S&L affair in which this author was a prime participant from the government enforcement side. (This is not the entire history: the inquisitive reader can look for more background as to why S&Ls were in the ditch they were, for which the answer SEEMED to some, and some in good faith, to deregulate, to give some slack to the floundering industry, to climb out of its ditch. As usual, bipartisan fingerprints were all over the mess from way back. That larger history isn't quite all here, and isn't the apparent intention of this book, which is much more about the direct trench warfare.)
People with an interest in this subject and its players will find it pretty absorbing (some will find it maddening, either at the author and those he praises, or those he pillories, or maybe some mix thereof). Having shown the most connected '80s crooks dispatched finally, after a titanic struggle finally winding up in climactic hearing scenes in Congress, it picks up speed to tie together a bigger picture historically and economically (from the author's particular viewpoint) in about the last one-fifth of the book. He is quite critical of public choice theory and other conservative concepts that, I think, can be very meaningful and important. But I don't get the sense of a blinkered ideologue.
It was my honor to meet one of this book's heroes, Edwin Gray, later Bank Board Chairman, informally, in the early Reagan era. He infuriated a lot of well-connected people by actually doing his job, even after severe pressure was brought by many powerful and connected people. We can compare this civil servant, ungainly character traits and all, with the party hack later put into the regulators' ranks who, per the author, could not shut up about the fancy tricked-out interior and sound system of arch-crook-banker Charles Keating's jet. The latter sort of naive young apparatchiks were intentionally salted into the ranks of the regulators, by those for whom government is always and everywhere nothing but "the problem." Why not, in that vein, hire cops who are in awe of Pablo Escobar's car collection?
And yet, next to the magnitude of crony cash flows these days, and the bitter rhetoric and broken consensus-reaching process, one can feel nostalgic for Reagan and his ability to work across the political spectrum and often lead in very good and productive directions, too. He was not simply a one-trick pony, as many of the cartoonish supposed imitators are now. But in the shadow of any and every system, some strange critters can grow.
If you are widely read in Taleb's work, there are few surprises here. I pretty avidly snap up whatever he writes, but I had seen such things as his praise of city-states elsewhere. There seems a slight advance in his mapping of fragilities on a wider scale, compared with his prior works.
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