Despite a polemical undercurrent -- no relativist, he -- this is a fair, deeply-considered, academically appropriate consideration of the ethics of ma...moreDespite a polemical undercurrent -- no relativist, he -- this is a fair, deeply-considered, academically appropriate consideration of the ethics of marketization and normative views about markets' role in the modern world. Sandel writes clearly and with good pace, filling the book with short visits to various examples. It is especially refreshing to see him include both liberal and conservative angles.
I recommended this to the AP Economics teacher at our school, and he gave it a thumbs-up; as the teacher of our Philosophy elective, I second that, enthusiastically.
I still regret passing up the opportunity to take Sandel's pre-eminent course, "Justice", when I was in college. Given my more-than-trivial attraction to philosophy and ethics during my career as a teacher, the magnitude of the missed opportunity boggles the mind. Oh, well. Can't cry over spilled milk...but I can make up for lost time!(less)
Ariely is perhaps the most interesting social scientist writing today. This book is just as enthralling as his two others (and his engaging blog). (As...moreAriely is perhaps the most interesting social scientist writing today. This book is just as enthralling as his two others (and his engaging blog). (As I noted in my writeup about Jonah Lehrer's Imagine, I notice but am not troubled by what some may call self-plagiarism. Ariely does bring back notes he has made and experiments he has referenced in earlier texts. The context being different here, and the work being his own, I can't see any crime there -- even in a book about honesty and dishonesty -- especially because that work fits this different context perfectly. Of course, Lehrer's crimes in Imagine go far beyond and are much worse than self-plagiarism.)
The material is fascinating, and his writing is very clear and often funny, as in the commentary about how college exam periods are dangerous to grandmothers, who seem to die at elevated rates during those times -- well, at least according to their grandchildren, Ariely's students, who ask for many extensions on papers and projects due to "deaths in the family." Each topic in this book bears obvious value for businesspeople, teachers, students, anybody who is interested in human interaction. Chapter titles clearly say it: "Blinded by Our Own Motivations", "Why We Blow It When We're Tired", "Cheating as an Infection: How We Catch the Dishonesty Germ", etc. The organization itself shows excellent understanding of the breadth and depth of the topic.
Ariely deserves special commendation for the style and crispness of his writing voice. He conducts the analysis like an excellent lecture -- he's one of my favorite TED speakers, eminently worth checking out at TED.org -- that never forgets to involve the audience. In the context of discussing how people who have heard the answer rationalize that that was what they were thinking all along, he remarks on how he has changed his class style to elicit feedback/predictions from the audience before he gives results to experiments he poses...and then proceeds to do the same thing throughout the book. Very smart, and humble, too. In addition to explaining clearly and thoughtfully, he recaps each section and chapter with well-organized summaries of what was demonstrated in the chapter, and how all the pieces are fitting together more and more as the book develops.
At the end, one of these summative graphics encapsulates key elements that increase, do not affect, and decrease dishonestly. Spoiler alert (but you will still want to read his explanations about each element even if you know this "outcome")!
Increase dishonesty: ability to rationalize, conflicts of interest, creativity, one immoral act, being depleted ("tired"), others benefitting from our dishonesty ("altruism?"), watching others behave dishonesty, culture that gives examples of dishonesty
No effect: amount of money to be gained, probability of being caught
Decrease dishonesty: pledge, signatures (and when/where they are requested), moral reminders (of secular and religious natures), supervision
Ariely analyzes prescriptions in many forms. As a reader who is interested in developing a culture of integrity at the school where I teach, I boil over with lists of people with whom I want to -- am desperate to -- share these thoughts.
A closing thought: Ariely is decidedly non-partisan but there are many arguments in here about regulation, which are naturally applicable to government. We all know that one political party in the U.S. wants to reduce regulation, but that even that party doesn't want more cheating. As good as this book is for teachers and students, it may be even more useful for potential regulators. Pages 88, 94-95, 188, and 234 all touch on this crucial topic; I hope our legislators (and voters) are reading and thinking about it.(less)
The last I heard about Jonah Lehrer -- friend of Paul's and my Viewpoints class, thanks to his great work on financial bubbles and his generous call-i...moreThe last I heard about Jonah Lehrer -- friend of Paul's and my Viewpoints class, thanks to his great work on financial bubbles and his generous call-in to conference with our students in 2011 -- he was being accused of self-plagiarism. Apparently his article for The New Yorker reused stuff he had written on his Wired blog. So I was prepared when I saw several things in this book that I had also read on Wired, including one that I used in my freshman class this spring.
As much as I despise plagiarism, I don't find this so-called SELF-plagiarism troubling. Lehrer can be excused for using the blog as a drafting board for his later work. With regard to this book, in particular (subtitle: "How Creativity Works"), I am especially accepting: the difficulty of developing and refining new ideas takes such tremendous grit and polish that I see his re- and re-reworking as indicative of an admirable focus, not any sort of (as one Gawker.com protest suggested) intellectual laziness.
As with his previous books, the excellent How We Decide and the even better Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Lehrer demonstrates his ability here to make aggressive, thought-provoking thesis statements about essential social and business constructs. He is a master aggregator, capable of finding and describing marvelous anecdotes and pursuing them toward his latest theory. I admit that there were several points in here when I felt that he had overstated or aggrandized, or that he drew conclusions without suitable rigor in the logical backing. But a book with dozens of intellectually-inspiring insights can be forgiven for having a half-dozen or so that fall short of the mark. He's like Malcolm Gladwell in his aggressiveness (and interest in proposing bold, almost wildly bold, thesis statements), but I find Lehrer more convincing. And I love when he drills down to the neuroscience, which I consider the niche in which he most deserves his acclaim.
Gladwell, by the way, makes a provocative (over-)statement on the book jacket, promoting Lehrer's knowledge of science and writing. This prompted me to look at the way Lehrer organizes and especially starts his chapters. Here are the chapter-opening sentences of the intro plus the first seven chapters:
"Procter and Gamble had a problem: it needed a new floor cleaner." (Introduction) "Bob Dylan looks bored." (ch. 1) "This is a story about tape." (ch. 2) "The poet W.H. Auden was a drug addict." (ch. 3) "The theater is empty; the house lights are low." (ch. 4) "Don Lee's creative journey began with a broken heart." (ch. 5) "The source of every new idea is the same." (ch. 6) "David Byrne loves bicycles." (ch. 7)
Lehrer knows well -- almost redundantly so -- how to engage the reader: dramatic, offbeat, loose and simple (as opposed to periodic and complex/compound-complex) sentences. He loves the personal and the anecdotal; his ability to meld into the abstractions these targeted concrete-sequential elements should be noted. He is a very appealing teacher on these challenging topics.
As such, he also doesn't forget to deliver Recommendations along with Analyses. His eighth chapter's collection of meta-ideas (take education seriously, promote human mixing [because ages of excess genius are always accompanied by new forms of it], be willing to take risks, manage the rewards of innovation) makes this a book to recommend to businesspeople, along the lines of Dan Pink's Drive and Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational. Is is terrific to see science being used to promote creativity and help individuals maximize their value.
But the quirks of individual pages add up to much more than that, which is really why I recommend reading Lehrer. His literateness (from David Hume to Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot to Harold and the Purple Crayon) adds engagingly to the texture of his science and social-science material. Yo-Yo Ma, Pixar, and the Israeli army contribute. The book is a fun and appealingly wide-ranging poke into the brain...and all of our brains need a poke now and then.
UPDATE, Aug. 2: The fabricating-quotations thing is much worse than the self-plagiarism thing, and disappointing. Even top talents like Lehrer can cut corners. I'm sad that it happened, and pleased that someone noticed it, but (after re-reading my review) I don't think it changes my overall commentary on the book.(less)
One of my favorite books from my user-interface design days. Norman's accessible, humorous, insightful, common-sense work is seminal in the field -- p...moreOne of my favorite books from my user-interface design days. Norman's accessible, humorous, insightful, common-sense work is seminal in the field -- probably the most important book to me across my eight years in the business world.
At one point they (the publishers?) renamed the "POET" into The Design of Everyday Things, which (as DOET) just wasn't poetic enough, I guess. I'm thrilled that it's going by POET again.(less)
The genre of business journalism has never been brighter. I see people like McLean and Joe Nocera and Michael Lewis on The Daily Show and all the book...moreThe genre of business journalism has never been brighter. I see people like McLean and Joe Nocera and Michael Lewis on The Daily Show and all the bookshelves, and I rejoice because they are illuminating the shadowy. No, I don't think that they will eradicate ignorance in the U.S.A., but they will help the interested folks parse out meaning from the so many incomprehensible stories out there in the business world.
Lewis's The Big Short may have been a more vibrant narrative, but this book tackles even more, revealing the themes of the housing crash: the country suffered because bankers and the mortgage market suffered from hubris; despite efforts (okay, half-efforts) to regulate, greed is too powerful a force; propaganda -- especially patriotic propaganda -- can blind us to the right way to do business; moral hazard will lead to moral failing.
Not for the faint-hearted. This book requires serious attention. More importantly, it deserves serious attention. And my thanks to Bethany McLean, who did a conference-call with my students in February, and was outstandingly informative and thought-provoking.(less)
Few are as good as Bethany McLean at telling a comprehensible, compelling story about very complicated business topics. While I think her All the Devi...moreFew are as good as Bethany McLean at telling a comprehensible, compelling story about very complicated business topics. While I think her All the Devils Are Here (with Joe Nocera), about the 2007-8 financial meltdown and credit crisis, is better, this first book of hers (with Peter Elkind) is also superlative. The writing seems more controlled in the second book, and the story much harder to tell; the accomplishment there seems superior...but that's niggling criticism. The Enron story continues to boggle the mind, so it is all the better for us as a nation that someone told it crisply.
Sad, though, that the nation that made this a best-seller in 2003-04 didn't pay close enough attention to prevent the subsequent meltdown. Here's McLean/Elkind on Enron:
EES would presumably have to pay the real cost for fulfilling its contracts someday. But the sales team, which was paid up front, wasn't worried about what would happen five years down the road. One senior sales executive used to joke about how he'd close deals, then "throw them over the fence" to let the back-office staff worry about actually making them work. "People would say to me, 'Hey, it's not your problem,'" recalls Ceconi. "'You're not going to be around. Why do you care?'" (182-183)
Apparently, one of the effects of Enron's crash and this pair's reporting is that business ethics courses became more common, even required, in America's business schools. Too bad that that terrifyingly amoral, even immoral aforementioned conversation/scenario was being replicated to devastating effect -- MORE devastating effect -- only a few years after Enron crumbled to the dust.
I wish I could be more confident that we are seeing fewer and fewer of repulsive dealings like the hubristic ones that drove Lay, Skilling, Fastow, and the rest to the edge. Not likely. In a world where income inequality spirals out of control, and the big'uns continue not to get hurt while the little'uns suffer, McLean and Elkind's story seems to be turning out to be no more a cautionary tale than a forecast.(less)
Jane McGonigal is not the typical idealist. On the one hand, she has grandiose ideas about how to save the world, and channels all sorts of video-game...moreJane McGonigal is not the typical idealist. On the one hand, she has grandiose ideas about how to save the world, and channels all sorts of video-game-speak and business-speak into this thesis. On the other hand -- and this is why I enjoyed this important book -- she does more than speak. Her thesis may seem like a crackpot one but she certainly has done superlative work to assess it.
That thesis is that reality can and should be more like video games. My first reaction to this was that it was somewhere between pie-in-the-sky kum-ba-ya nonsense and self-aggrandizing b.s. I believe strongly in Socrates's dialectic, and was intrigued by McGonigal's construct, so I read on and reconsidered, and re-reconsidered. Now I think I initially gave her too little credit.
One key result for me of reading this book is that it prompted in my a series of ideas -- lesson plans, course concepts, approaches to typical student and school-system problems -- that I itched to try. This is a good sign. Her knowledge of history, technology, and psychology (especially in the burgeoning field of positive-psychology, populated for me by such names as Seligman, Czikszentmihalyi, and Daniel H. Pink) resonates. Her imagination and energy astound. Most importantly, her dissatisfaction with empty verbiage impresses.
Terms ranging from "collaborate" to "crowdsourcing" to "epic win" populate this book, but they're not just buzzwords. See how she has attempted to articulate, implement, even measure such things. For example: she organizes her chapters into explicitly stated "fixes" for the problems with the real world, and relates each to a demonstrated element of a good game and an actual attempt to fix the former with the latter. Honorable!
This book does not make me confident that the world's problems are solved. But McGonigal is someone I'd like to know more about, and have my students (and self) emulate in her commitment and energy and clarity.
It would be wishful to say that it will be one of the most important books of the century, but wonderful if we someday can. I like that feeling, so I'm going to go forward with this crackpot theory.(less)
Outstanding job explaining complicated things -- the 2000s version of Bruck's classic The Predators' Ball, but done in an even more timely and narrati...moreOutstanding job explaining complicated things -- the 2000s version of Bruck's classic The Predators' Ball, but done in an even more timely and narratively-friendly way. The characters, all of whom are of course real, pop out of their stories; Lewis has proven his journalistic chops by finding the right people (although I would love to have had him reach Deutsche Bank's Greg Lippmann too) and done just enought to have their stories weave sensibly together.(less)
Very informative on a number of key elements of the history of American labor. Episodes about Hoffa, Reuther, the Democratic split in the south during...moreVery informative on a number of key elements of the history of American labor. Episodes about Hoffa, Reuther, the Democratic split in the south during the Civil Rights era, PATCO, Hormel -- I didn't know enough about any of these. But seriously: a book about 150-plus years of American labor without even a single mention of a teachers' union? Come on. I may be biased, but this strikes me as a foolish omission for any book that proclaims its telling of an "epic" story....(less)
A fantastic book in the business/social science area -- I link it to other recent reads (full or partial) like McGonigal's Reality Is Broken and the p...moreA fantastic book in the business/social science area -- I link it to other recent reads (full or partial) like McGonigal's Reality Is Broken and the positive psychology of Seligman and the "Flow" work by Csikszentmihalyi (spelling?), and many more.
Check out Pink on TED.org first; if you like that 15-minute piece, you'll like this book. I see bountiful applications for teachers, managers, designers, all sorts of workers. Efficiently written and very clearly organized, to boot.
Plus a shout-out to my brother, who is referenced in the appendix.(less)
As enjoyable as the first one: readable and compelling. I'm going to have to follow up on the controversy this spawned on the global warming issue --...moreAs enjoyable as the first one: readable and compelling. I'm going to have to follow up on the controversy this spawned on the global warming issue -- it doesn't seem that L&D say that global warming isn't serious or that we shouldn't try to mitigate, only that there are alternate ways to avert environmental catastrophe than the ones that Al Gore et al. have been promoting.(less)
Extremely compelling, with vivid depictions and clear explanations (of some very complex things), just like Lewis's other books. The start of a great...moreExtremely compelling, with vivid depictions and clear explanations (of some very complex things), just like Lewis's other books. The start of a great career -- eventually, I hope to read everything Lewis writes.(less)
Outstanding book that takes complicated material and a sensationalized era and makes it all contextualized, accessible, and clear. I hadn't realized h...moreOutstanding book that takes complicated material and a sensationalized era and makes it all contextualized, accessible, and clear. I hadn't realized how big a role fixed-incomes played in all that has gone wrong over the past thirty years, but Bruck makes it clear -- no less an analyst and commentator than Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker) stated as much to us when he conference-called with our Viewpoints class in February 2010. Bruck is the one who taught me how and why this is so.
She is equally good with the explanatory stuff and the narrative, which is what really makes this book special. The characters (Perelman, Icahn, especially Milken, and the rest) fascinate. This is one of the most impressive pieces of non-fiction I've read in recent years.(less)
Great to read at the same time as Ariely: one neuroscientific angle on decision-making, one behavioral psychology angle. Rich in anecdotes, delivered...moreGreat to read at the same time as Ariely: one neuroscientific angle on decision-making, one behavioral psychology angle. Rich in anecdotes, delivered with clear prose. Definitely worth reading.(less)
Totally overdone in the press, and glib in key places, but absolutely worth the read. I loved to see his references to Death of a Salesman (even thoug...moreTotally overdone in the press, and glib in key places, but absolutely worth the read. I loved to see his references to Death of a Salesman (even though one is slightly misused). Friedman is a great model of the kind of innovative, wide-ranging thinker that we need in today's somewhat lockstep, get-the-job-done, what-does-the-data-say world. I'd rather have him make a provocative thesis and be open to serious challenge, than have blandness, rigid boundaries to academic disciplines, and mere commentary.(less)
Terrific book that every American should read -- I especially appreciated how Ehrenreich dug into common "beliefs" to back them up with research. Unab...moreTerrific book that every American should read -- I especially appreciated how Ehrenreich dug into common "beliefs" to back them up with research. Unabashedly pro-labor and pro-gressive, and convincing on both fronts because of her unapologetically well-defined perspective as a worker. Great writing by a skilled journalistic voice on a clever and much-needed project. (Now I'm going to see what the WSJ and National Review have to say about it in their book reviews!)(less)