Wonderful read. Foer's book is utterly charming. The frame of this book is participatory journalism, the story of how Foer went from observer of the U...moreWonderful read. Foer's book is utterly charming. The frame of this book is participatory journalism, the story of how Foer went from observer of the U.S.A. Memory Championship to winner within the space of one year. Inside this frame, Foer engages questions of cultural memory, neuroscience, literary history and pre-history, self-improvement hucksterism, and trends in education, with a cast of characters that includes savants, frauds, mental athletes, Cicero, medieval scholars, Giordano Bruno, Mark Twain, and ESPN. It's a very brisk read, and raises fascinating questions.(less)
The key word in the subtitle is "heroic." Eric Metaxas does a wonderful job of conveying the faith and idealism of William Wilberforce. This biography...moreThe key word in the subtitle is "heroic." Eric Metaxas does a wonderful job of conveying the faith and idealism of William Wilberforce. This biography is extremely readable, and most moving: a tribute to a man who combines faith and reason, activism and prudence, rhetoric and ethics. Metaxas skillfully shows the linkages between the two guiding lights of Wilberforce: the "reformation of manners," a kind of moral and spiritual awakening, and abolition.
One striking feature of this story is how secularized and worldly the Church of England had become in the late 1700's. Wilberforce is an example of a radical movement of deep faith, typified by the founders of Methodism and the Quakers, that took commitment to Christ seriously. These movements revitalized Christian practice in England and called it to judge the world by the mind of Christ.
One fascinating chapter focuses on Wilberforce's struggle to allow Christian evangelism in India. Commercial interests, such as the British East India Company, were dead set against allowing missionaries to work in India, because it would restrict the particular advantages that British men of means enjoyed there, such as the keeping of retinues of mistresses who were happy to give sexual favors to them in return for, as one gentleman put it, "a little rice and let[ting] them run about." Allowing quaint "customs" such as female infanticide and the suttee were a small price for the East India Company in return for the gains it saw from an endless source of cheap labor. Given this, the Company predictably found itself protecting these practices, often cynically portraying itself as broad-minded and multi-cultural (as opposed to uncaring).
Wilberforce's story deserves to be more well-known, and Metaxas' book is an excellent beginning of this work.(less)
A good read, and informative, Gretchen Morgenson's narrative for the boom that ended in the 2007-8 financial crisis is a solid piece of work. One nit:...moreA good read, and informative, Gretchen Morgenson's narrative for the boom that ended in the 2007-8 financial crisis is a solid piece of work. One nit: there are some very obvious errors in the background material she gives: for example, Mondale did not "sit out" the 1980 election (p. 15) -- he was the VP candidate on the ticket that year. This book provides a good timeline for the governmental actions and private lobbying that helped grow the mountain of bad debt that swamped the economy and was later to do in the economy. Morgenson suggests that much of the crisis was the unintended consequences of government policies to drive homeownership, and the Fannie Mae's, Freddie Mac's, and other banks' (correct) surmise that this provided an investment opportunity with high private reward, but one that had all the risks socialized by implicit government backing. She shows the roots of the 2008 crisis in the Long Term Capital rescue of 1998, as well as President Clinton's housing initiatives in the 90's (she opens the book with these).
Morgenson is a New York Times reporter, and for the most part she is diligent, if somewhat opinionated. Her partner Joshua Rosner authored several papers critical of home financing trends in 2002, papers which contradicted the rosy picture being painted at the New York Fed and other places.
One thing that shocks the authors is that many of the same people responsible for bad policy remained in power: Chris Dodd and Barney Frank both fostered the bubble, then magically appeared in 2010 to play Inspector Renault in Casablanca, declaring that they were "shocked, shocked that gambling was going on" and authoring legislation that basically enshrined "Too Big To Fail" instead of eliminating it. President Obama chose Jim Johnson, one of the parties most responsible, to head his VP selection committee in 2008. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who fanned the flames at HUD, suffered no political fallout, nor did Nancy Pelosi, whose son Paul Jr., drew on connections to save job at doomed mortgage giant Countrywide.
This is one of the books that is a must read for anyone who wants to be informed about the 2008 crisis and its causes.(less)