Steven Landsburg believes that mathematics is at the core of existence. In other words, mathematics is the most fundamental thing in the universe. Not...moreSteven Landsburg believes that mathematics is at the core of existence. In other words, mathematics is the most fundamental thing in the universe. Not surprisingly, then, Landsburg's worldview is centered around this belief. In The Big Questions he takes on a host of philosophical problems and dazzles readers with his logical thinking and accessible prose. I thought the book was excellent and it forced me to wade through my own beliefs (I'm not still not convinced that mathematics is the most fundamental thing in the universe though!). Anyway, if you enjoy thinking about the big questions, then Landsburg is a must-read. (less)
Frédéric Bastiat once wrote: “There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. Personally, I cannot imagi...moreFrédéric Bastiat once wrote: “There are people who think that plunder loses all its immorality as soon as it becomes legal. Personally, I cannot imagine a more alarming situation.” In light of all that has happened surrounding the financial crisis of 2008 and the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, we’ve been left to wonder about the downfall of modern ethics, regardless of legality. The growing separation between the ethical and the legal stems, I think, from a desire to become wealthy at any and all costs. This is the subject of Jonathan Dee’s latest novel, The Privileges.
Mr. Dee takes us into the world of high finance and the culture that surrounds it. For many people, it’s probably an all too realistic look at what happens amongst the wealthiest Americans. For others, it’s simply sickening to read about the petty struggles of American bourgeois life.
The story begins by describing the wedding of Adam Morey, a stereotypical middle-class guy who has grand financial aspirations, and, Cynthia Morey, his bride to be. We learn that Adam suffers from narcissistic tendencies and plenty of megalomaniacal delusions; Cynthia, on the other hand, is stunningly beautiful and seems to be most interested in climbing as high as possible in New York’s social stratosphere (I pictured her as a New York Trixie of sorts). Together, Adam and Cynthia are an extremely good-looking couple who are seemingly made for each other.
So what happened to Adam and Cynthia Morey after their lavish wedding? “Time,” as Dee writes, “advanced in two ways at once: while the passage of years was profligate and mysterious, flattening their own youth from behind as insensibly as some great flaming wheel, still somehow those years were composed of days that could seem endless in themselves, that dripped capriciously like some torment of the damned.”
As the story unfolds, we learn that Adam conceives of a scheme for insider trading. This provides the ethical conundrum of the novel. What are the ramifications of Adam’s plunge into criminality? Furthermore, how does he reflect upon it?
Mr. Dee writes: “In the rare moments when he stepped back and thought about it at all, it was vital to Adam’s conception of his professional life that he wasn’t stealing from anybody. There was nothing zero-sum about the world of capital investment: you created wealth where there was no wealth before, and if you did it well enough there was no end to it.” As can be implied, Adam clearly lacked a moral compass.
As for the rest of the Morey family, they stumble along the way you’d expect a rich and dysfunctional family would. Jonas, the Morey’s son, studies art history in Chicago. April, the Morey’s daughter, is a shopaholic with a drug problem. In my opinion, Jonas, an enlightened intellectual, is by far the most likable character in the novel.
Admittedly, I’ve never read anything by Jonathan Dee before and I enjoyed his writing style immensely. The Privileges is ultimately a disturbing novel about misaligned values in the modern world. And, in the end, Mr. Dee kindly reminds us that wealth is not worth pursuing at any cost.
In Rework Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson describe their refreshing approach to business. One complaint I've heard about the book is that virt...moreIn Rework Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson describe their refreshing approach to business. One complaint I've heard about the book is that virtually every idea can be found on their blog. I have not read much of the their blog so this wasn't an issue for me. There are different mediums for different folks though.
Ultimately, this is a book about about how some unorthodox business philosophies produce better results than scientific management. (less)
According to Gary Vaynerchuk, the secret to having a fulfilling and successful career is rather simple. Find your passion and live it because success...moreAccording to Gary Vaynerchuk, the secret to having a fulfilling and successful career is rather simple. Find your passion and live it because success chases passion. If the passion isn't there you can forget about any chance of achieving success or happiness. As you can see, this isn't exactly profound advice.
1) Most people are afraid of public speaking. 2) I fall into the category of "most people".
That's right, I...moreThere are two things I'm pretty damn sure of:
1) Most people are afraid of public speaking. 2) I fall into the category of "most people".
That's right, I have a confession to make: I'm afraid of public speaking!
Confessions Of A Public Speaker, written by Scott Berkun, is laced with insights about speaking -- it's partly autobiographical and entirely useful. Near the beginning of the book Berkun reminds readers that if they're interested in the world of ideas, and want to help traffic them, then there is no escaping writing or speaking. I'm a person who wants to traffic ideas, so this applies to me. I'm very comfortable writing and not so comfortable speaking.
Writing and speaking, however, are two completely different skill sets, so I don't find this fact to be abnormal. Strangely, many people assume that those who write well also speak well. Why should good writers be any more likely to be good speakers than good dancers though?
Arthur Krystal wrote about this issue in his essay "When Writers Speak" (included in The Best American Essays 2010). "Like most writers," Krystal wrote, "I seem to be smarter in print than in person." My thoughts exactly. Writing protects me from saying something really, really stupid or illogical, well most of the time anyway.
Despite my anxieties about public speaking, I've actually done a fair amount of public speaking in both academic and business settings already. Perhaps I'm some sort of emotional masochist, but I always seem to find pleasure in the anxious thrill that comes when actually presenting. Strange as it may be, I'm more afraid of thinking about presenting and first getting up on stage than I am actually presenting. Once I start presenting, the butterflies usually go away.
Anyway, speaking is a life skill that I would really like to excel at, which is why I decided to read this book. As I alluded to, I actually like presenting, well at least as long as at least two conditions are met: 1) I know what I'm talking about and 2) I'm interested in what I'm talking about. If these conditions aren't met, it's a waste of both my time and the audience's time -- any presentation worth giving is worth preparing for.
What I particularly liked about this book was Berkun's no bullshit approach. In the book, Berkun touches on something important that many public speaking gurus often fail to acknowledge, i.e., "No amount of training will make a man with two brain cells seem anything but dumb, as the problem is not his ability to speak, it’s his inability to think. It’s rarely said, but some people will never be good public speakers. Unless they find someone to do their thinking for them, they only have, at best, half the tools they need." In other words, before worrying about speaking, always make sure have something interesting and intelligent to say first.
In his essay "Writing and Speaking" Paul Graham noted something very important that is tangentially related to Berkun's point, i.e., good writing is rooted in good thinking, while good speaking needn't necessarily be.  A good speaker who is motivating and passionate can often convince people of silly things despite glaring logical inconsistencies, a good writer doesn't have this luxury. Graham makes this point as follows: "As you decrease the intelligence of the audience, being a good speaker is increasingly a matter of being a good bullshitter." There is undoubetdly some truth to that claim, I'm just not sure how much.
Anyway, thinking about speaking and speaking about thinking are two of life's great joys. Business people and teachers of all kinds will surely benefit greatly from the insights contained within this book.
 Like Paul Graham, if given the choice, I'd rather be a good thinker and a poor speaker than a poor thinker and good speaker. See his essay "Writing And Speaking"(less)
I once heard someone say that we evolved ears so that we could wear earrings. No joke. The more classic statement that follows that line of reasoning...moreI once heard someone say that we evolved ears so that we could wear earrings. No joke. The more classic statement that follows that line of reasoning is the claim that we evolved noses in order to wear glasses. I know, it sounds pretty silly. Evolution is a highly controversial topic and our vague understanding of it has left many important questions unanswered. Darwinian concepts such as “natural selection” and the “survival of the fittest” are certainly relevant when discussing evolution, but they give us a rather incomplete picture of the process. I’ve long been fascinated by evolution, but I was always left to ruminate about countless deep questions, some of which include: Why do male peacocks have extravagant tails? Why did humans develop language, but other apes didn’t? How did a human taste for art evolve? How did the human mind evolve?
Read the rest of my review of The Mating Mindhere.(less)
I can’t quite fully explain why, but as a high school student, I was fascinated by the culture of the American South. Perhaps my affinity for the Sout...moreI can’t quite fully explain why, but as a high school student, I was fascinated by the culture of the American South. Perhaps my affinity for the South stems from recollections of my youth, when I lived in Mississippi as a young boy. Although, I don’t fully remember it, I’ve been told that I learned to count with a Southern drawl (My family eventually moved to Michigan and I quickly dropped the accent).
Read the rest of my review of A Man in Fullhere.(less)
This book offers up a nice critique of neoclassical economics and the assumptions it's predicated on. The author, Paul Ormerod, essentially urges read...moreThis book offers up a nice critique of neoclassical economics and the assumptions it's predicated on. The author, Paul Ormerod, essentially urges readers to dismiss the thought that the economy operates like a machine. This is because economics is more akin to ecology than it is to, say, physics. Ormerod, then, further argues for a return to the 'political economy' practiced by the classical economists, like Adam Smith. In this framework the economy is seen as dependent on the social, cultural and moral environment in which it operates. Overall, I thought this was a great book and Paul Ormerod reminded me of the following: "Economic policy is far too important to be left to economists."(less)