Every time I read a book about Wall Street, I have two basic reactions. 1) I don’t quite get all the details of the scam here, but I understand that tEvery time I read a book about Wall Street, I have two basic reactions. 1) I don’t quite get all the details of the scam here, but I understand that there is one. 2) All those bullying business majors who made my first few weeks of freshman year so miserable went and did the same to the world’s economy. Luckily, this book isn’t just about the self-entitled financial middlemen who profit at their clients’ expense. It’s about a small group of Wall Street guys who tried to reform the system from the inside. From what I gather, they’ve been successful.
The leader of the reformers is Brad Katysuma, but I thought the people he assembled for his team were much more colorful. There was Ronan Ryan, an Irish tech with a mouth like a sailor, Zoran Perkow, who on 9/11 decided that he was at his best in a crisis so made a career change to the high-stress environment of Wall Street, and a former military man with the unique gift of mapping out complexities, whether on the battlefield or the stock market. Even though I didn’t get all those complexities, the focus on the personal made the book more accessible. The book also details the biography of one man not on Brad’s team: Serge Aleymov, the only Goldman Sachs employee to serve time since the crash of 2008.
If I had a significant amount of money, I’d invest it with Brad Katsuyama. But since I don’t, I can content myself with knowing that at least one guy on Wall Street actually has integrity. ...more
After reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers last year, I thought I’d had my fill of Mary Roach. Sure, she makes science fun, but she alAfter reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers last year, I thought I’d had my fill of Mary Roach. Sure, she makes science fun, but she also likes grossing her readers out. And this book, which is about digestion, seemed even more fraught with danger than Stiff. After all, I hope to enjoy many more meals in my future, and I didn’t want them ruined. But like with Stiff, a group read got me to jump in. It wasn’t with a Goodreads group this time, though. It was the Leonard Lopate Book Club on WNYC.
As I said, the book is about digestion. . . from top to bottom. In other words, ithas a chapter on spit and several on sh__. It was these latter chapters that made me tired of the book. They had their laugh lines and interesting historical tidbits, just like all Roach’s writing, but how many chapters of that can one person endure?Yet now, even though I’ve finished the book, I’ve begun reading it aloud to my teenage sons. One is interested in science (the reading aloud was his suggestion), and the other is taking Biology in school this year. I’m having more fun on this second read because of all the in-between chatting with my kids. But I don’t know if we’ll make it to the final chapters with Pesach around the corner. I hope we’ll be talking about the Haggadah instead.
P.S. - Totally cool tidbit. This book actually mentions Goodreads! ...more
Ava Chin was one of my sister’s best friends in junior high, so it was really exciting to get hold of her memoir. For the past few years, she’s been wAva Chin was one of my sister’s best friends in junior high, so it was really exciting to get hold of her memoir. For the past few years, she’s been writing a column called “The Urban Forager” at The New York Times, so at least half of this book is about finding and cooking the plants that grow wildly in New York City’s parks, recipes included. It made me curious as to what’s growing here in my own backyard in Rockland, but I can’t see myself joining Ava and her friends on any foraging treks.
The better half of the book, at least for me, was the personal stuff: Ava’s family and love life. Foraging has become a trend amongst New York foodies and hipsters, but Ava was raised with it. Her grandfather, born in China, worked in many restaurants here in America, and both he and Ava’s grandmother knew which wild plants were edible and what to do with them. As a Chinese American, Ava really was in the perfect position to bridge the two foraging cultures.
But the foraging for food is really a metaphor for love. Her relationship with her grandparents was the most loving and nurturing of her childhood; her mother was single, busy, and bitter at having been abandoned in pregnancy by Ava’s father. So in many ways, this book is a tribute to Ava’s grandmother, “awesome to the end.” It’s also the story of navigating the New York singles scene. Boy, am I glad I was spared!
Even if I didn’t know Ava, I would still enjoy her book. The story of her grandmother’s death was raw but gripping, and the story of her encounter with feral bees was fascinating! But the thing is, I do know Ava, and that makes the book even more amazing. I remember when she was thirteen, talking about her dream of becoming a writer. I had the same dream, but I wouldn’t dare admit it in public. Now she’s a writing professor who’s published her second book while I’m still dreaming about becoming a writer.
I also remember a time before Ava and my sister were close. Ava’s grandfather worked at a local restaurant called the Lotus Inn. My father often took us there. (Jews and treif Chinese food. Oy vey!) My sister and I loved it for its interesting décor. It had a big waterfall fountain/wishing well in the foyer, blowfish around many of the lights, and best of all, some of the tables were surrounded by straw huts like something out of Gilligan’s Island. The hostess, a beautiful Chinese woman whom we considered really glamorous, stood in the biggest hut of all with the cash register and after-dinner mints. One evening, my father had taken my sister, our then-best friend, her mother, and me out to dinner at the restaurant. While we were sitting at the table, Ava was standing with the hostess in her hut, which seemed like a position of great privilege to me, though for all I know, she might have been embarrassed about it in front of her schoolmates. Our friend’s mother said, “You could learn so much from that girl’s experiences!” And of course, it was true. We just ate in restaurants; we had no idea what went on behind the scenes. Well, now, with this book, we finally can learn from Ava’s life experiences! And in all this time, perhaps not that much has changed. I buy my food at the supermarket while Ava is still closer to the source. ...more
I’m a fan of Tim Harford a/k/a “the Undercover Economist.” He’s an academic who has thrown his hat into the pop economics genre, but while he does useI’m a fan of Tim Harford a/k/a “the Undercover Economist.” He’s an academic who has thrown his hat into the pop economics genre, but while he does use a conversational tone and give real life examples, he doesn’t dumb the concepts down. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t always understand what he’s talking about. That was especially true of this book, the fourth of his that I’ve read so far. It’s the shortest and written in a Q&A style that anticipated my questions and threw in jokes here and there, but it was still the hardest to understand. Harford explains the reason for that. His previous books were about microeconomics – how people make decisions – and that’s something everyone can relate to. This book was about macroeconomics – the big concepts like GDP, inflation, the causes and cures for recession. Macroeconomics is complicated, which is why the world is in such a mess. Nobody can agree on which principle to apply when.
So here’s my take-away from this book. There are Keynesians who believe that recessions can be solved by government stimulus, and then there are classical economists who believe that markets naturally correct themselves. The debate between them is fiercer than nature vs. nurture used to be amongst psychologists, but just like the answer to nature vs. nurture turned out to be nature and nurture, the right approach to macroeconomics is a hybrid of the Keynesian and classical views. A recession caused by a weakening of demand – people afraid to spend money – can benefit from government intervention. A recession caused by a weakening in supply can be cured by government staying out so that innovative people are free to come up with alternatives to whatever supply of commodities has dried up.
But having said that, I still don’t quite get it. If a country suffers a famine, it seems to me that their best way out of it is aid from other richer nations. And second, while I understand that spending money keeps the national and global economies running, if I would spend less and save more, I’d be doing much better in personal economy. If a whole lot of people came to that conclusion and acted on it, it would be better for them, so why should it be worse for everybody? Questions like this have got me scratching my head. But since nobody’s asking me to create monetary policy, I’m not going to break my head over macroeconomics. I read the book, I got what I could out of it, and now I'll move on. I’ll work as hard as I can, save as much as I can, and hope that living a fiscally responsible life will improve not just my own well-being but the well-being of the larger world. ...more
I hereby take back any snooty thing I’ve ever said about Stephen King. I think he must be one of the most talented writers alive today. What really knI hereby take back any snooty thing I’ve ever said about Stephen King. I think he must be one of the most talented writers alive today. What really knocks me out about him is his versatility. His characters all have distinctive voices, and he places them in such different circumstances and plotlines. That impression came through particularly in this book, which is a collection of four novellas. The title is Different Seasons, and that says it all. Each one of these stories is gripping, and each one has a uniquely different set of characters in completely diverse settings. I’m completely bowled over by Stephen King’s unending imagination!
I suppose I should say a few things about each story individually. The first is “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the reason I read the book. I’d seen the movie first, and I must say, it’s one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen. It was really true to the book. And even though Red in the book is supposed to be a red-haired white guy, I had Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head the whole way through. I think it was my favorite of the collection, but it’s very hard to say because all the other stories were so good, too.
The next story is “The Apt Pupil,” and this was the most disturbing of the collection. It had no supernatural elements, so it might not fall under the horror genre, but the two main characters were certainly horrible, especially to a Jewish reader like me. I was sorry to say goodbye to Red of Shawshank when I started it, but it didn’t take long before I was absolutely riveted. Horrible as the main characters were, they were human enough that I was invested in their story.
The third story was called “The Body,” and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d seen the movie version of it, too. It was “Stand By Me,” and I saw when it first came out decades ago. It’s the story of four twelve-year-old boys told as the reminiscences of a man who, like King himself, became a successful writer. On two occasions, the novella diverges into the narrator’s “writing,” and while the second of his stories grew right out of the main narrative and was great comic relief, the first was completely crass and didn’t add a thing to the novella. Otherwise, I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to watch the movie again.
The final story was “The Breathing Method,” and it was the only one with supernatural elements. Other Goodreaders said it was the creepiest, and while I agree that it was decidedly in the horror genre, the realistic horror of “The Apt Pupil” creeped me out much more.
Stephen King also added an afterword to the book, and in it, he said that he could have written “literary” or “brilliant” books, but then he’d only be read by a handful of literary college students. Instead he’s written dozens of page-turners peopled with gripping characters, and who’s to say that’s not just as much of a literary accomplishment? ...more
The author of this book is a high school teacher, and there’s nothing like being surrounded by questioning teenagers to force a person to come up withThe author of this book is a high school teacher, and there’s nothing like being surrounded by questioning teenagers to force a person to come up with solid, persuasive answers about our faith. Of course, many books about our faith are preachy and/or dull because they sweep the issues under the rug so that all that’s left is a sugar-coated yet impossible picture of how we as Jews are supposed to live. This book is not one of those. Rabbi Dovid Refson of Neve Yerushalayim called it “common sense” on the flap, and I agree wholeheartedly.
Rabbi Landesman considers himself an equal-opportunity critic. He addresses the issues right on the fault line between the Modern and Ultra-Orthodox: secular education, earning a living, Zionism, and serving in the Israeli army. He describes himself as Ultra-Orthodox in personal observance, but closer to Modern on all the issues listed. I agreed with him on almost everything, though I didn’t think his reasons for why women are lax in tznius were accurate. Oh, well. He’s a man, after all.
This is an excellent book, but it’s not for the newly frum. A reader would have to have lived in the frum community a while to appreciate the issues he’s raising. A less modern friend told me she would not show this book to her kids, who are frum and obedient and fit well into the Ultra-Orthodox world. But it’s ideal for my questioning teenage son. Now I just have to get him to read it. . . ...more
It’s aptly fitting that this expose on the wedding industry was written by a lifelong fan of Middlemarch. Like Lydgate and Rosamond, today’s young couIt’s aptly fitting that this expose on the wedding industry was written by a lifelong fan of Middlemarch. Like Lydgate and Rosamond, today’s young couples are buying into a very expensive dream of what weddings and marriage are supposed to be. The difference is that in the 21st century, most brides and grooms aren’t particularly religious, are living independently of their parents, and have probably already been intimate. A traditional wedding celebrates a young couple leaving their parents’ home to start one of their own. Most of that rarely applies today, yet weddings have just grown bigger and more lavish. Why is that? Really effective marketing.
Now, some of the examples in the book are really over the top. The Disney Company, for example, has gotten in on the act. Since they’re responsible for implanting the Cinderella dream into so many girls’ minds anyway, they’ve taken the next step by offering “fairy tale” wedding services when those girls grow up. You can have your own horse-drawn carriage with footmen for $2500! After all, your groom is your Prince Charming, isn’t he?
As excessive as that may seem, how many of us have still bought into the “dream wedding” on some level? How many of us assume that the high price of a wedding is an expense you just have to live with when you get married, like paying rent and bills? I certainly did. My wedding was low budget by Orthodox Jewish standards, but if I had had a smaller gathering in my parents’ backyard or at the Prospect Park picnic house, I would have felt I was letting down the community by not being able to host them all.
This book is about American weddings, though. The takonos, rabbinically-endorsed caps on wedding expenditures, got a mention, but that was it. Our weddings may have gone up in price, but they’re still traditional. In the modern, secular world, the best you can get is “traditionalesque.” The big white dress may have near universal appeal, but the flavor of the ceremony certainly varies. The book takes you from Las Vegas to Aruba to capture the wedding industry’s many varieties.
Any married woman reading this book will end up re-examining her own wedding choices. I, for example, figured out that the reason I was so insistent about having live flowers at my wedding – an expense I later regretted – was that I had been a flower girl at my cousin’s wedding at the age of eight. I loved my little basket full of flowers. But I spent all of a second admiring the floral arrangements at my own wedding. I had bigger things on my mind.
I don’t know how a bride-to-be would experience this book. I could see it adding to pre-wedding jitters, but it is an excellent warning about all the predatory salespeople out there, poised to milk the bride and her family for all they can. They succeed because they’re selling such a beautiful dream. Weddings are inherently fascinating to many women, me included. So if you’re one of us, chances are, you’ll be riveted by this book....more
I grew up a few miles away from Flushing Meadow Park, the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, so I picked up this book just for a little Queens hI grew up a few miles away from Flushing Meadow Park, the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, so I picked up this book just for a little Queens history. It turned out to be much more than that; it was one of the best retrospectives on the Sixties I’ve ever read. The reason it was so effective was that it wasn’t about just one thing – not just the music or just the activism or just the hippies, but everything together, including the very commercialized message the “silent majority” got at the Fair. And since the book was set from 1963 through 1965, the issues were just coming to a boil, but not full blown like they were in 1968.
The first few chapters were about builder Robert Moses’ politicking to get the fair running. Those took a little effort to get through, like a good, informative history book. By the time I reached the Beatles’ American debut, though, two months before the fair’s opening, I didn’t want to put the book down. But the most exciting part of all was about the civil rights movement. To protest discriminatory labor practices at the fair, the Brooklyn chapter of CORE attempted to organize a “stall-in,” i.e., a huge traffic jam on the fair’s opening day. James Farmer, Jr., the national head of CORE, opposed that tactic and instead made a separate protest within the fairgrounds. The author calls it “the best forgotten story of the civil rights movement,” and his enthusiasm comes through in his depiction of the events. As I said, it was the most exciting part of the book.
If you’re interested in the Sixties, you’ll enjoy this book. Such diverse figures as Walt Disney, Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and Ken Kesey all make an appearance. Queens natives, (like the author himself) will have the added boon of reading about familiar sites in the old neighborhood. Overall, the book is an excellent blend of education and entertainment. I highly recommend it. ...more
This is a very well-researched, very well-written history book about a period and culture I knew very little about: the Spanish conquest of the Inca EThis is a very well-researched, very well-written history book about a period and culture I knew very little about: the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in South America. Though I would not go so far as to say it read like a novel, certain parts did, especially when the author was creating a “hook” to introduce the next series of events. I understand he’s an Emmy award-winning documentarian, so he knows how to tell a story.
If the author ever decides to adapt this book into film, the protagonist will be Manco Inca. He was just a teenager when Francisco Pizarro and his crew arrived in what is now Peru, and after treacherous dealings that ended in the execution of Manco’s older brother, the ruling emperor, the Spaniards appointed Manco successor, thinking he would make a good puppet. But their treachery continued and when Pizarro’s youngest brother made a demand that went way too far, Manco Inca turned into a real ruler of his people, leading an all-out rebellion.
The Incas’ war against the Spaniards and the in-fighting on both sides makes up the bulk of this book, but it’s sandwiched in between the first and last chapters about the 20th century explorers and historians who discovered the Incan ruins. Their story is not as brutal or violent, but there’s plenty of underhandedness in it. After all, what was at stake for them was pretty much the same thing as what the conquistadors were after: glory and fortune.
This is not a book that will renew your faith in humanity. The conquistadors were absolutely hateful, but the Incas weren’t “noble savages” either. They were imperialists, too, having conquered much of the South American continent before the Spanish arrived. And though the Incan emperors did not let their peasants starve, it was still a feudalistic society where the peasants had to pay tribute and provide free labor. Ironically, Pizarro himself had been a peasant in Spain. He left Europe to seek his fortune because he had nothing to lose.
One of the early chapters of the book quotes Thucydides as saying, “Conquer or be conquered.” What I got out of this book is the converse: all conquerors end up conquered themselves. Nobody stays on top forever, and if you become too arrogant while on top, you end up inviting the rebellion that will ultimately lead to your downfall. ...more