I read this book, a dissent to the CO2-Global warming link, after reading Global Warming: The Complete Briefing. I was expecting a book that was filleI read this book, a dissent to the CO2-Global warming link, after reading Global Warming: The Complete Briefing. I was expecting a book that was filled with non-scientific arguments and personal attacks. I got something completely different: A tightly written book with a narrative that flows naturally and is extremely well referenced. On that front, I am deeply satisfied. There was a lot to learn in this book, most importantly: don't trust graphs and cut-off points without asking WHY a graph is cut-off at that point (Why are arctic ice sheet videos cut off at Sept 2007? (That was the year with the largest ice melt) Why is the cut-off point 1930 for extreme weather events? (1928 was a very bad year with a huge amount of storms) Why is 1979 the starting point for temperature records? (That's when we started taking satellite measurements)
On the other hand, this book was tiring to read because of the unending back-and-forth between the IPCC and it's scientific critics: The flow remained surprisingly similar every single time: IPCC puts out something alarmist, the critics find an issue and ask the IPCC why they let it happen, the IPCC then fixes the issue and says that the "effects of the mistake were minor and don't affect the over-all conclusions", the critics disagree, IPCC disregards the critics as illiterate amateurs who don't know what they are talking about.
Here are my top 3 take-aways:
Global warming is a "settled, not up-for-debate anymore" issue. The skeptical scientists found a space to voice their concerns on one side of the political spectrum, this in turn has lead to the issue becoming tainted: being a skeptic is equivalent to being a denier of reality and a believer in conspiracy theories. It is now a foregone conclusion that human beings are emitting greenhouse gases, that is in-turn warming the globe beyond any historic levels. No amount of cooling or lack of data will disprove this thesis or cause it's proponents to rethink their position. As the Newsroom memorably told us, "There's only a position on this, as much as there is a position on whether water boils at 100 degrees C". When the climate does not follow IPCC's models, that's because there's a temporary lull. When it does, the IPCC is right. The house always wins.
The world's governments are sold on this issue, nothing will change that because there is a structural advantage to doing things. Democracy is about "action". Politicians get voters to vote for them by showing them what they did, and telling them what they will DO: Elections are seldom won by people who advocate for inaction. In this sense, it is nearly impossible to advocate for inaction, which is why politicians who are advocating for inaction instead start advocating for regression. Regression is universally reviled (and rightly so) and is not a strategy that will lead to winning elections in the long term, even though some incredible short term gains can be made as shown by some countries in the recent past. Hence, we will see very few politicians advocating for inaction with respect to this issue. The remaining large economy to commit to emissions targets in February 2021 is India, and all signs point to the government committing to something in the next few years.
The IPCC is a flawed unscientific, political institution; but it will continue to retain it's prestige and governments will enact policies based on it's recommendations. They know exactly what the media wants to show their viewers: alarmist findings. They know exactly what the public can never hope to comprehend: computer models. They know exactly what journalists will never look into at any level of detail: press releases. Their statements will be reported as-is, and this will allow them to control the agenda.
Booker captures all of this in an amazing paragraph towards the end of the book:
The true believers in global warming similarly exhibited a moralistic fanaticism, justified by the transcendent importance of their cause. The basic narrative by which they lived was one familiar from the history of religious sects down the ages, the conviction that the end of the world was nigh, thanks to the wickedness of mankind and could only be saved if humanity acknowledged its sins and went through a profound change of behavior.
P.S. As a UN institution, I am deeply skeptical of the IPCC. The UN is a toothless institution that has spent a whole lot of time and money passing aspirational resolutions which are blown out of the water by sovereign countries and their local political pressures. Veep and Yes Minister have scathing critiques of the UN and I mostly agree with them. As a result of reading this book, I have become pretty skeptical of the IPCC and it's handling of the "science": the IPCC chairman, Pachauri, is not a climate scientist; there are activists who write the massive reports that IPCC produces; the summary of these reports comes out before the report itself.
Booker points to how every single large scale climate event since the European heat wave of 2003 has been attributed to global warming. This was a pretty good parallel to the days that I was reading this book in when an avalanche in Uttarakhand, India killed several 100 people and a freak weather storm in the US affected Texas' power grid. Both of these were low-probability, high-impact events which could have been prevented through man-made measures that are in place in other geographies: monitoring of glaciers and avalanches and early-warning systems in Uttarakhand and a robust power-grid with natural gas lines that were appropriately weatherized for extreme temperatures in Texas. The media, true to form, was quick to attribute them to climate change....more
An amazing treatise. Weaver touches on several topics that I have been wondering about over the past few years, and he views each topic through a shreAn amazing treatise. Weaver touches on several topics that I have been wondering about over the past few years, and he views each topic through a shrewd lens of traditional values and intellectual corruption. The overarching theme is that modernism has pushed us away from first principles, abstract ideas, acceptance of the existence of a metaphysical world that is not our own and a "complete" education which would allow us to think about the general, rather than focus on the specifics. The victory of the modernists (the "nominalists") has been complete, to a degree that a thing when owned by us is "good", while the same thing owned by another is "bad".
This book is well known as a kind of manifesto for the return to traditional values and is used by conservative politicians, but the book is *NOT* a political manifesto. It talks about liberal politicians and "rabid egalitarians", always accompanying these lines with the thinking and the justification behind these classifications. (Weaver argues that our current fear of classifying and grouping people, groups, and nations is another sign of modernism's victory in spreading the dogma of "equality") He summarizes the image of a modern man, from a press agency's point of view, when deciding how to advertise to him, in one amazing paragraph:
It means in the world picture of press agency, a job, domesticity, interest in some harmless diversion such as baseball and fishing, and a strong antipathy toward abstract ideas. This is the Philistine version of man in pursuit of happiness. Even Carlyle's doctrine of blessedness through work has overtones of strenuousness which are repugnant to the man of today. (p. 94)
Weaver's plan for restoration includes a return to first principles, humility, an acceptance of the things that nature and the past can teach us. It includes the abolition of the sensationalist media, and any kind of media that is bound to produce "comedy-variety shows", that are aimed at keeping the vacuous minded ignorant and in good will. It includes the studying of the past, and a complete education that educates us in both rhetoric and dialectic, teaching us how to think and how to live with the abstract.
This was an aspirational book written in 1948. 73 years later, most of what Weaver argued for didn't happen. That serves to make the picture clearer: The decision to not act was the current generation's. On a personal level, it can serve as a guidebook, as we continue to slip further into the wasteland dominated by the media, the popular media, and the broadening of the noise through platforms like Instagram.
An incredibly well-researched book about Networks, their characteristics, some of the instances in history where they played clear roles and the peculAn incredibly well-researched book about Networks, their characteristics, some of the instances in history where they played clear roles and the peculiarities of governments, individuals and groups of individuals who either understood and exploited the networks or disregarded them and by turn, succeeded at getting to their goal anyway or failed at them miserable.
Ferguson covers World War 1 very well and presents lists of differences or similarities or salient points about any topic that is complex, without "dumbing" down the subject matter. The book is fast paced and moves forward, ever forward, in it's narration of the world's history as seen by a historian looking for Networks. Ferguson shows surprising self-restraint and refers to existing Networks only in the well documented cases, and ends with a short line of conjecture in all other cases. Soros' "Breaking of the Bank of England" is discussed in detail, and the exploitation of the European Exchange Rate Market was one of the most interesting parts of the book.
The final third of the book concentrates on online networks, 9/11, the Internet, some Internet companies, and the 2016 US elections. This book was about half as interesting as the beginning 2/3rds of the book for me (maybe because a lot of the conclusions he was coming to were already extremely well litigated)
My main complaints with the book: (and the reason for my 4/5 rating)
(1) Little to no mention of World War 2 (2) A constant tone that suggests that predicting things in the moment was exceedingly easy (e.g. NSA's surveillance program would _inveitably_ found out; The European Exchange Rate Market was deeply flawed and Thatcher said so before it was implemented; etc) In the worst case, this could be confirmation bias that kicked in after he read the source and realized that it was dated before the crisis
This book has links to some of great research related to all Networked phenomena over the past few years. A great primer, and for me, a particularly good starting point to read other related literature, especially related to the development of the world and the economic system in the 20th century. ...more
The book is a short excursion into the impact of Ego, with snippets from the lives of some famous people (Germany's Angela Merkel, Washington Post's KThe book is a short excursion into the impact of Ego, with snippets from the lives of some famous people (Germany's Angela Merkel, Washington Post's Katharine Graham, 49ers coach Bill Walsh) and how they can teach us something about the evils of Ego.
The discussion is superficial, and packed with a lot of quotes from other philosophers. I found some of those quotes to be good; the author does not add anything substantial. The book didn't offer anything new or radical discussion / revelation either (and thus the 2/5).
Some of the things that it repeats are:
1. Maintain an internal standard and scorecard 2. Continue to work, without paying any attention to external validation 3. Learn to take critical feedback and better yourself 4. Deal with failure with humble acceptance, rather than an egotistical backlash
A detailed analysis of what was wrong with the American political system back in 2012 and the problems with it's institutions, the regulatory frameworA detailed analysis of what was wrong with the American political system back in 2012 and the problems with it's institutions, the regulatory framework and the people who were at the mantel in the various branches of government. Now, 8 years later, this sobering book is depressing as one can't help but realize that the hopeful picture that the authors paint as one of the possible outcomes has certainly not materialized. In fact, the country has moved backwards and some of the things that the authors argue as absolute necessities have been thrown out the window: A public square with a shared understanding of facts, campaign finance laws that reduce the power held by super PACs and leadership PACs, the concept of Public Shame when politicians likened Obama to Hitler back in 2012. The author's take on the current political system, after a 4 year presidency which was unlike anything that has come before is bound to be even more depressing.
This book also includes a deep dive into some of the strange rules of the American Senate. I could not help but realize how bizarre, dysfunctional, and downright disgusting some of the tactics were. Here's an example of one that I found particularly objectionable:
When faced with a bill that senators don't like, Republican senators have "threatened" to use the filibuster. The filibuster was a tactic that was included in the past to allow senators who had an emotional dissent to a policy proposal to argue their viewpoint and present their case to the other senators. In today's version, they threaten the filibuster which automatically gives them 2 days until a vote. During these 2 days, they are not required to debate. Instead, they can continually note the absence of 50 other members in the chamber (the lack of a quorum). After the 2 days, a cloture vote is conducted to see if the debate can end - this vote needs 60 votes to succeed. In the extraordinary case that this happens, senators are given 30 more hours for post-cloture debate. This time is again wasted by members who continue to note the absence of a quorum.
I am not quite sure how to react to this. A cynic might laugh wryly at this waste of tax money (Senate floor time is precious as it requires all 100 Senators to be present in the chamber at the same time; they fly from their home states). My reaction is disbelief and a deep sadness at the amount of dysfunction.
The author's lay the blame squarely on the Republican party. They do so repeatedly, presenting examples throughout the book. They do so forcefully, presenting facts and repeatedly stating that the media SHOULD clearly show the asymmetric nature of the situation.
A related quote from the TV Show Newsroom:
Q: "How can we be biased towards fairness?" A: "If the Republicans put forth a motion saying that the Earth is flat, tomorrow's New York Times headline will be 'Republicans claim the Earth is flat'"...more
This was a very good book about sovereign debt and the power that governments have in controlling interest rates and financial repression policies to This was a very good book about sovereign debt and the power that governments have in controlling interest rates and financial repression policies to ensure that citizens' savings end up on the Government's balance sheet under the Debts header.
Domestic debt is a major part of this book. I had absolutely no idea what it meant before, and now I think I understand it enough to actually look at Budget statements from governments and understand what is going on and how "public indebtedness" is really calculated.
*Interesting:* Seigniorage profits from reducing silver content in coins and it's modern day equivalent of printing more fiat currency to bring down the value of money and default on domestic debt...more
I read this book after seeing [Sreejith’s 5-star review]. It was a habit-changing book for me.
The most important take-away for me was the difference between a writer and an archivist. As I have been reading more and more non-fiction books in the past couple years, I realized that there were several connections that I was noticing but wasn’t really making on paper anywhere. I was making notes about separate pieces of literature, but I wasn’t really connecting them. My behavior was that of an archivist.
To move into a writer’s mindset I realized that I have to start thinking about how anything I read is changing my mindset and actually write my thoughts down (apart from the things that have already been said by the author).
A few other things that were expressed very well in the book:
Writing is everything; everything must lead to writing; the final written piece could be a research paper or something that you never publish, etc; but everything you do around “research” must have a single goal: To write something about it
Writing is the process of understanding: Reading something, understanding the gist and the meaning, and writing it down your understanding improves the understanding process
People who take hand-written notes better understand the material, when compared to people who are taking notes with a computer: I want to read the study on this. The author’s reasoning is that writing is slower than typing and hence we prepare ourselves to cut through the peripheries of the speaker’s arguments and get to the gist as quickly as you can and in as few words as you can. Everything else that’s part of the understanding process has to happen in your mind before you write down your understanding.
I took hand-written notes for nearly 5 years in college. My understanding wasn’t really improved a lot because mostly I was simply copying what was being written on the board into my notebook. I was postponing the understanding to the 2 weeks before the test.
Once a piece is written down, what you meant is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what you wrote down. Any piece disconnected from it’s author has the same goal: to make a convincing argument. And the author gives a clear description of a convincing argument:
The criteria for a convincing argument are always the same, regardless of who the author is or the status of the publisher: They have to be coherent and based on facts. Truth does not belong to anyone; it is the outcome of the scientific exchange of written ideas. This is why the presentation and the production of knowledge cannot be separated, but are rather two sides of the same coin (Peters and Schäfer 2006, 9). If writing is the medium of research and studying nothing else than research, then there is no reason not to work as if nothing else counts than writing.
Categorizing the information that is being fed into students in colleges into neat topics and grouping everything together is detrimentary to the student: Frequent context switching, using tests as a means to show students what they need to learn instead of using them to simply ensure that they are learning what they should have, allowing students to decide their curriculum autonomously
Avoiding feedback in the short term is disastrous: It leads to feeling smarter in the present, instead of becoming smarter in the future
Goal: Developing new ideas; connecting a variety of pieces together; answering the questions you have concretely; writing down your new idea because no other book has exactly what you are looking for.
P.S In a crazy connection, the author says that the book about the rise of the shipping container, The Box, that I read a few months ago was one of the reasons he realized that simple ideas find it especially hard to become popular and widely adopted. I read The Box because of my interest in shipping containers and the logistics world in general only a few months ago.
There are a million reviews of this book out there, I don’t think I have anything new to say about the book. I do want to look at how Sandberg approaches the root cause of the issue that she deals with in this book: not enough women in leadership roles.
She begins by dividing the barriers into two categories: Internal and External. This was a very useful framework to think about the issue and try to improve the situation by making structural changes. The book is full of anecdotes, her conversations, and her advice to several groups of people. It is also relentlessly researched, there are no assertions or gut feelings in this book, everything is based on numbers from studies. For me, this was a book both about the main issue and a book about careers and how to make decisions that will affect you a few years down the line.
Two things I took away from this book that changed the way I think:
Opportunity cost: This quote really got me thinking.
There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know anyone who feels comfortable with all their decisions. As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken.
Looking at the people I resented and have resented in the past, I can see them enter this criteria almost all the time.
Structural advantages: There are structural advantages that are not explicitly enforced, but do exist and favor the in-group, at the cost of the out-group.
The example that Sandberg talks about around the beginning of the book:
more men in leadership roles
men prefer working with other men
more men get promoted
Women pay the price for this structural advantage that men have. They don’t get promotions despite appearing to have the same opportunities.
Some of the other things that I have heard in passing but did not understand completely before I read this book:
Success and likeability: Positively correlated for men, negatively correlated for women. This was counter intuitive for me as I tend to like the people around me and am ambivalent about the people way above (2 or 3 levels up the report line) “Women who are liked are perceived as more nice than competent, but men who are liked are perceived as both nice and competent”
Helping coworkers: Women pay a bigger price for not helping their coworkers than men who decline to help others
“Pronouns matter: Women should use the pronoun we instead of I” => This is similar to one of the observations that Ezra Klein made about Hillary Clinton when she said that one of the things that she had to learn and keep track of consciously was how she was taking credit for her accomplishments and how she taught herself to say I on the campaign trail instead of saying we.
Picking a new job: The only thing that matters when picking a job is growth. If a company is growing fast, there will be a lot of things to do and not enough people to do them. This pushes you into doing things that you would not consider a conventional part of your role. If a company is stagnant, there are a lot of people not doing anything.
This was articulate and the first time I have heard it phrased like that. I am definitely going to use this in my own career.
Applying for positions: Women apply for jobs only when they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men apply if they meet 60% or above. This is another structural area that comes back later in the book. She points to a doctor at a hospital who found out that his female students won’t raise their hand as often as his male students. So, he goes about fixing it by getting rid of open ended questions and instead pin-pointing people and asking them to answer.
Children: Don’t plan too far into the future; leaving a baby at home and returning to work will be very hard and the only thing that can make it worth your while is if you have a job that you are excited about.
Having it all: Perfection at work and home is impossible beyond a certain point. You must re-prioritize and decide what tasks can’t be compromised on. For people who are at the top of their fields (eg: Yale Law students), finding a mix at work and home is especially fraught with problems because they are used to demanding the very best from themselves and when this becomes impossible, they try to compensate by sacrificing sleep, etc.
Nouns and adjectives: Whoever has more power takes over the noun: (engineer, female engineer), (nurse, male nurse)
Lockjam: Talking about gender at work is hard, awkward and dangerous for managers and employees. There are legal implications that most people and HR departments would prefer to sidestep rather than wade through. Once we recognize what is wrong, we can not help but work to change it. Gender: When asked to pick someone to collaborate with on a task, most people pick someone from the same gender! Organizations have to work explicitly to fix this skew by pushing people who don’t work with each other together for made-up reasons (eg: team building)
This was a convincing reason for the “team building activities” that are in vogue lately
To this day, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize that pregnant women needed reserved parking until I experienced my own aching feet. As one of Google’s most senior women, didn’t I have a special responsibility to think of this? But like Sergey, it had never occurred to me. The other pregnant women must have suffered in silence, not wanting to ask for special treatment. Or maybe they lacked the confidence or seniority to demand that the problem be fixed. Having one pregnant woman at the top—even one who looked like a whale—made the difference.
I don’t remember thinking about my future career differently from the male students. I also don’t remember any conversations about someday balancing work and children. My friends and I assumed that we would have both. Men and women competed openly and aggressively with one another in classes, activities, and job interviews. Just two generations removed from my grandmother, the playing field seemed to be level.
This experiment supports what research has already clearly shown: success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women.3 When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. This truth is both shocking and unsurprising: shocking because no one would ever admit to stereotyping on the basis of gender and unsurprising because clearly we do.
Then he explained that only one criterion mattered when picking a job—fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them. When companies grow more slowly or stop growing, there is less to do and too many people to not be doing them. Politics and stagnation set in, and everyone falters.
One thing that helps is to remember that feedback, like truth, is not absolute. Feedback is an opinion, grounded in observations and experiences, which allows us to know what impression we make on others. The information is revealing and potentially uncomfortable, which is why all of us would rather offer feedback to those who welcome it. If I make an observation or recommendation and someone reacts badly—or even just visibly tenses up—I quickly learn to save my comments for things that really matter.
But even if mothers are more naturally inclined toward nurturing, fathers can match that skill with knowledge and effort. If women want to succeed more at work and if men want to succeed more at home, these expectations have to be challenged. As Gloria Steinem once observed, “It’s not about biology, but about consciousness.”9 We overcome biology with consciousness in other areas.
True partnership in our homes does more than just benefit couples today; it also sets the stage for the next generation. The workplace has evolved more than the home in part because we enter it as adults, so each generation experiences a new dynamic. But the homes we create tend to be more rooted in our childhoods. My generation grew up watching our mothers do the child care and housework while our fathers earned the wages.
I started noticing how often employees were judged not by their objective performance, but by the subjective standard of how well they fit in.
Dr. John Probasco of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told me that my story about women being more reluctant than men to raise their hands rang true for him so he decided to do away with the old hand-raising system during rounds. Instead, he started calling on male and female students evenly. He quickly realized that the women knew the answers just as well—or even better—than the men. In one day he increased female participation. By making one small change to his behavior, he changed a much larger dynamic.
Without calling for major overhauls, they tackled the soft stuff—small adjustments students could make immediately, like paying more attention to the language they used in class. They laid out a new, communal definition of leadership: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
There is always an opportunity cost, and I don’t know any woman who feels comfortable with all her decisions. As a result, we inadvertently hold that discomfort against those who remind us of the path not taken.
This book is everything that it claims to be on the book jacket. It "uncovers the inner workings of the institutions behind these economic manipulatio
This book is everything that it claims to be on the book jacket. It "uncovers the inner workings of the institutions behind these economic manipulations". In particular, it looks at some of the incredibly global institutions that are name dropped in a lot of contexts: World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. There are several stories here about loans that were given to countries which were supposed to build schools or upgrade the city hall building of a bustling city or one of a myriad of other reasons but never did that or help the people the money was supposed to help in any way.
I must admit that it was a pretty shocking revelation at several points. In particular, we get stories from the people in the field, the rank and file of organizations like the World Bank who are going abroad to assess if a given loan should be sanctioned or a banker who used to work in an island that was being used for offshore banking.
They tell stories about how their job affected the places that they were working in or the places they went to in Africa (this book focuses a lot on some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) or about the ways in which the management and people above them were basically apathetic to the consequences of the things that their jobs were enabling. These stories are all backed up with actual data from reports or news articles which show the outcomes of the things that are discussed.
I particularly liked that the book doesn't work as a list of testimonials where the reader is simply supposed to believe the people who are telling the story and the editor and not really question where they got their data. This was a refreshing non-fiction book about global economics, in that sense.
I learnt a lot of things about the global economy. The chapter on offshore banking in Jersey, Englang, the chapter on exploitation of the Iraqi people and government in the name of "Production Sharing Agreements", the chapter about the strange policies that were implemented in Philippines despite continued realizations at different levels of the heirarchy that whatever they were doing was simply not working.
The most important insights for me came in the 11th Chapter by James S. Henry, The Mirage of Debt Relief. This chapter really shook me and my assumptions about national debt. I didn't know much about national debt before I started reading the book, but my belief was that having high foreign debt was quite common in most economies and that it wasn't really something to think much about because "banks and governments don't default on loans"! This assumption of mine was completely blown out of the water by the things that Henry shows in this chapter.
On the Debt/Capital Flight cycle
Debt goes to the Finance ministry of a government with no oversight or accountability to the tax payer.
This capital is either wasted on projects that are intentionally priced above the market rate or is fleeced by the people inside the government or companies with close ties to people high up in the government who are supposedly working on "development projects"
The fleeced capital is moved out of the country through a web of offshore investments contributing to capital flight. This is powered by clever, high priced lawyers and bankers who are working on islands like Jersey, England (a previous chapter)
The country is left holding the bag: An unproductive loan that taxpayers have to pay interest on as debt service, each year. The principal will almost certainly not be paid for several years.
The existence of this cycle might appear to be semi-obvious if you have followed the trajectory of some countries and their economies: They get huge loans from the World Bank or from a group of foreign lenders, but the money never ends up making any difference. Eventually, the country gets a follow-up loan or everyone gives up on the country's economy. Corruption and transparency issues are pegged as the root cause of this problem.
Here's the sitch: The debt-based development model doesn't work when it comes to low-middle income countries where the government is a weak institution and almost always over-run by corruption.
The World Bank model of neo-liberalism peddles the "free-market" as the silver bullet which is going to solve all the problems that plague the lower income economies of the world. But the problem with this model is that it is focused on lending to the government, reducing the government's role in the economy, bringing in private players for local services and foreign investment for new industries, effectively reducing the government to a license-issuing institution with no real power to set policy or even the minimum wage that should be paid to citizens or even control the amount of local labor that must be used for a given project.
In search of the free-market, the government has just accepted World Bank advise and reduced it's own role and made itself weaker. This makes it even more simpler for corrupt individuals to take over the government and fleece future and past loans even more efficiently! This kicks off the cycle which leads to a small elite who control the government, are extremely rich, keep their assets safely in First World economies in offshore investments, thus ensuring that anyone that the loan was originally meant for will never benefit from it.
Export Credit Agencies
The list of projects that were funded by ECAs from across the First World is quite long and each project has it's own problems. As the author of this chapter (chapter 10), Bruce Rich, introduces a lot of issues with ECAs: Lack of oversight, lack of accountability to the tax payer even though they can enjoy the benefits of tax money and the government's clout, an impenetrable curtain of secrecy that ensures that they don't even have to publish the list of projects that they approved and funded! The author uses a phrase that can be used in several situations including while describing the development that was supposed to come from the huge loans that have been sanctioned over the past few years to the lower income countries:
perpetually around the corner
There are some important numbers and a little bit of discussion about why China, India and Korea had some structural, geographical and political advantages and thus were able to mostly ignore advise from the IMF and outright reject the neo-liberalism that is being peddled as the "road to development".
I could not find anything problematic about the book. The sources are extensive and most of the facts that are not just personal experiences are backed up with official sources. My reading list after reading this book has a couple of papers about ECAs and how economists in the First World view them. The one thing that might threw me at first was how old all the data was. Reading the introduction gives some background on this, it appears as if this book has been around for a while but wasn't published by anyone because no one wanted to touch a book that was flaty critical about the global economic system and what had basically become a cartel of the richest countries bending loans and lower income countries to their will.
China and India alone account for about $500 billion of this developing country "present value debt." Both countries have been careful about foreign borrowing, and they have also largely ignored IMF / World Bank policy advice. The result is that their foreign debt burdens are small relative to national income. Both countries -- partly because they refuse the follow orthodox neoliberal policies -- now have high growth economies and large stockpiles of foreign reserves.
The fundamental problem, glossed over by some debt-relief campaigners and conventional "end poverty now" economists, is that comabting poverty is not just a question of providing malaria nets, vaccinces, and drinking water, or incremental increases in education, capital, technology and aid. Ultimately, as China's example shows, long-term poverty reductions requires the promotion of deep-seated structural change. This implies the redistribution of social assets like land, education, technology, and political power. These are concepts that BWI [Bretton Woods Institutions] technocrats may never understand -- or may recoil from in horro. But they are the root of every major development success story that we know.
It is a very good book and the author presents facts about the disproportionate suspicion / prI heard about this book on this Ezra Klein Show episode.
It is a very good book and the author presents facts about the disproportionate suspicion / profiling of Muslims and the amount of media coverage that is given to "professional Islamophobes", even as Muslims trying to rectify the public image of their religion are given no air time at all.
Very important book; I recommend it to anyone who has felt within themselves an inexplicable resistance when thinking about Muslims at a societal level. ...more
A good concise recap of world war 2. The author drops a lot of the details from the narrative to make it easier to understand the outline. This is notA good concise recap of world war 2. The author drops a lot of the details from the narrative to make it easier to understand the outline. This is not a book for anyone who wants to find out about something particular in WW2; But for getting an idea of what was going on in each year and how each leader was reacting to those events, this is a great book!
(After reading a bunch of WW2 books, this book was the first time I understood why some of the iconic moments of the war are iconic: Churchill's involvement, the connection between Stalin and Hitler, Hitler's stale-mate situation on being unable to take England despite being wildly successful in Europe)...more
The Lever of Riches is a great book. I think I say that about a lot of books though. Lever of Riches is a 3-part book. In the first part, Mok
The Lever of Riches is a great book. I think I say that about a lot of books though. Lever of Riches is a 3-part book. In the first part, Mokyr presents a concise history of Technological progress starting in 500 BC and ending around 915. In the second part, Mokyr compares the relative technological progress in three periods across time and space and the possible reasons (he touches on religion, culture, geography and national sentiment as possible reasons). In the last part, he draws an analogy between Biological Evolution and Technological progress.
I liked the first and second parts immensely. I didn't find the last part (the analogy) very intersting or useful.
Great summarization: What is this book about? I think that if you read the Introduction part of the book, you understand that and know exactly what's about to come. So many books are free-wheeling narratives of the author's research areas that it has few (if any) connections to the topic at hand once you are deep into the book. This book doesn't lose the plot. It aims to provide one possible explanation for the apparent difference in quality of life between the West and most of Asia and Africa.
If the West is on teh whole comfortable, even opulent, compared to the appaling poverty still rampant in most of Asia and Africa, it is in large part thanks to its technology.
Excellent structure: I started noticing this in non-fiction books after the majorly disorienting narrative in The Box (Levinson). That was also a great book, but the fact that the narrative wasn't chronological really messed up my comprehension of the book. Lever of Riches stays on track and moves linearly through the Ancient times, the Industrial Revolution to the late 20th century. There are no unnecessary breaks, few parallel narratives which are always geographically isolated.
Description and analysis of other prevalent theories: The author leans heavily on work done by others in his attempt to prove his own theory. And along this line, it was fairly clear to me, every step along the way that whatever the author was saying was thoroughly researched and that the author had seriously considered what other people believed and had not dismissed their points of view out of hand.
History of technological progress: The second part of the book is a concise history of technological progress. There are several diagrams and a lot of dates and names. I felt that the author did justice to this topic and I learnt a LOT just from this part of the book. If anything, I highly recommend this part of the book in isolation. A better book of technological history definitely exists out there and the author admits as much, but I felt that the detail Mokyr goes into is just right. (My opinion is bound to change when I read a more thorough history which touches on some of the things Mokyr skipped over)
Great comparisons: The comparisons that make up the third part of the book are definitely my highlight from this book. I liked the times and countries he compared because I have struggled in the past to understand the vast gap in the servies and quality of life in these places first hand, and this book helped me understand one probable cause for these differences.
Not crazy about the Evolution analogy: The last part of the book is an attempt by Mokyr to draw several parallels between biological evolution and technological progress. The analogy seems to hold in most cases and there are several holes, etc. In general though, I didn't like this part of the book as much as I liked the preceding 2 parts.
In conjunction with other inventions, power technology created the gap between Europe and the rest of the world, a temporary dis-equilibrium that allowed the Europeans to establish global political and military domination.
Hindi doctrine holds that castepromotion is possible through re-incarnation if one lives an appropriately resigned and obedient life. ... Poverty was holy and action was vanity. ... A fiendish failure proof system to ensure the status quo
A gentleman only concerns himself with the lofty ideals of pure science, scientific research for it's own sake
Z is a really good book. It leads you to think critically about the government and the people in it, especially the beaurocrats (not the politicians)
Z is a really good book. It leads you to think critically about the government and the people in it, especially the beaurocrats (not the politicians) and the power they weild over people. What does it mean to be righteous? What does it mean to do the right thing at any cost? There are several books that go through those dilemmas. Several classics, surely.
Z is another book that does that. What would you do if you were a poor carpenter, dependent on the police's grace for your license, if you saw a murder happen? Would you report it? Would you volunteer to reveal what you know? Would you stick to your story even when you know the consequences? It's hard to describe this book because there's so much going on. At the core of the story is the murder of Z. What follows, is a sometimes-comical, sometimes-Kafka-esque, mostly realistic game of shadows and mirrors as people try to mask their role in the murder.
In every man—especially in a porter—there are smoldering embers from a life never lived, a house never built, a pickup license never obtained. At the slightest breath, the embers flare up and the past comes to life.
Such things keep bobbing to the surface and there are left, unexamined forever, because no one can wrest the truth from those who don’t want to tell it.
P.S: If you have ever had to get a group of engineers to explain what their system does to you with a diagram and they were unable to explain it to you despite 4 hours of meetings over 2 weeks, you know what the author is talking about in this quote.
The Longer Version
Every once in a while, you come across a movie so good, so intricate and subtle, so resonant with your own experiences around the system the movie is depicting, that you are stuck watching it in a never-ending loop. Shanghai (2012), a Hindi movie, was one of those movies for me. It perfectly portrayed everything that I had experienced and heard about from other people about the way the government really works, about how contracts are awarded, and how people talk to each other when they are the ultimate decision makers in their own little play-world.
I found out that the movie was actually adapted from a book on my n-th re-watch of the movie in the first few weeks of September this month. Once I realized that a book existed, I had to read it. And now, I have read it and I am very glad that I did!
Z is a really good book. There are several parallel narratives which go hand-in-hand as the story progresses:
the conversations real and imagined, between Z, his followers, his wife, Z's own thoughts
The Investigator's beliefs and attempts to bring the truth to light, his almost spiritual belief that light can be shone on the truth no matter how long the process or how crafty the people who want the darkness to persist forever
The Journalist and his make-belief world of a private investigator, the advice he gives to people around him, the assurances of protection, often putting himself at risk
Yango, Vango, Baron and the world of the toughs, the people at the very bottom of the food chain. They are at the mercy of everyone else most of the time. But at a few key moments, they rise to the top and they are beyond everyone's control. And these moments, even though engineered by the people at the top who like to believe that they control the outcomes and are acting in a crafty knowing way, are just as powerless as the victims that they wish to oppress
The General and his belief in the ideology, his frustrations with the people around him, the difficulty he has in getting out of an analogy that he thought was useful but turns out to be too all-encompassing
The Tiger and Nikitas, the righteous people in this group. The people who believe that it is their duty to tell the truth, whether the consequences be favorable or not. The people who are hard to pursue, the people on whom even their own mother turned. It is the sense of duty in the people like Nikitas that leads to an inability to ignore facts.
And finally, at the very end, The Commissioner. He was at the top of the food chain, and now he was imprisoned with the likes of Yango. He was orchestrating the events, and before he knew, he realized that he was part of a much larger plot with a much more important conductor. He decided to tell-all and thus, we understand the full story. Right from the first meeting about downy mildew to the last scene of the book, the General trying to pay off the Tiger
In all these narratives, the common thread is often Z. The other common thread is the system that they live in. Implicitly, they understand their place in the system. The General knows that by being at the meeting, he has undermined the command of the Chief. The Chief knows that by being there, he's basically taken over control from the Assistant Chief. The Commissioner can't act when a "full-blown General" is at the scene. Yango wants people to see him having coffee with The Commissioner. Whether they like it or not, whether their interest is on the left or the right, whether they are Communist-Zionist or Hellenic-Christians, the system has kept them aprised of their place and their responsibilities. The Baron doesn't see a choice when he's asked to beat up people, he must do it. He has a stall and he would only be asking for trouble if he were to deny to perform an act that ensures his place in the system.
This book forced me to ask the question: What system are you a part of? What is your place in the system? Do you know your responsibilities? Are you performing them? Are you doing the right thing?
Hard questions, and half imagined, I am sure.
When he compared the number of patients he cured with the number of human beings the world over who could not buy even the most ordinary medicines, it was enough to make him shudder. The same with begging. What was the good of giving money to the poor? The balance of poverty on the planet remained unaltered. For the world to change, the system had to change.
-- Z on the importance of systemic change
His own pulse was calm. For the speech ahead, he’d merely made some notes. When you have something to say, it’s not difficult to say it. The difficulty comes when you have nothing to say and must talk anyway.
-- Z on oration
I imagine myself at a railway crossing and the guard has put up the chain between us, an endless train roars over the rails, with as many cars as the years I shall not see you. Only at fleeting moments, through the spaces between the cars, I catch a rare image of you waiting for me on the far side.
-- Mrs. Z on Z
What was politics anyway, Hatzis wondered. Did it hold nothing sacred? Or maybe there was no difference at all between the bourgeois parties? Sometimes the one rose, sometimes the other, like two peasants sharing the same mule, and the mule—the common people—just went on carrying them one after the other upon its back, understanding the change only from the difference in weight.
-- The Tiger on Politics
The first chapter where Z narrates in first person is the best chapter in the book. I always wondered what that character was thinking and what his beliefs were whenever I saw the movie, this chapter was incredibly enlightening on that account.
P.S: This was also the first time that I was able to fit all my #quote Kindle notes into the review of a book!
This is a great book! I started reading this book because I realized how much shipping has changed the things that one has access to, it was also part
This is a great book! I started reading this book because I realized how much shipping has changed the things that one has access to, it was also part of the book recommendations on one of the Ezra Klein Show podcast episodes. I don't remember who recommended this book anymore or in what context, though! I am glad I read it nonetheless.
First, a brief word about the good stuff. This is a comprehensive and very very detailed account of how containers started, who started using them, how they came to be standardized and why they make sense beyond a given scale. It refers to a lot of incidents that proved to be rather important for the adoption of containers: the aftermath of the second World War, the Vietnam war, dockworkers unions across the world, shipping companies, freight forwarders, railroad operators, trucking companies. It's hard to think of anyone from the factory right up to the end consumer that this book doesn't touch or talk about.
Perhaps the most stunning thing throughout the book is the consistent resistance that container shipping had from every single person involved in the old process: unions didn't like container shipping, ports didn't like containers, governments weren't really convinced and were far too slow to adopt or create the specifications for standardized containers. Undoubtedly, a significant percentage of the time, most of the resistance ends in a placid acceptance and a sudden interest in getting deeply involved in the process of container shipping (in the form of huge government investment in modernising ports, subsidising the building of containes and container ships, negotiating contracts with shipping carriers that promise them space and cargo at ports)
There is one caveat though: The book is long, and it's not very coherent, the author chose to tell the story of how containers took over global shipping not as a timeline starting from non-container shipping (break-bulk) to container shipping, and rather, as a story of incidents which overlap in time, but are mostly independent in place and time of occurence. That makes the book confusing to read because there are several references to what happened in 1967 and it gets harder and harder to understand in the first half of the book until it all comes together in the second half of the book. That is my only gripe with the book.
Nevertheless, it's an incredibly informative book about a fairly simple concept's hard journey from being an idea to the finished product that now powers all global commercial shipping.
This is the diary of a man in Nazi Germany; a man who is hellbent on documenting the changes he is seeing in his country, as they occur. He maintains This is the diary of a man in Nazi Germany; a man who is hellbent on documenting the changes he is seeing in his country, as they occur. He maintains this diary at quite a high risk of being caught and punished for it, and yet none of his writing is softened because of that. One of the few things he does, and that too for the safety of others and not for himself, is some-times shorten their names and refer to them using a single letter only.
The diary starts in May 1936 and ends in October 1944. One of the most striking things about world war 2 I kind-of knew but didn't really understand fully until I read this book is that the World War was not fought in a single place, it was fought in several places, as several battles. Often overlapping with each other with one side ahead in one place and the other winning at the other place. The confusion of what is going on in Germany, at the war front, in other countries, is apparent in his writing. His writing often shifts to focus on what is internal to him, rather than focusing on the external. He is disgusted with the way the language has changed. He is stunned at the faces of these leaders, faces that wouldn't have been "respected by anyone, let alone the highest officials of Germany, not by the door man or the cleaning women". He refers to the lack of understanding of the German people at what they are enabling; he refers to how children have grown wild; he talks about how the food is lacking; how the food that _is_ there is bad; how the summers are filled with rain and the winters are colder and longer than ever before; not one does he talk about sunlight in the book.
The book has a deeply depressing tone. He is going about his life, traveling from the town he is living in to Munich and Berlin, meeting friends, having dinner in restaurants; but there is hardly anything he is thinking about. The hate runs like a constant tape played on a loop in his mind. Every page is about his hatred of the German establishment, the change that has come about in a few years, the "mass-man" who will walk with a million people off a cliff just because everyone else seems to think that's what the "Fuhrer" requires them to do.
I want to quote two paragraphs:
Nationalistic history-writing: In Germany, the lies have a blonde character. Nationalism: a state of mind in which you do no love your own country as much as you hate somebody else's. ... The following is a quotation - "Tragedy is a condition first discovered by te Pope for the subjection of mankind. But that is the provoking thing about these people: they foist this barbarism on us, and then try to make us content with it by having us adopt their own mass-man inability to distinguish between things. We are to end by no longer knowing that the whole of their 'technical comfort' amounts to nothing more than one gigantic swindle ... Or do they really think they are going to stop us from making distinctions and reduce everything to dead level - equate a Brueghelian feast of the past with a modern meal out of cans; the rewards of an auto trip with that of a walking tour; the costly silk stockings of yesterday, and the rayon stockings of today's office girls - all calculated to turn the beholder into a misogynist.
Following a series of articles placed by Goebbels in the newspapers, the wife of a tenant came to see me in fear and trembling. In Jesus' name, how was she to protect her children? They were all going to be dragged off to be raised in English, American, or Russian orphan asylums, according to newspapers! Nota bene, this woman spent several years in America, as a laundress; she still speaks a little English, and she has a number of quite warm recollections of Boston - yet she believes these stories about the foreign devils. Really, this people, only yesterday so intelligent and discriminating, seems to have been overcome by a disease of the mind. They noe believe everything they are told, provided it is done with sufficient aplomb.
The whole book concentrates less on making sense of what is happening, in favor of actually trying to convey what was happening then to a reader far in the future who will find it hard to believe that such things can happen anywhere, let alone in their own country. Reck's hatred of the high-ranking Nazi officials and certainty that they will be punished mix into a single near-theological certainty that what is going on is disastrous, will stop some day soon, and will have consequences that people several centuries henceforth will have to reckon with. To this end, Reck has an excellent quote:
Certainly, we are going to sit in judgement on the visible individuals who pulled the strings here, certainly the wood for the gallows on which I hope to see Hitler, Goring, Goebbbels, Papen et al., hung has already been thoughtfully put aside. And certainly, too, all of us Germans will have to take our Cross upon our backs and carry it through the Dark Valley of Sorrow before the Absolute is attained. But is there a nation today so lacking in perspective as to deny the possibility that such a mass psychosis could at some time in its hitory occur within its own boundaries? Do people really go so far as to accuse unarmed German intellectuals of lethargy when, during the first two years of the Hitler regime, at least, the British Cabinet, with every possible weapon at its disposal, was itself too indolent to smoke the brown rats out of their holes?
P.S. Rather coincidentally, I started reading this book just as I got on a flight to go on a trip to Italy! It was my first time traveling to Europe, and I had a 3-hour lay-over in Munich. I bought the paperback that I have nearly 6 months ago, in February....more
A haunting recounting of the facts of World War 2. It has a long Introduction section, which I think you should skip just to ensure that you start theA haunting recounting of the facts of World War 2. It has a long Introduction section, which I think you should skip just to ensure that you start the book with a blank slate in your mind. Apart from that, a solid history with a LOT of facts.
In the first half of the book, she looks at Eichmann himself and what his career looked like. In the second half, she looks at each country near Germany and talks about what the situation there was. Extremely objective, I never felt like she was leading me on or had an agenda of any sort. There has been a bunch of controversy around this book, but they have all been about who Arendt really is and not about the facts in this book (I don't think). So, I didn't read Arendt's note about the controversy at the end of the book.
There are several passages worth remembering in here. I will quote just a few:
Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet—and this is its horror!—it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world.
The Nazis had succeeded in turning the legal order on its head, making the wrong and the malevolent the foundation of a new “righteousness.”
The attitude of the German people toward their own past, which all experts on the German question had puzzled over for fifteen years, could hardly have been more clearly demonstrated: they themselves did not much care one way or the other, and did not particularly mind the presence of murderers at large in the country, since none of them were likely to commit murder of their own free will; however, if world opinion—or rather, what the Germans called das Ausland, collecting all countries outside Germany into a singular noun—became obstinate and demanded that these people be punished, they were perfectly willing to oblige, at least up to a point.
This is not to say that such a sacrifice would have been morally meaningless. It would only have been practically useless. None of us had a conviction so deeply rooted that we could have taken upon ourselves a practically useless sacrifice for the sake of a higher moral meaning.” ... The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is that perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible. One man will always be left alive to tell the story. Hence, nothing can ever be “practically useless,” at least, not in the long run.
This book isn't very revolutionary. There are some interesting points, there are a lot of interesting graphs.
Twenge has the unique problem of using "mThis book isn't very revolutionary. There are some interesting points, there are a lot of interesting graphs.
Twenge has the unique problem of using "maybe" and "perhaps" a lot while talking about causation. Two examples:
We can't say for sure that smartphones are to be blamed, but the timing is very suspicious
As always, it is difficult to say for sure what the cause is in a trend over time
Her thesis in the book is that the generation she calls iGen (people born after 1995) is different from previous generations (not surprising). The reason for this difference is perhaps the fact they grew up in a world with the Internet and smartphones. She doesn't really prove anything, but it's a compelling read. Why? Well:
1. There have been a lot of subtle changes in trends that are counter-intuitive (Teens are more individualistic; Teens _want_ to help others in need but aren't taking any action; College students are less interested in government than ever before; College students don't follow the news even though it is so much easier to do those things now than for previous generations; women think that there is more gender discrimination now than in the 1980s)
2. People born after 2000 (I was born in 1996) in the US are much more safer than before because of their own choices. Less people do things that they think are safe but want to stay away from. Safety is the most important thing they would look for while buying a vehicle. All of this sounds weird coming from 14-18 year olds; that's how things are;
In a weird way, after reading her books, I feel like people born after 2000 are growing up slowly and maturing fast at the same time. They want the safety and comforts of the life of a child (no responsibilities, not a lot of important choices, bigger things are generally taken care of by others) with the individuality of adulthood (making their own choices when it suits them, a settled life without much turmoil right when they enter adulthood). A generation of people who want to go from childhood to a state of "settled life" as quickly as they can. Avoid the transitional periods of teenage, college and turmoil in your first few years at a workplace.
This isn't a book that will change your thinking or anything (and thus the 3 stars), but it will set you on a path to asking more questions about why things are the way they are. I am confident that I have to read other books to actually understand why things have changed (for sure), but this maybe a good summary....more
Not targeted towards new software engineers (which is what I am going to be). Nonetheless, there is a LOT to learn in this book. The language is lucidNot targeted towards new software engineers (which is what I am going to be). Nonetheless, there is a LOT to learn in this book. The language is lucid and he doesn't use words like "synergy" more than they should be....more
In 1918, just as World War I was ending, (2 months before the armistice was signed), a pandemic started. The disease was influenza, only influenza. ThIn 1918, just as World War I was ending, (2 months before the armistice was signed), a pandemic started. The disease was influenza, only influenza. That's what everyone thought. All the conditions at that particular point in time led to a pandemic that killed nearly 60 million people (according to all estimates) This book gives you all the information you need to understand how the human race sat around while something of this magnitude swept through the world. Remember: It was only influenza. Not deadly AIDS or SARS.
There are several things to unpack in this book. One book review will never cover everything and I don't intend to do that anyway. I am going to enlist three things that I learned from this book that were absolutely important revelations.
1. The truth is important. Especially, during war.
A lot of the book is about how newspapers across the US wouldn't print anything that would "affect the war effort" or "affect morale adversely". It also shows how people in public administration weren't willing to take the most basic precautions because it would spread panic and affect morale. It also shows how the army was turning a deaf ear to all the doctors in the administration who were telling them to stop moving soldiers across the country and across the Atlantic. Anything but the truth (half truths, lies) will only adversely affect the collective ability of people to fight a crisis.
2. Good science needs the right combination of people, time, money, luck and state of mind.
Paul Lewis and Avery were very similar. They were well respected and old. They each had a particular problem on their mind and they spent much of the time after the pandemic solving it. Avery came out of it with the discovery that DNA contains genetic material. Lewis came out of it with an obsession to win back the respect of the two people whom he respected the most. Eventually, this obsession killed him / he killed himself in a foreign land. He succumbed to the very virus he was investigating. (yellow fever)
3. Documentation is important. Especially, during a crisis.
This last point really resonated with me. What one must understand is that the crisis will blow over. During a crisis, it's often to become frustrated with the apparently unnecessary paperwork when one is facing problems that question the very existence of the human race. Having the perspective to look past a crisis into the future and understanding what can be learned from this horrible thing that so many people suffered through and died in, is the most important quality in every bureaucrat and politician out there. It's often very easy to be short sighted and deal only with the problem right in front of your face and not care about anything else until it is solved. (Or worse, say "Let's take care of everything else after this particular problem is solved")
Apart from these, there are a lot of things I have learned from this book (I have nearly 20 pages of notes). I plan to condense those into more bullet points and publish them on my blog soon.
That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, becomes a mask of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where unorthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent. -- Learned Hand
I picked this one up because of a recommendation from Kshitij Saraogi. He spoke highly of this book. As soon as I looked this book up, I reached Bill I picked this one up because of a recommendation from Kshitij Saraogi. He spoke highly of this book. As soon as I looked this book up, I reached Bill Gates' blog speaking incredibly high of this book too. I am so glad I took their advice and read this book. It has significantly changed the tools I use and the way I understand the world.
Hans, Ola and Anna Rosling were geniuses to have compiled everything that affects the fundamental way we humans think in ~250 pages. It takes an incredible amount of courage and belief in the facts in front of you to call out every single informed, well educated, wealthy, experienced person in the world. Throughout the book, the authors compare the way people do on the 13 question quiz compared to chimpanzees. That is audacity and belief right there.
I think that the stories that Hans puts in periodically in the book serve to make the book feel like something written by someone who really has seen the world change and morph into the amazing place it is today.
I don't really think I can add anything to what people have already said about this book. I have taken away three things from this book:
1. If you feel depressed about something happening in the world right now, look into the facts. Watch the news and then look at the numbers yourself. Spend your time understanding what's going on. Compare them to the past. Divide them by the total. Things have undeniably gotten better. They are bad, but they have gotten better and are getting better every day.
2. If you feel that someone is trying to get a rise out of you by triggering your fear instinct or your urgency instinct, exit the room. Take as few decisions as you can. Commit to as little as you possibly can. Drink tea, watch a show that calms your nerves, talk to the people you care about, take a day off. Re-evaluate the problem alone, with only cold hard numbers helping you. Then, go out there and talk to the people you trust to not trigger these instincts in you and get them to tell you what their experience has been. Put all this together and decide later.
3. If you feel that a line going straight to eternity doesn't make sense, find out if the line is actually straight. eg: Userbase of your app won't increase at the same rate as it did in the firt 3 months. It would be crazy to assume that and save resources now. If you feel you are generalizing, look for differences within a group and similarities across groups. Don't blame people. Don't believe experts, simply because they are experts.
All this is talk, what really changed for me is surprisingly easy to articulate: I had basically tuned out of the global warming discussion because (a) I was pissed with Western countries blaming huge countries like India and China, when quite obviously they were the ones with the highest CO2 emissions per capita. (b) I looked at the graphs that showed increases of average temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius over nearly 200 years. I wasn't convinced by the data in front of me. I had lost belief in the so-called experts. I am now convinced I need to spend more time understanding this problem.
Global Warming is too big a problem for me to do anything for it personally. All I can do though is spend time understanding what is going on.
A few quotes that were impactful for me:
I'm a very serious "possibilist". That's something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reasons, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview
When women are educated, all kinds of wonderful things happen in societies.
Some aspects of the future are easier to predict than others. ... Demographic forecasts are amazingly accurate decades into the future because the systems involved -- essentially, births and deaths -- are quite simple. Children are born grow up, have more children, and then die. Each individual cycle takes roughly 70 years.
If the UN forecasts for population growth are correct, and if incomes in Asia and Africa keep growing as now, then the center of gravity of the world market will shift over the next 20 years from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Today, the people living in rich countries around the North Atlantic, who represent 11 percent of the world population, make up 60 percent of the Level 4 consumer market. Already by 2027, if incomes keep growing worldwide as they are doing now, then that figure will have shrunk to 50 percent. By 2040, 60 percent of Level 4 consumers will live outside the West. Yes, I think the Western domination of the world economy will soon be over.
pg. 247: (speaking of a woman in Bandundu in what is now the Democractic Republic of Congo in 1989)
She was able to think critically and express herself with razor-sharp logic and perfect rhetoric at a moment of extreme tension.
The world cannot be understood without numbers, nor through numbers alone. A country cannot function without a government, but the government cannot solve every problem. Neither the public sector nor the private sector is always the answer. No single measure of a good society can drive every other aspect of its development. It's not either/or. It's both and it's case-by-case.
This was a book that was very hard to stop reading. I started on a Friday evening and spent the whole weekend reading this book while distractedly attThis was a book that was very hard to stop reading. I started on a Friday evening and spent the whole weekend reading this book while distractedly attending to other household chores, talking to people on the phone, etc. I was basically absorbed enough in this book to completely forget what else happened that weekend. (my journal for the 4 days is pretty much useless)
This book is important for a few reasons:
1. Haidt gets to the point quickly. He doesn't beat around the bush.
Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow has a similar point about there being two modes of thinking etc. But I have struggled to get through the first few chapters of that book because of just how bone dry that prose was. There were no anecdotes to escape the boredom of talking about important psychological decision making processes.
2. Haidt builds models from scratch. But he does it fast and doesn't start too basic.
I think that Haidt's writing is engaging because he has a good knack for what is a good point to start the discussion. He doesn't start from the very basics of evolution or something. He starts from the middle, talks a little bit about how evolution affected the things that we care about, and then quickly moves on to talking about how these things changed and how the two sides of the political spectrum deal with these things.
This is the central part of the book: the modules of thinking that we are polarized around:
1. Care/Harm: whom do we feel the need to care for? 2. Fairness/Cheating: are people getting from institutions in proportion to what they put in? 3. Loyalty/Betrayal: are institutions loyal towards the people that elected them or do they fight for people who are not seen as part of the group that elected them? 4. Authority/Subversion: Order or Chaos? Everyone has to play their part in obeying the prevalent authority; is subversion then tolerated? 5. Sanctity/Degradation: is a feeling of purity associated with some political positions? 6. Liberty/Oppression: Is there equality of opportunities for everyone? Is there equality of outcomes for everyone?
3. The Hive Switch
This was perhaps the most fascinating part of the book for me. The ideas in this part are very very basic: We are all selfish beings who can act as an effective part of a group if the conditions are just right. Think about everyone coming in to help others when there is a natural disaster or people joining the military to fight wars.
Haidt talks about how we have built a society where being selfish is alright, but being selfish during times of crises is frowned upon and can severely affect reputation and mating prospects. He also gives a short intro to how in every major transition in evolutionary history, single units bind together to form a larger unit that is more resilient.
single-cell -> multi-cell -> multi-organ -> ...
(I should laud his consideration of the subject. He doesn't talk as a scientist with expertise in this field. He talks as a social scientist who has done his reading and is talking about what he feels happened.)
Another important point here: Shared intentionality. He argues that humans are the only ones who can do this effectively. We can band together with a single intention and work as a group. Animals don't even come close to something like what we do at large organizations or in armies. Interestingly, Language came after shared intentionality. We developed language to communicate our shared intentions, not the other way around (i.e "since we had language, we were able to communicate our shared intentions" <- WRONG)
One of the cuter facts in the book: Infants freak out when they see non-Newtonian things happen. i.e A toy car goes through a wall. Even at a young age, they realize that something is off about that....more
This book is a 180-page account of what happened to us once the visual mode and not the literary mode became the primary mode that a majority of humanThis book is a 180-page account of what happened to us once the visual mode and not the literary mode became the primary mode that a majority of human beings used for absorbing new information. Near the beginning of the book, there's a basic revelation and this sets the tone for the rest of the book:
The clock made us time keepers, then time savers, and now time servers. ... Nature was the basis for time. But once we invented a clock, our invention was the basis of time, not the sun or moon. Introduction of a clock into a culture is not merely a way to bind time, it is a transformation of the way of thinking in that culture.
This seems to be obvious and unavoidable whenever we humans try to quantify nature and then take the quantification to be the original source of that phenomenon, forgetting that nature was the original source.
A theme that runs through the book is this: It is naive to believe that we can introduce a new technology into a culture and it will not transform the culture.
I can't quite cover everything that I have written down in my notes or what's covered in this book. Instead, I will just list some of the things I found to be very interesting revelations in this book.
1. The best thing on TV is the "junk" because these shows don't affect anyone and don't claim to be significant. Most harmful are the shows that are apparently engaging in "serious debate" and "informing people", i.e News shows and debates
2. Proverbs are essential in a culture without written language. We tend to use them only with our young now, not in "serious" situations. Proverbs are expressions of oral wisdom. Wisdom that is now considered to be inferior to written wisdom, i.e. Law, Citations, etc.
3. Until the late 19th century, print was the only form of communication. There was no radio, no TV. Everything was print based. Everyone read, it wasn't an activity that only the elite engaged in. Children didn't have "reading" problems.
4. The written word has content. This content might be banal, useless, or even false, but it is always present. Readers of print cultures were ready to catch mistakes or self contradictions in arguments. They were primed through practice and the medium itself.
5. Print advertisers took their potential buyers to be rational, literate and analytical people. Print Ads didn't have true statements in them all the time, but they were presented in a context where the question "Is this true or false?" made sense.
6. The globe has become a village, but each man only knows the most superficial facts about people living far off. This is what news has done to us. "Relevance is irrelevant" today. You read news because it's news, not because you are interested or you want to know.
There's a lot more to unpack in this book, I can't possibly go over all of it. The above 6 points I feel make a convincing case to anyone that they should read this book. I will end with the quote that really shocked me by it's simplicity:
An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and oppose, compared to a Huxleyan one.
Historical non-fiction worth every moment spent reading it. A huge list of speeches and books have been added to my list as a by-product of reading thHistorical non-fiction worth every moment spent reading it. A huge list of speeches and books have been added to my list as a by-product of reading this book. This book itself serves as a good summary of the whole thing.
The writing might have been a bit more coherent and the author should have chosen to move chronologically forward from 1600, tracing the company's history. Instead, Robins skips around here and there, often talking about signs of Indian nationalism in 1806 while talking about the EIC in 1850s but never having mentioned anything about it before. Owing to all this, the book is disorienting, but nothing a little more time spent can't remedy.
I have seen the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata before, but I look forward to returning there: informed of what really transpired, with a list of the atrocities that Clive committed, that Curzon chose to memorialize and Queen Victoria chose to stand silently by....more
This has been a life-changing book. The ideas put forth in this book about prediction, our inability to predict, our love for narratives and how we beThis has been a life-changing book. The ideas put forth in this book about prediction, our inability to predict, our love for narratives and how we bend and twist facts into sweet little narratives, and our absolute ineptness in trying to predict the future using flawed models of the past are worth reading several times and internalizing.
A lot of this book is filled with passages where NNT shines as writer with a good bit of humor and wit too.
This is the Archimedes Chronophone, applied to the future, instead of the past: (sort of)
Prediction requires knowing about technologies that will be discovered in the future. But that very knowledge would almost automatically allow us to start developing those technologies right away. Ergo, we do not know what we will know.
Another gem of a thought, articulated extremely well:
We grossly overestimate the length of the effect of misfortune on our lives. You think that the loss of your fortune or current position will be devastating, but you are probably wrong. More likely, you will adapt to anything, as you probably did after past misfortunes. You may feel a sting, but it will not be as bad as you expect. This kind of misprediction may have a purpose: to motivate us to perform important acts.
A word on Bitcoin-ish bubbles:
It is the venture capitalist who invested in a speculative company and sold his stake to unimaginative investors who is the beneficiary of the Black Swan, not the "me, too" investors.
And finally, the quote that I had printed on a poster, because of how bad-ass it is:
Snub your destiny. I have taught myself to resist running to keep on schedule. This may seem a very small piece of advice, but it registered. In refusing to run to catch trains, I have felt the true value of elegance and aesthetics in behavior, a sense of being in control of my time, my schedule and my life. Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that's what you are seeking.
The characters in this book (Yevgenia, Fat Tony) are all endearing as hell and I wish there was a novel about Fat Tony, especially! He seems suave and just the kind of hustler whose stories would be incredibly fun to read.
Highly recommended read. Go right ahead and pick this one up, you will NOT regret it!
P.S There's a title / subtitle / chapter heading on every single page. This is digest-able philosophy, packed with useful-in-the-real-world ideas....more
A fitting start to Freud's work. This book is a long list of the things that we often dismiss as inconsequential but can actually be traced back to ouA fitting start to Freud's work. This book is a long list of the things that we often dismiss as inconsequential but can actually be traced back to our thoughts when it happened. Or our disagreeable thoughts about a matter, which can be associated with the present one. Freud makes a dispassionate argument throughout the book, allowing for mistakes and accepting that although it might all seem very circumstantial after the fact, we must try to be as objective as we possibly can.
Some of the quotes throughout the book are very insightful into what happens often, but what we never analyze.
As a matter of fact, I believe that a large portion of the mythological conception of the world which reaches far into the most modern religions is nothing but psychology projected into the outer world. The dim perception of psychic factors and relations of the unconscious was taken as a model in the construction of a transcendental reality, which is destined to be changed again by science into psychology of the unconscious.
Another quote which might very well summarize a large portion of the first part of this book:
We see then that something is forgotten for its own sake, and where this is not possible the defensive tendency misses the target and causes something else to be forgotten -- something less significant, but which has fallen into associative connection with the disagreeable material
And finally, one rather humorous quote towards the end of the book whence he discusses superstitions and how superstitious person differs from one who is not superstitious:
I am sorry to confess that I belong to that class of unworthy individuals before whom the spirits cease their activities and the supernatural disappears, so that I have never been in position to experience anything personally that would stimulate belief in the miraculous. Like everybody else, I have had forebodings and experienced misfortunes; but the two evaded each other, so that nothing followed the foreboding, and the misfortune struck me unannounced. When as a young man I lived alone in a strange city I frequently heard my name suddenly pronounced by an unmistakable, dear voice, and I then made a note of the exact moment of the hallucination in order to inquire carefully of those at home what had occurred at that time. There was nothing to it. On the other hand, I later worked among my patients calmly and without foreboding while my child almost bled to death. Nor have I ever been able to recognize as unreal phenomena any of the forebodings reported to me by my patients
This book had a much different ending than what the title seemed to suggest! I was really surprised at the ending that it had, I was waiting for one fThis book had a much different ending than what the title seemed to suggest! I was really surprised at the ending that it had, I was waiting for one final twist to set everything straight. Not to be.
The strong hierarchy that is prevalent in the army is a strong presence throughout the book. It's referred to when the PoWs first meet their new "warden", when they are allotted rooms, in their dealings with the enlisted men at the Pakistani camp. Being officers, it seems like there is some respect they command from them simply holding their position. The author does a good job bringing this forth in a not-so-irritating way.
The last passage of this book really cracked me up, it was such raw truth.
And each man, in his own way and in his own time, tried to catch up on all that he had missed, though in some ways you can never catch up. There will always be that tune everyone knows but you, or the memory of a child's first steps, or that word she repeated endlessly when she first began to talk. When you have been away from everything familiar for a year, some things are irretrievable.