Having Fun Out Here on Panic Beach

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
Michael Lewis (ed.)

When is a story not a story? And when should an author, like children of yore, be seen and not heard? And when is modern insanity not terribly different from historical insanity?

I might answer those questions and I might not because I’m not entirely certain what to think about this book, which I selected to distract myself from this year’s Continue reading


Give the Devil His Due

All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera

Devils_HereCatholic schools do a good job of making sure you know about Catholic heroes. Like Junipero Sera. Perhaps you’ve heard of the good friar? Founder of California’s missions?

Whether you have or haven’t is irrelevant. I bring it up only because the flat accents of NPR‘s on-air staff led me to believe that there was a financial journalist I hadn’t heard Continue reading

Capital, It Fails Us Now

A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression
Richard A. Posner

Posner_coverJudge. The word suggests a lot of things. A sense of right and wrong. Belief in  truth as a non-relative concept. A willingness to face facts. And all those great synonyms: probity, rectitude, morality, virtue, honesty and on and on. There’s even a book in the Bible entitled Judges just in case you missed their importance. (I promise it’s there, right between Joshua and Ruth.)

Not all judges are up to that standard. Luckily Continue reading

Something’s Wild About Harry

No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller
Harry Markopolos

No_oneHarry Markopolos is a stand-up guy. And stand-up guys  finish seventh.

Surely you remember Harry? He’s the guy who got slightly more than his 15 minutes of fame when the Bernard Madoff financial fraud came to light. Harry, it seems, was early on the case and had been trying to get someone, anyone to listen to him on the Continue reading

When Bad Things Happen to Good Scholars

Plenitude: The Economics of True Wealth
Juliet B. Schor

Plenitude_FNL_cvrMaybe it’s an east coast thing.

The United States, unlike most countries in Europe (and maybe the world), has 3 capitals: the political one (DC), the financial one (NY) and the cultural one (split between NY for publishing, news and ‘high’ culture and LA for entertainment). Since the only one on the west coast focuses on a product for the masses I can imagine that a scholar there finds it easier to ignore.

If that supposition is correct then the east coast is the place where scholars risk being seduced by the bright lights of the ‘public intellectual’ industry. I think there must be an entire army of publishing and TV news functionaries who do nothing but troll campuses from Virgina to Continue reading

To Woof or Not to Woof

The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis
and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism
Dean Starkman

Been missing too long and while there are plenty of good reasons for that they’re also all excuses. So, no hairshirts. Let’s just get back to it.


Dean Stockman is a  veteran journalist turned j-school professor. This work embodies all the contradictions contained in that last sentence.

A strong case can be made that some professions actually operate on a craft model. Simply put, that means you can’t be ‘taught’ how to do it, you just have to learn how by trial and error with the guidance of more experienced hands. It’s a guild-like model that still holds true for jobs like master cabinetmaker and, I’d argue journalist. (Or, for that matter, direct marketer.)

I say that because at the end of the day journalism is about storytelling and you Continue reading

The Financial Crisis Exhibit at the Human Zoo

Boomerang: Travels in the New World
Michael Lewis

boomerang_lewisWhat’s in a name? Or,  for that matter, a title?

Evidently not a whole lot judging from the present volume. Readers may recognize Mr Lewis’ name from my post earlier this year. That book looked at the financial crisis from the perspective of a few, clear-eyed individuals who saw it coming.

Well,  an enterprising agent and/or editor saw an opportunity in the bits of that book that Continue reading

In the Land of the Blind

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
Michael Lewis

Welcome home, laddie.

The Big ShortThose of a certain age might remember that seemingly hot on the heels of  Bonfire of the Vanities came Liar’s Poker, a first-hand view of life inside one of the then-dominant Wall Street firms, Salomon Brothers. That fly on the wall look at the shenanigans within the firm that invented mortgage-backed securities was penned by a 20-something Princeton grad turned bond salesman. And for those of us casting a jaundiced eye upon Yuppiedom it had particular resonance.

Michael Lewis went on to become a best-selling author tilling the fields of Continue reading

Timing is Everything

The Great Inflation and its Aftermath
Robert J. Samuelson

Talk about a period piece.

Robert J. Samuelson writes about economics for the Washington Post and, back when it was owned by the Post, he penned a column on the same subject for Newsweek. I first encountered him there and always found him a lucid explicator of whatever subject was at hand.  I didn’t always agree with him but in some ways his mandate is to explain the dismal science to the uninitiated. So he can hardly be faulted for explaining the status quo in positive terms.

Early in the present volume Samuelson describes himself as a slow writer. That’s an odd description for anyone with a 40-year career in journalism. But I wonder if it’s meant in an Einsteinian manner or was an on-press Continue reading

In the Counting House

The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It
Scott Patterson

My questionable contribution to repairing the damage done by the financial crisis is to read almost all I can on the subject, but only when I find the book in the library. Not great for authors and publishers but it works for me.

Today’s tome tells the tale of Wall Street‘s most recent breed of ubermenschen–math nerds turned super traders by dint of their own brain wiring and the availability of cheap, fast computers. These Continue reading