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Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
by Ronald Findlay
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The future of gloablization. The imperative of attitude change of country leaders, 25 May 2008
This book is like a six layer cake with as layers the periods 1000-1500, 1500 to 1650, 1650 to 1780, 1780 to 1814, 1914 to 1939, 1939 to 2007, and speculations about the future. Within each layer you find descriptions of what happened in seven regions that is Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa with Southwest Asia, Central or Inner Asia, South Asia, and South East Asia. For each region you find wars, rulers, economic development including trade. And, especially important, the interaction and interdependence between regions

This is about as holistic, systematic and complex presentation you can ever hope to find. By the way the development of North and South America is included in Western Europe and Africa as it relates to other regions. The book is an outstanding example of a multidisciplinary approach combining the science of history with the science of economics. The book is written by an Irish and American professor. You can see from the choice of regions that it is not a European centric presentation. Asia dominated with many regions in year 1000 at the start and is moving to domination in 2007.

You will learn about many examples of interconnectedness you did not know. For example the industrial revolution in the UK would never have happened as a consequence of steam power and mechanisation in cotton spinning and weaving, only.. It was dependent on a rapid increasing supply of low cost cotton that was produced to almost 100% by slave labour in the Americas, continuous land grabbing in the Americas, military control of the seas by the UK Navy to transport the cotton to the UK and transporting cotton cloth for export and an industrial policy of protection of the UK cotton industry from foreign competition in the UK. You will also find many examples of causes of unforeseeable change. Just as an example consider the rapid expansion of population and wealth during the Song dynasty in China. That was made possible by the introduction of a different type of rice from what is now Vietnam that allowed three harvests per year.

The book demonstrates conclusively that major changes in the fortunes of countries' history cannot be understood without economics and wars and the other way around. It is disappointing even frightening to see how personal greed and greed by nations has been the driving factor of most of the major changes Concern for the well-being of others as a driving force is almost totally absent.

That should be a lesson for the future. When the increasing interdependence between nations is combined with greed as the driving force disaster is likely to occur. A disaster that can as yet can not be identified. Governments were never able to predict disasters in time in the past. That means that it is imperative that country leaders have to change their mind - sets and consider the well-being of other countries next to their own. Anybody reading this book will become convinced that this is an absolute necessity.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 5, 2011 9:25 PM BST

The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life
The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life
by Joseph Ledoux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars improving the performance of your mind by understanding how the brain works, 12 Mar. 2008
I have a special interest in training the mind to reduce negative thoughts and emotions with meditation exercises. I was therefore curious to find out if this book could give me some useful insights on this point.
It does. In emotions we depend on two competing systems. The "low road" or fast system that is very similar for all vertebrae animals and "high road" slow system that adds the Cortex for thinking into the circuit. That thinking capability is most strongly developed in the human species. The low road -slow systems follows the following steps:
Emotional stimulus -Sensory Thalamus - Amygdala -Emotional response
The competing parallel, slow system with half the speed has an additional link as follows:
Emotional stimulus- Sensory Thalamus-Sensory Cortex- Amygdala- Emotional response
The fast system is the best in case of real danger requiring instant reaction. But it can create trouble when a reaction is triggered by a false alarm leading to the wrong reaction. The slow system involving the Cortex evaluates the emotional stimulus, considers the context, and examines the options before deciding on the reaction and thus avoiding wrong reactions. It also has learning capability. Mistakes are not repeated. Training the mind will strengthen the influence the Cortex will have on the reaction. When I feel a sudden burst of anger, I now realise that it is probably the result of the fast road short-circuiting the Cortex circuit. So I pause to gain control of my anger.
The second useful idea is that memory of past experiences colour our views without us being aware of it. For example I had a bad experience working with a fast talker that turned out to be unreliable. The next time I met a fast talker I was instantly negative to that person without being aware why. I now ask myself before taking a position. Am I prejudiced?
The third point is awareness of the enormous advantage humans have of having a large fore brain that allows us instead of reacting automatically to emotional stimulus being able to make plans, analyse risk and analyse consequences. Analytical meditation strengthens this planning and evaluation capability.
The fourth point is that I understand better why it is so hard to reduce egocentric tendencies. The fast circuit is excellent for survival because it leads to instant action. But survival reactions without thinking only consider my survival without considering the consequences of my actions on others. Bringing the "primitive" system under control is therefore hard work.
The fifth point is the irreparable damage excessive continuous stress does to the memory system in the Hippocampus. That illustrates the merits of meditation to develop the ability to stay calm under high stress circumstances.
Complex systems are explained with excellent diagrams. The book may be a bit long for leaders in business, 300 pages. But, I think that the benefits make the effort to read it worthwhile. Understanding how your brain works helps you in training your mind.

Happiness: Lessons from a New Science
Happiness: Lessons from a New Science
by Richard Layard
Edition: Paperback

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a solution to happiness stagnation in properous countries?, 27 Feb. 2008
Like all comments in all other reviews the book is an easy read about a complex subject. The subject: why is happiness stagnating since 1950 and what can be done about it.
The author presents some inconvenient truths about the causes of this stagnation being (1) broken families, increases in divorces and single parent families (2) decrease in trusting others (3) increase in women working with less time for children (4) television with negative impact on social life (5) Violence in TV (6) TV showing wealth and "beautiful people" (7) decline in religious beliefs (8) increased mobility. These are not opinions but proven by facts by analysing criminality levels, depression, life expectancy and suicide rates.
The author presents the policies that governments should implement to stop these negative trends being (1)monitor happiness statistics, (2) education in morality (3) more help to the poor, (4) better help with serious depressions, (5) flexible working hours, (6) subsidise community development, (7) make people understand that ever increasing wants lead to unhappiness,. (8) establish taxes at a level that people spend more time with the family. Each of these points is extensively explained and thought provoking. The author advised the UK government and has policy making experience.
The author recommends that the overall objective, the "end" should be to maximise total happiness, the idea of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) This subject is extensively covered with rebuttals of criticisms. Buddhism is described in a few pages. Buddhism recognises that all people want to be happy and that therefore suffering should be reduced as much as possible. The " means" is the "Right View". That is acting with the right intentions, recognising that nothing is permanent, we depend on each other and we must understand causes and effects to find solutions. You can also say that the "end" is for people to adapt the "Right View". When actions are based on "Right View",happiness will increase.

The Origin Of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics
The Origin Of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics
by Eric Beinhocker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How new thinking in economics and business can strengthen each other, 25 Feb. 2008
It is hard to understand why in the beginning of 2008 no economist is able to figure out what to do about the financial chaos starting with the sub-prime disaster. If you have read this book you will underst better why it is a chaos and why nobody has any answers. The economy is a complex system, that is chaotic, and anybody that claims to be able to predict what will happen will only be right by luck.
What did I learn from this book? Do not trust anybody that makes a prediction about a complex system. The idea of economic equilibrium in an economic system is absolute nonsense. There is still some hope. Whilst there are no states of equilibrium the changes are not random. It is not total chaos. The economic system like other complex systems has "emergent properties", like periods with wild gyrations and quieter periods. One can hope that with future research one can find out something useful about the causes of these emergent properties, as the basis for policy making.
Evolution is also a complex system. Organisms change at random due to genetic mutations. The mutations that survive and win, fit best in the environment. It is not the survival of the fittest, the one that fights the hardest; it is the random mutation that thrives best in the current environment. This contains an important lesson for business, may be even for competing economic systems. In the longer term wealth in business is created by innovation (these are the equivalent of mutations). Most successful companies fail to innovate because they only focus on improving their products, like more performance, lower costs and different style. To succeed in innovation the company must in addition take the risk of investing in many mutations of which most will fail.
The book has the great merit of multi-disciplinary thinking. It brings together new thinking in economics, business, evolution and complex systems and shows how these disciplines interact and can strengthen each other.

The Shape of Ancient Thought
The Shape of Ancient Thought
by Thomas McEvilley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £32.44

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The intertwining of ancient Greek and Indian philosophy, 24 Feb. 2008
For many, certainly for me, philosophy started with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. What a mistake! What we think of as Greek Philosophy is a mix between Indian and Greek philosophy based on extensive exchange of knowledge starting no later than 550 BC at the time of Buddha in India and Pythagoras in Greece. Up to 350 AD you can find the same concepts in India and Greece. Therefore Western thinking being unique, at least up to that point in time, is an illusion. It was joint East West thinking.

So you may ask, so what? The surprising merit of this book is that by comparing the different schools of thought in India with those of Greece I developed for the first time some real understanding of the differences. A second merit is that the book proves that what appear to be important differences between East and Western ways of thinking are due do misinterpretation of texts. There are differences and overlaps between the schools but that does not depend on whether they are Greek or Indian. Finally I feel more comfortable by knowing that our philosophical base is based on the joint efforts from two great philosophical traditions.

There is no book on which I have spent more hours in reading time. But it was worth it. For an easy start begin with the last chapter, number 25. Even reading only that chapter makes the book worthwhile to buy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2011 1:47 PM BST

just War: The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare
just War: The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare
by Charles Guthrie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inconvenient truths about war, 6 Dec. 2007
This book starts from the inconvenient truth that wars are unavoidable. But, if a nation decides on war it should be for just reasons and conducted in a just way. Any war is justified in self defence or assisting a country to defend itself that has been attacked by another country. It becomes complicated when starting a pre-emptive war or an intervention because the government in a country is acting very badly towards its own citizens, or different citizen groups are attacking each other. Examples of just wars are support to South Korea in its war with North Korea and China, support to Kuwait after invasion by Iraq, intervention in the Kosovo conflict, attack of Afghanistan after 6/11. The authors are less certain, that is, not completely certain if it was right or wrong, with the Falklands War, and the second Iraq war. About conduct they are certain that dropping the atom bombs on Japan was just and almost certain that it was wrong to bomb civil targets in Germany after it was clear that Germany was losing the war.
The authors present six principles specifying conditions that all have to be fulfilled before a war is just and two principles for right conduct. These principles are excellent and everybody should know them. The fact that the authors do not express definitive opinions about several wars, even with the benefit of hindsight shows how hard it is to arrive at conclusions, even with the principles. The authors in their conclusion write "This book is no more than a broad general survey of how the Just War tradition bears upon the morality of undertaking and conducting military operations in the twenty first century". I look forward to the book that should follow after this introduction that makes more definitive judgement about past wars and may even include something about what could have been done and can be done in the future to prevent just wars from happening.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2009 7:38 PM BST

Water: The Blood of the Earth - Exploring Sustainable Water Management for the New Millennium
Water: The Blood of the Earth - Exploring Sustainable Water Management for the New Millennium
by Allerd Stikker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.28

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solving the looming water crisis with innovation, 2 Dec. 2007
Allerd Stikker describes in detail what a person can achieve motivated to solve the looming shortages of water. He shows that macro and micro solutions are definitely within reach. Macro solutions are about developing desalination technologies that do not use energy intensive processes. Many of the mega cities of the future are close to the sea. It appears to be impossible to satisfy their water requirements using river water. Therefore desalination is the only solution. Micro solutions are innovative solutions that combined with micro credit are affordable anywhere also in poor countries. It is remarkably difficult to make rapid progress. The book describes several projects to illustrate why. Many solutions require the involvement of many organisations all with their own ideas on how to proceed.
It is surprising that private sector companies have not been more active. One obstacle is that many people and governments believe that water should be free like air. Water is different from air. Water availability requires investments at the macro level, in water treatment and production facilities but also in education and distribution. To make rapid progress requires that people accept to pay for water use.
Allerd Stikker was also motivated by his spiritual interest especially in Taoism. He describes how in 1985 his water awareness started with Taoism when he made an environmental study in Taiwan. In 2007 he attended a workshop in a newly restored Taoist temple in mainland China where the "Quinling Declaration" was signed stating that Harmony between Heaven, Earth and Humanity is the highest aim of Taoists. Allerd Stikker played an important role in sponsoring the restoration and the focus on sustainable development.
He finishes the book wit an inspiring sentence looking at the sea, "Seeing water, being water, I feel part of Creation. I am not alone."

Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower
Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower
by Zbigniew Brzezinski
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Three Presidents Failed, 1 Dec. 2007
Zbigniew Brzezinski is presenting a brilliant analysis why three presidents, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II failed to be great leaders. This is not because they were not intelligent enough or did not have enough power but because they lacked the right vision. Curiously the president with a clearest vision, Bush II, performed according to the detailed analysis presented in the book the worst. It is ascribed to Bush II adopting the wrong vision, the Neocon doctrine, described in detail in the book. What is the right vision according to Brzezinski? The power of the USA was at its peak under the presidencies of Bush I and Clinton and rapidly declined during Bush II. The power of the first two presidents was not used the way it could have been used. The right vision according to Brzezinski is that the USA could and should have used its power, prestige and influence to align and combine its power with Western Europe and expand it to include Russia which was possible after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This combined power should have been used to arrive at positive cooperation with the emerging nations of Asia, solve the Israel Palestine problem, to reduce the spreading of nuclear arms and to reduce poverty in poor nations. When this had been accomplished there would not have been, nuclear arms proliferation, a problem with Iran and not a 9/11 event.
This would have required that the US would have accepted to share more sovereignty with Europe first and later with other nations, to accept that international laws also had to be accepted by the USA. The USA cannot be above laws that apply to all nations. The USA could have played a leading role in shaping those laws.
Second chance refers to the possibility that the next President might still be able to resurrect American positive influence in the world, but that it is very late, it is the last chance.
The most realistic and interesting account I have read about what the goals of the USA should be.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2008 7:58 PM BST

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
by Lee Iacocca
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars US leadership is in trouble, 14 Nov. 2007
US leadership is in trouble. That is the resounding conclusion from Lee Iacocca. Lee presents the reasons why and what should be done about it in straightforward language from the perspective of a prominent businessman. The merits and also weaknesses of this book are simplification. The merit is that Lee certainly identifies important weaknesses and makes also important recommendations. The weakness is that many issues have more causes and that solutions require more innovation. Several of the problems are not unique to the US but are faced by other prosperous countries as well.
Lee identifies problems with leadership in government, in business, in the attitude of parents and of Americans in general. About the government Lee writes that they do not seem to have priorities and in addition lack plans to solve high priority issues. True, but the more fundamental problem is the shift in government thinking of wanting to be the leader of the world rather than one of the leaders. None of the great presidents of the US in the past had the ambition to lead the world.
Lee correctly identifies dissatisfaction in the middle class with a stagnant income level and explosively growing rich upper class. Increase in inequality is a problem in many countries. It is hard to find practical solutions. He is right that changes in taxes in the US aggravated the inequality. One of the effective ways to reduce the increase in inequality is increasing education levels for all, especially lower income groups and healthcare for all. Lee on education points out that parents do not stimulate their children to learn with a high priority. Also that teachers are vastly underpaid.
On the problems of the US automotive industry Lee assigns most of the blame to the US government. Others point to the IT industry in the US that has maintained its global leadership position, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Google, and Yahoo. Another reason is lack of innovation in production, in social relations, and lack of interest in customer preferences. Management made unaffordable commitments to unions to maintain short term quarterly profits.
The book is a wake up call. On government Zbigniew Brezinski presents important complementary information in "Second Chance", "The Crisis of American Superpower".

Jean Monnet : The First Statesman of Interdependance
Jean Monnet : The First Statesman of Interdependance
by George W. Jr. Ball
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Management Consultant to Governments. Peace and prosperity instead of World War III, 28 Aug. 2006
The book consists of two parts, part one describes how the European Union developed with a supranational dimension and the role of Monnet in its establishment. It becomes very clear that without the supranational dimension the Union would never have been established and World War III would already have taken place. This first part reads like a novel. In the second part, "The Legacy" the ideas and methods are described that Jean Monnet used to achieve a successful European Union. This review concentrates on the second part.

It is only possible to present to few of the ideas and methods. The title of the book is interesting, " The First Statesman of Interdependence". Interdependence refers to the fact that significant change in the actions of government can only be achieved by understanding the interdependency between, the prime minister, the other ministers, the bureaucracies of the ministers, the political parties, businessmen, the financial and business community and sometimes trade unions, not of one country but of several countries. Developing a solution requires the participation of these organisations. Monnet describes many different organisation structures for this purpose. All projects had a direct line to the president or prime minister. Monnet always saw to it that a single ministry never took over responsibility as rhat was the "kiss of death" for his type of project. Yet, he recognised that unless you brought the ministries and their bureaucracies along you would fail too.

Another key factor was the choice of the core team working directly with him. He spent a lot of his time finding the right members of the core team and did not hesitate to reject recommendations of the prime minister and of other ministers.

One of the methods Monnet used repeatedly was the "balance sheet". The balance sheet was a summary of all the resources material and immaterial necessary to solve a problem. These balance sheets were prepared involving all the persons with power and influence on implementing a solution. The "balance sheet" has the advantage that all organisations involved have to share information. The cabinet can only make an informed decision about priorities and an action plan based on a complete and holistic picture.

Another important concept was the need of having a powerful central "actionable" idea that appeared self-evident and obvious when presented to persons in power. Monnet spent weeks in talk-shops with a group of extremely bright and argumentative people saying nothing and only listening in the first phase, inserting a few words in the second phase, and directing the discussion in the third and final phase. The formulation of an idea could easily require 30 drafts before presentation. Monnet went never to a meeting without having a draft of what he was proposing in front of him.

One of the ideas he pursued was that war in Europe could only be avoided by creating a European organisation to which nations operationally delegated a part of their authority. This European organisation has as a consequence a supranational dimension. This led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952 with Jean Monnet at its head. That organisation was the pioneering organisation that led to the European Economic Community or EEC (called Common Market in the UK) in 1956, leading to the European Union (EU) in 1993. I interviewed Jean Monnet in 1954 as a student, very inspiring!

Monnet believed that the cause of war is that governments pursue policies that they believe are in the national interest without considering the interests of other governments. He considered that people are born with strong egocentric tendencies that lead to nationalistic behaviour of governments. This problem can therefore only be solved by creating an institution that can reconcile conflicts between nations, with sufficient power delegated to it for making decisions that the "sovereign" nations involved accept. Emmanuel Kant was the first one to forcefully formulate this truth in his essay "Perpetual Peace" (1891). This book presents a clear picture how incredibly difficult it is to get nations to delegate some of their authority to an independent supranational organisation.

The view in Buddhism of human nature is less pessimistic. Buddhists believe that people are born with egocentric and altruistic tendencies and that the ego-centred tendencies can be mastered by training the mind. As a matter of interest, interdependence is also a central concept in Buddhism.

This book is of great interest to people working in politics, government and for interested NGOs and management consultants. It is also of interest to businessmen that want to understand how a government functions and/or that are looking for ideas for making radical changes in the character of their companies.

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