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Robert Matthews (Oxfordshire, UK)
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The Einstein of Money: The Life and Timeless Financial Wisdom of Benjamin Graham
The Einstein of Money: The Life and Timeless Financial Wisdom of Benjamin Graham
by Joe Carlen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.19

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, well-researched - and motivating..., 14 Aug 2012
I must confess to having never heard of Benjamin Graham or "value investing" until I read this book, having been intrigued by its title. Having read it, I'd would agree that Graham deserves such a grand title, on the grounds that (unlike any number of Nobel-prizewinning economists), he identified ground-breaking principles of investing that work in the real world. Put simply, Graham saw the Stock Market as it really is, and came up with a way of exploiting its often-irrational behaviour using rational assessment of individual companies.

Reading this book was truly revelatory for me, changing my attitude towards investment - and even motivating me to make value investing the core of my approach to financial planning. It turns out I'm in good company, as Warren Buffett was a personal friend of Graham and uses modified value investment theory in his own approach.

The book is primarily a bio of British-born Graham, who was a truly astonishing individual. A financial crisis affecting the family led to young Graham being encouraged to get out and support his mother and siblings. He ended up at Columbia,and while still a student was offered faculty positions in maths, philosophy and English. A chance encounter led to his applying his extraordinary mind to the concept of investment, and developing Value Investing.

The author does an excellent job of weaving in the personal story of Graham with the ideas that made him a Wall St legend, and which are still relevant today. The result is effectively two books in one: a bio of the man and a guide to his investment principles (including worked examples). While the writing style is sometimes a tad florid, especially in the beginning, the author's ability to corral so many different strands into a coherent whole is impressive indeed.

One of the most enjoyable AND informative books I've read in many years.


The End of Discovery: Are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable?
The End of Discovery: Are we approaching the boundaries of the knowable?
by Russell Stannard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.75

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promises more than it delivers, 8 Jan 2011
Text of my review as published in BBC Focus magazine:

One of the odd things about 21st century science is that ever more money seems to be spent on ever more spectacular projects, yet the ultimate answers seem to be getting ever further away. From the Human Genome Project to the Large Hadron Collider and the Very Large Telescope, scientists are doing their level best to push forward the frontier of knowledge, but it's increasingly pushing right back. Could science and its time-honoured methods finally be running out of steam ?
That's the intriguing possibility explored by Russell Stannard, professor emeritus of physics at the Open University. As a nuclear physicist, Stannard knows all too well the limitations put on the knowable by quantum theory, the laws of the sub-atomic world. Since the 1920s, it's been clear that it's not just hard to know everything about what's happening at these levels - it's literally impossible. But as Stannard shows, other limitations are starting to emerge too, which suggest we can't even know what the universe is "really" like.
Stannard puts a lot of work into explaining the basics before pondering the Big Questions - and the result is admirably clear and readable. But I suspect many people intrigued by the thesis at the heart of the book will get impatient with this Physics 101 approach - and then disappointed by the somewhat superficial treatment of the ideas at the cutting edge of science, like the many universes view of reality.


Science from Fisher Information: A Unification
Science from Fisher Information: A Unification
by B. Roy Frieden
Edition: Paperback
Price: 50.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing twist on a key concept in fundamental physics, 11 Dec 2010
As the contrast between some of the reviews published here and elsewhere shows, this is an unusual book. Among some it provokes spluttering outrage, together with purported refutations (which Frieden says he has rebutted). Others will find it a stimulating, if idiosyncratic, demonstration of the importance of information in fundamental physics.

Since the work of Bekenstein and others, it's become clear that information theoretic concepts may provide a bridge across the chasm separating quantum theory and general relativity. Frieden maintains it also allows a derivation of the action principle from which both quantum, relativistic and classical physics can be extracted. Frieden claims that this in turn points to the more fundamental principle on which all this physics rests: namely, the extraction of information about the nature of reality.

Some readers (myself included) will suspect the author sometimes pushes his thesis too far. Even so, for anyone who wants to follow the emerging efforts to put information at the centre of fundamental physics, this book is certainly worth reading.


Against the Odds: A Comprehensive Guide to Betting on Horseracing
Against the Odds: A Comprehensive Guide to Betting on Horseracing
by David-Lee Priest
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable practical guidance, 14 Oct 2010
Anyone with serious plans about gambling on horse racing should get this book before they begin to develop their strategy. It contains a huge amount of wisdom on virtually every aspect of the subject, some of which the author admits has been bought by himself at considerable expense.

Most of the variables that you're likely to consider including in a betting system are covered, and the evidence that they produce a profit is analysed using several years of race statistics. The author has thus done a colossal amount of the hard work, and weeded out those strategies that may work from those that probably won't.

He also covers techniques for betting systems, and staking systems (the coverage of the Kelly system is, however, rather idiosyncratic and one should look elsewhere for a good treatment).

Perhaps most valuable of all, however, is Priest's advice on the basic aim of a betting strategy, and it's NOT necessarily picking the most likely winner. If this isn't immediately obvious to you, you should definitely buy this book to understand this most common misconception about effective betting strategies.


A Bloody Good Winner: Life as a Professional Gambler
A Bloody Good Winner: Life as a Professional Gambler
by Dave Nevison
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and insightful, 8 Oct 2010
I bought this book to get inside the mindset of a professional punter, and wasn't disappointed.

If you're looking for a book spelling out how to draw up a winning tissue for a race, you won't find it here, though there are some tips. What you will find is a cogent account of the need to find value (where the true probability of a horse winning is higher than the quoted odds), and of how to exploit it. And the bad news for those who just want a turnkey get-rich-quick scheme is that even if you do have a good tissue, exploiting it is highly dependent on psychology. Nevison makes clear that unless you're prepared to back relative long-shots, you can't get past the profit margins incorporated into the odds by the bookies. This is where one's own psychology becomes crucial: with long-shots, you just have to be able to take the pain of seeing _an_average_ of (say) 5 out of 6 of your money on (say) 8-1 horses vanish, in order to get that single winner which financially more than compensates for all the losses. Worse still, even if your system works, you can and will have appallingly long runs of losses - and Nevison does a grand job of explaining what that feels like too.

In short, this is a hugely valuable book for anyone who fancies taking gambling on races seriously (it is more useful than Enemy Number One, by the rather more tight-lipped Patrick Veitch). And some of Nevison's adventures and anecdotes are very funny indeed.


Sports Arbitrage - Riskless Investment
Sports Arbitrage - Riskless Investment
by George Lynam
Edition: Paperback
Price: 24.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful but be prepared to do some maths, 5 Oct 2010
Lynam is clearly an expert and offers a wealth of strategies for arbitraging in sports, including horse racing (on which there is very little published material). He also includes many examples, and handy practical tips.

As another reviewer has already noted, however, straightforward arbitrage is becoming very difficult because of the growing number of arb-detecting subscription services, which has reduced arb lifetimes to less than 15 minutes on average. This has also made these "risk free" techniques increasingly risky, as there is a growing danger of failing to complete the arb before it disappears, leaving you with a conventional - and risky - bet involving large sums of money.

Only more esoteric arbs have much chance of working out these days, and while Lynam does include some of these, only readers confident in their algebraic abilities (and, increasingly, VisualBasic and Excel in order to program bots) will really be able to make this technique work for them.

In short, recommended - but be prepared to put in some hard work to turn the advice into profits.


The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram
The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram
by Thomas Blass
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive biog of a key figure in 20th century psychology, 10 Sep 2010
(This review originally appeared in BBC Focus magazine)

In 1961, an advert appeared in a US newspaper asking for volunteers for a scientific study of memory. The study was not what it seemed, however. Those who responded found themselves in lab delivering increasingly strong electric shocks to a man whenever his memory failed him. And 65 per cent of the volunteers carried on increasing the shocks until the screams had been replaced by an ominous silence.

Only once the experiment was over were the volunteers told the truth: the man had been acting throughout. But the experiment had proved its point: that ordinary people could be persuaded to abuse a complete stranger - if they believed they could pass responsibility on to those in authority. It also made its designer, the social psychologist Stanley Milgram, one of the most controversial scientists of the 20th century.

Milgram's notorious study of obedience to authority forms the centrepiece of this outstanding biography - and rightly so, given its continued importance in understanding such horrors as the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But as author Thomas Blass makes clear, Milgram pioneered other major areas of research, including the famous "Small World" effect, by which everyone is linked to everyone else by around six intermediaries.

Blass does a fine job of weaving together Milgram's life and science, revealing a portrait of a genius who, ironically enough, had real problems with authority.


In Search Of Time
In Search Of Time
by Dan Falk
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read once you're past the plodding start, 10 Sep 2010
This review is from: In Search Of Time (Hardcover)
(This review originally appeared in BBC Focus magazine)

For something we've been measuring for millennia and which rules our lives, time is astonishingly hard to fathom. We all have a sense of it flowing inexorably from the future and into the past, but what "it" is remains elusive.

Philosophers have had a go at pinning down the nature of time with mixed results, and scientists have done little better: most of the laws of nature work perfectly well regardless of the direction of the "arrow of time".

Award-winning science writer Dan Falk takes all this on and more, giving us an impressively comprehensive survey of the problem of time. Yet the problem with comprehensive surveys is that no matter how well they're written - and Falk is a great writer - they inevitably contain large chunks of stuff that appeal to some readers, while boring others rigid. In my case, I really don't need to read yet another history of time-keeping, and I found myself racing through to the latest scientific theories of time.

I wasn't disappointed when I got there, as Falk has interviewed leading thinkers on the key question of whether time objectively exists or is just a handy illusion. After reading this book, you'll be much better placed to understand the nature of the problem, know what the experts think, and reach your own conclusion. But be warned: it might not be the one you expect.


The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It
The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It
by Philip Ball
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It helps if you already know a lot about music, 10 Sep 2010
(This review originally appeared in BBC Focus)

Over the years Desert Island Discs has had over 2,000 guests, ranging from aesthetes to athletes. But no matter who they are, most of them insist that music is very important to them, and that picking just eight recordings was the devil's own job. Okay, some of them probably can't tell Scarlatti from Mr Scruff, but there's no doubting that for many of us music is more than acoustic wallpaper - it's mind-altering stuff.

Quite how it weaves its magic is described in impressive detail in this latest work by the award-winning science writer Philip Ball. He describes how music has developed since the first instruments (bone flutes) were created at least 40,000-odd years ago, and how composers have found ways to trigger specific emotions using nothing more than markings on lined paper. He then goes on to describe some of the theories now emerging for why, for example, a Mozart sonata can be wonderfully uplifting while Mahler's 10th symphony can leave you scared witless.

Ball really knows his stuff, and thinks nothing of comparing the final bars of Aaron Copland's
"Quiet City" to ZZ Top's "Ko Ko Blue". Frankly, in places the book is just too detailed, and while Ball explains the basics of musical notation, it's nowhere near enough to get the most out of this book. But music-lovers who want an in-depth understanding of what moves them should look no further.


My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility
My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility
by Eliezer Sternberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars impressively clear account of a very challenging subject, 10 Sep 2010
(This review originally appeared in BBC Focus magazine)

All of us like to think that we have free will, and aren't just robots blindly following the dictates of our biochemistry. Yet according to many neuroscientists, that's pretty much all we are, and they point to the growing evidence from lab experiments and brain scans that supposedly prove free will is just a comforting illusion.

If you don't like that idea, you'll love this impressively clear account of what neuroscience tells us about the workings of the brain, and its implications for the issue of free will. Sternberg makes clear that he shares the widely-held view that ultimately we are responsible for our actions, and gives a host of arguments and real-life illustrations to back up his argument.

Put simply, he believes neuroscientists are pushing the supposed evidence against free will too far, driven by the current fashion in neuroscience for so-called "determinism", the belief - long since debunked in other scientific disciplines - that every action can be predicted, if only we knew all the relevant inputs.

Instead, Sternberg argues that as neuroscience becomes more sophisticated, it will confirm the existence of free will, and reveal it to be a complex "emergent" property, driven by a host of processes in our brains.

Sternberg - who, astonishingly, is still in his early 20s - has put together a masterful study of this interface between science and philosophy which will undoubtedly get you thinking.


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