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Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe
Fool's Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe
by Gillian Tett
Edition: Hardcover

72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars She should have called it: The story of the J.P. Morgan CDO desk, 9 Sept. 2009
The book's content is less ambitious that its titles suggests. It is about how a team of derivative experts at J.P. Morgan contributed to the development of the securities, including credit default swaps and options, which led to the financial crisis. That's reasonably interesting, but it's a fairly narrow perspective on what happened. The collapse of Lehman is covered in a few pages. She doesn't even mention that the major banks were manipulating Libor. At points it sounds like she is writing to protect her sources. There is a lot about what a great CEO Jamie Dimon is at JP Morgan chase. She says the JPM team shouldn't be blamed for other banks misusing the derivatives they created. I've never heard anyone blame them for it.
There are a few mistakes: the internet bubble of 1999 was equity driven, not debt fueled. She uses acronyms too often, and there are no anecdotes explaining why the subprime default rates were so high. Indeed, she is very light on what happened in the subprime sector. The corruption there could have really livened up her book, and illuminated the causes of the crash. I learnt more about the crisis from the introduction to Niall Ferguson's Financial History of the World.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2012 2:45 PM BST


THE MACHIAVELLI COVENANT
THE MACHIAVELLI COVENANT
by Allan Folsom
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Poor man's Da Vinci Code, 11 Jan. 2009
The premise of this book is absurd. The execution is a failure. The President of the US faces an attempted coup by senior cabinet officials. So what does he do? Fire them? Call in the Secret Service? No, he goes on the run and is chased around the streets of Barcelona by the police. There is a sub-plot involving witches which I didn't understand, but they seemed to be a device to introduce a similar historical conspiracy theory to the one which worked so well in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. In this case, it's not interesting enough for the reader to suspend their disbelief. There are glaring errors. He confuses innoculated with infected. He has an Australian driver repeatedly using the word sir, which he would never do. The president owns a Blackberry. In reality none ever have. The Secret Service can only track his mobile phone when it makes or receives a call. Mobile phones can be tracked as long as they are switched on. The story ends, literally, with an ad for another one of his books. Why anyone would put them themselves through that pain a second time, I don't know.


What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism
What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism
by Philip Delves Broughton
Edition: Paperback

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book praises, criticizes Harvard Business School, 21 Aug. 2008
As a Harvard graduate (not HBS) I loved this book. Fantastic writing, lots of anecdotes, and very clear explanations of what they really teach at Havard Business School. But it's more than that. It's a trip through one man's attempt to find what he wants to do with his life. Delves Broughton was a very successful journalist, and he walked away to spend two years doing an MBA, which cost him $170,000. He finds that he isn't like most of his fellow students, who are obsessed with money. When the author goes to cover an anti-globalisation march, he sympathises with the protestors. Instead of writing an analysis of Time Warner, he choses a organic blueberry farmer. When his fellow students are off working over Spring break, he's at home in Boston working on a novel. It made me wonder: why did he go to business school? Ultimately, Delves Broughton is critical of the school, and gives good reasons for being so.
In response, the school has been mildly critical of the book, apparently arguing class-room conversations should be private. I think this probably stems from him revealing some of school's rorts, including one relating to financial aid. In all, the book is a 300-page ad for HBS and can only drive up applications.
But Delves Broughton's experience punctures one of the myths about HBS: that it creates business leaders. (STORY DISCLOSURE HERE.) He is the only member of his class not to get a job, mainly because he doesn't have any experience in finance or consulting, even though his grades were good and he clearly he could cut it in the classroom (although he is unlucky to miss out on a markeing job at Google.) It seems that no matter how many brilliant classes they have at Harvard, business recruiters want people with business experience.
It will be interesting to see if HBS admits many more journalists in the future.


Tescopoly: How One Shop Came Out on Top and Why it Matters
Tescopoly: How One Shop Came Out on Top and Why it Matters
by Andrew Simms
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Snappy writing but highly biased, 16 July 2008
Simms eloquently throws everything he has at Tesco, including causing obesity, environmental damage, poor architecture, and the loss of indigenous languages. Alas, this book is merely a Left-wing rant against big business. Sure, don't we all regret the loss of independent book and grocery shops across Britain? But Simms uses emotion and allegations he doesn't prove to lay the whole blame on Tesco. (One claim: five organisations "control" 90% of the news in the U.S. I don't believe it.) There is no attempt at balance. He fails to give Tesco credit for the biggest reason for its success: low prices. Coming from the Left, he might have asked poor people if they prefer cheap food or a High Street unspoiled by chains. This is not a credible book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2011 1:07 PM BST


The Cleft
The Cleft
by Doris Lessing
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Do not read this book, 18 Mar. 2008
This review is from: The Cleft (Hardcover)
The Cleft has a bizarre plot, tedious writing and no literary merit. Do not waste your time reading this book. It's a bore.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2011 1:08 PM BST


Snobbery: The American Version
Snobbery: The American Version
by MR Joseph Epstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.33

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely superb, 15 Jan. 2007
This is the greatest book I've ever read about society. The writing is superb, intelligent and extremely funny. Epstein's main argument, cheerfully told, is that most people are snobs. Most of us look down at people we think beneath us, and up to we feel are our betters. There are food snobs, fashion snobs, racial snobs, political snobs, academic snobs. You name a human endeavor, and they'll be a snobbish angle on it. Epstein is snob. He's a snob about snobs, feeling superior to those who feel superior to others because they're up with the latest trend.

This book is not for everyone. If you take fashion seriously, admire the upper classes, or talk knowledgably about French wines, you may be insulted. If you have no interest or knowledge of the United States, many of the references will be meaningless. But if you believe that Society, with a capital S, it absurd, then you may find this book eloquently expresses what've always suspected is true but haven't have the opportunity, the experience, or the vocab to put into words. Snobbery, the American Version, may not change your life. But it will at least help you understand it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 3, 2012 5:24 PM BST


A History Of Violence [DVD]
A History Of Violence [DVD]
Dvd ~ Viggo Mortensen
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £3.53

11 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars real disappointment, 16 Nov. 2006
This review is from: A History Of Violence [DVD] (DVD)
The premise is intriguing: ex-gangster creates new wholesome life in small-town American. The execution is tedious. There's graphic sex, even more graphic violence, and long periods shifting from one cliche to the next. This movie is a waste of time.


Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson
Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson
by Andrew Gimson
Edition: Hardcover

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read for fans of modern political life, 8 Oct. 2006
For anyone who's interested in Boris Johnson, or even the British Conservative Party, this is a great book. It's a fantastically fun read, full of interesting facts and insight into Britain's most colorful Tory politician. I particularly liked the book because it doesn't try too hard. Unlike some 500-page biographical monsters, which read like a PhD history theses, "Boris" doesn't cover ever nook and cranny of its subject's life. We get the main points - family history, childhood, school, journalism, jokes, affairs - told in Andrew Gimson's very readable and unpretentious writing.

The book's short but not superficial. Gimson knows Boris well. They worked together on the Spectator magazine and Gimson is friends with a lot of the main players in Boris's life. It shows. There are several revelations. More importantly, Gimson shows great psychological insight. Boris comes across as an extremely intelligent, well-educated and energetic man - who adopts an amusing but slightly ridiculous joke-persona to cover up for a complete lack of discipline.

I finished the book rather liking Boris, and amazed he's gotten as far as he has. He really can be a prat. Some of the best stories include: how he had to leave the Times for making up a quote; the exaggeration in his Brussels coverage for the Telegraph; the fact he didn't write the anti-Liverpool Spectator editorial which he was crucified, and who did; that he saw his mistress Petronella Wyatt after breaking off their affair.

The only reason I haven't given this book five stars is because I think the top rating should be reserved for the very best books. If you'ld like to know what life is like for the conservative media and political establishment, this book is a fun place to start.


Looking for Trouble: SAS to Gulf Command - The Autobiography
Looking for Trouble: SAS to Gulf Command - The Autobiography
by Peter de la Billière
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable military memoir, 20 Sept. 2006
The other reviews give a good summary of the book's contents so I won't repeat it. This book indeed offers a deep insight into the British Army, SAS and the career of one of its most successful soldiers. But it was too straightforward for my tastes, with de la Billiere simply recounting his life. Profound questions go unanswered, with is why I give it 3 stars. What are his views on the morality of war? When is killing justified? How should soliders deal with the guilt of killing? At the age of 18 he's desperate to get to the frontline, but never explains why he so wants to see the fighting. De la Billiere describes his own combat episodes in some detail but we don't ever discover if he killed another man. It struck me as an odd omission for a book about war. He's much more forthright about family matters, especially a troubled relationship with an aunt. I would have liked him to have been as open about combat as he was about family. Good read but intellectually shallow.


The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand
The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand
by Chris Anderson
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great argument but is it true?, 15 Aug. 2006
This is an interesting book with some great examples. The core argument is fascinating - that obscure products are generating far more sales for online retailers than they could have in shops.

It's a very interesting argument - but is it true?

I've recently read some press columns arguing that the long tail is overstated, and online retailers are as reliant on mass hits as shops always have been.

The tone is a little smug. And I didn't get why he kept quoting Marxists. Sounded like he was trying to make the concept sound more profound than it is.


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