On The Bookshelf

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of late and thought I’d give some recommendations. I’ve either finished or am in the midst of reading the following.

1) When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein—This is about the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management. It’s a modern-day capitalist fable that combines the hurbis of the Titanic story with the dramatic irony of Oedipus Rex. Very, very readable and fascinating. I read the book hoping that it would help me understand obscure financial instruments like derivatives and option swaps, but either I’m too dumb, Lowenstein’s not clear enough, or the stuff is just too complicated, but I still don’t have a particularly good grasp of many of the financial instruments that got LTCM in so much trouble. But given that there’s talk now of “bailouts” as a solution to the current credit crunch, this is a timely read.

2) The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein—I’m reviewing this for the next issue of In These Times.

3) Learning to Drive And Other Life Stories by Katha Pollitt—A few of the personal essays in this book appeared in the New Yorker, but there’s some wonderful new stuff as well, including an absolutely spot-on hilarious chapter about a Marxist study group she used to belong to. As always, Pollitt writes like a dream.

4) Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb—The first book by the eccentric essayist/trader who’s currently on the bestseller list with his latest book, The Black Swan. Taleb’s style is unique to say the least, and his prose is comically pompous at times, but he’s brilliant and the central point of the book is profound and important—much of the success we see as a reward for smarts, or effort or talent, is merely luck. More broadly, many of the events to which he ascribe meaning or inevitability are simply little more than a random outcome. Favorite chapter title ever: “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”

5) The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics by Jonathan Chait—This book is getting much-deserved buzz. A very accessible and entertaining look at the way a crank economic theory, “supply side,” came to dominate the Republican party and much of Washington. Some of the best popular writing about political-economy you’ll find. Chait’s very sharp, very witty and justifiably outraged. You can follow a discussion of the book over at TPMCafe.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

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