What I’ve Been Reading

A brief round up of recent books:

1. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith. A great collection of non-fiction essays from one of my favorite writers, Zadie Smith. Savor sentences like “It’s a feeling of happiness that knocks me clean out of adjectives” throughout varied journalistic and literary essays.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. If you’re not familiar with heursitics and biases, this is a good roundup volume of Kahneman’s groundbreaking research. I personally didn’t find much new here since I follow the field pretty closely already.

3. Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom by Catherine Hakim. I didn’t learn much beyond what’s stated in the subtitle: physical attractiveness matters in a big way in business. There were a few interesting, random stats sprinkled throughout — like Hugh Hefner says he’s had about 2,000 lovers and that half of women have never masturbated — but nothing big stuck with me.

4. Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State by William Voegeli. A thoughtful, steady look at the growing size of America’s welfare programs. The promises government has made to the people are unaffordable, as Voegeli shows. Yet so often, on ideas for how to fix it, you hear about taxing rich or cutting military programs. The tax-the-rich debate especially is a distraction. As Charles Kesler recently put it, “Not even the most piratical of liberal tax collectors could extort enough money from the rich to pay the enormous bills coming due.” We need bigger reform of the entitlement programs.

5. Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton. I wanted to love this, but tentatively decided that economics may not be the best primary lens through which to think about this topic. I did love the paragraphs on Erving Goffman, though. He’s awesome.

6. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman. Among academics, Noam is one of the most respected by startup folks. His latest book focuses on classic tradeoffs entrepreneurs have to make when getting a business going. He writes clearly, cites research and specific examples, and covers a lot of ground on everything from financing to co-founder relationships. I’ll be keeping this to my reference library for consultation in the future.

5 Responses to What I’ve Been Reading

  1. Paul says:

    Just wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading this blog and have for several years. When I lose control of my RSS feed (which happens regularly), this is one of the few blogs I am sure to read every post before nuking all of the posts and starting fresh.

    Been finishing up with law school and studying for the bar, so I haven’t had a chance to read The Startup of You yet, but it’s on my nightstand and I’m looking forward to reading it later this summer.

  2. You really have to laugh at the sheer audacity of Charles R. Kesler spreading the lie that Obama has vastly increased the welfare state, starting with his reference to “Obama’s orgy of state-building”.

    After the spike in public employment caused by census hiring, the Obama years have seen huge cuts in public employment compared with the growth in public employment under Bush, and there was a lot more government spending under Reagan 1980-1984 than under Obama 2008-2012.

    Kesler also neglects to mention that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs were expanded under the Nixon and Ford administrations.

    The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act 0f 2003 was the largest expansion of Medicare since the program was created in 1965. George W Bush low-balled the cost of the ‘Medicare D’ part, that lobbyist’s dream of an entitlement benefit for prescription drugs through tax breaks and subsidies, that also prohibits the Federal government from negotiating discounts with drug companies.

    Kesler is a paragon of unscrupulousness– how ironic that he should invoke morality in discussing the problem of public credit.

    Let’s not forget the context from whence these lies emanate. Kesler’s little essay, Promises, Promises, appears on the website of the Claremont Institute, where he is a senior fellow. Another fellow of the Institute, William J Bennet, a former drug czar, said that beheading drug dealers would be “morally plausible”, and “lamented that we still grant them habeas corpus rights.”

    Ah, these fine-feathered conservatives, brave defenders of the Constitution.

  3. Dan Black says:

    These sounds like great books. Thank you for sharing them.

  4. Zafar Jafri says:

    Ben,

    Hope all is well, long time. Have a look at Azar Gat’s War. An avid reader, it is one of the best books I have read in some time. It defies, indeed transcends, categorization. Though explicitly about the human riddle of war (is war innate in human nature? is a social/environmental construct?), it is equally a well thought out and researched treatise on philosophy, psychology, biology, history, politics, economics, technology and so on. Just like it draws from, and transcends, many subjects, it equally informs a wide swath of ideas and fields.

    Someone who is thoughtful and creative will also find many insights that inform business, strategy, entrepreneurship.

    ZJ

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