Book reviews: Weird and wonderful

These new books are all a little odd — and plenty good.



From the October 2008 issue of the magazine.


1. FOOLING SOME OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME by David Einhorn ($32.99, Wiley): What an odd, compelling book this is. Einhorn, a New York hedge fund manager, made a speech in 2002 denouncing the accounting practices of Allied Capital, a business development company. So began a war of words that continues to the present. Einhorn accuses Allied of misleading investors. Allied shrugs off Einhorn as a short seller who wants to score by driving down Allied’s stock price. OUR TAKE: This dense, acronym-filled work isn’t light reading, but if you want to learn how a smart short seller thinks, it’s a fascinating tale.

2. THE DRUNKARD’S WALK by Leonard Mlodinow ($27.95, Pantheon): Chances are that you don’t understand chance. Mlodinow, a physicist, thinks that randomness is much more of a factor in our lives than most people realize. In this fun and funny book, he explores how we overrate CEOs who luck into a winning streak, fall in love with miracle cures that may have no effect on our health, and spend too much money on highly rated wines. OUR TAKE: If you’ve always suspected that life is not much more than a random throw of the dice, odds are that you will love this book.

3. THE TRILLION DOLLAR MELTDOWN by Charles R. Morris ($24.95, PublicAffairs Books): Readers of the business pages know about the U.S. real estate collapse and the huge losses suffered by international banks, but most Canadians have yet to feel the impact. That may change if this book is right. Morris argues that we are living in a financial casino without any safety regulations — and, oh, yes, the casino happens to be on fire. OUR TAKE: A smart, concise guide to the biggest financial crisis of our times. While the book’s viewpoint is American, we recommend it for anyone who wants to understand how the world got into this mess.

4. A SPLENDID EXCHANGE by William J. Bernstein ($33, Atlantic Monthly Press): Bernstein has set himself a monumental task — to explain how the process of buying and selling goods has determined the course of history, from the copper merchants of ancient Sumeria to the stock traders of contemporary Wall Street. OUR TAKE: A wonderful book that will fascinate anyone interested in history or economics. Along the way, Bernstein explains why winds and pests have done more to shape society than kings or generals.

5. SWAY by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman ($25, Doubleday): This book has a wonderful subtitle: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. The authors examine why investors refuse to sell their losing stocks, how you can make an audience pay more than $20 for a $20 bill, and what makes an experienced airline pilot disregard safety regulations and take off in a fog. OUR TAKE: An entertaining exploration of an important topic — with useful advice on how to defend yourself from psychological illusions.

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