Book reviews: Wise guys

Want the perfect gift for the money maven in your family? Try one of these brainy new books.



From the December/January 2008 issue of the magazine.


1. Microtrends by Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne ($29.99, Twelve Books)

Mass movements are soooo 20th century. The future will be shaped by multitudes of small groups that most of us are just beginning to notice. At least that’s the contention of Penn, a pollster, publicist and adviser to Hillary Clinton. In this book, he sniffs out some of the most interesting microtrends.

Our take: Vegan kids? Protestant Hispanics? Late-breaking gays? They’re all rising social forces, according to Penn. His intriguing book opened our eyes to a swarm of surprising developments.

2. A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark ($29.95, Princeton University Press)

People in 1750 lived not a whole lot better than people two thousand years before. Then England gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and, in a blink of history, we were rich. But what caused the revolution? And why aren’t all countries now rich?

Our take: Clark argues the English evolved biologically in ways that created prosperity. Before you dismiss the notion, read this brilliant tour of economic history.

3. The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan ($42, Penguin)

Did you know that the dour-faced former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board started out as a jazz clarinet player? Or that he dated Barbara Walters? His memoir tells all.

Our take: You’ll enjoy the first half of the book as Greenspan recounts his progress from jazz musician to central banker. The second half—a treatise on global economics—is best left to policy wonks with insomnia.

4. Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres ($32, Bantam)

Say good-bye to intuition. A computer and some basic stats can now reveal hidden patterns in everything from investing to car sales.

Our take: Ayres, a Yale professor, shows that number crunchers can scout baseball players better than grizzled coaches, diagnose diseases better than experienced doctors, and predict court judgments better than veteran lawyers. His book is a thought-provoking look at how computers can—and should—replace humans as decision-makers.

5. Your Money and Your Brain by Jason Zweig ($32, Simon & Schuster)

Neuroeconomists use economics, psychology and neuroscience to gain a better understanding of our behavior with money. Their research shows that many financial attitudes are hard-wired into our brains—which is why so many smart people are dumb with money.

Our take: An entertaining look at all the ways we sabotage our own efforts to get wealthy. A great read for any serious investor.

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