Staff Picks: Matt Taibbi, Financial and Political Journalist

All Matt Taibbi.books herre.

Matt Taibbi makes the world of finance and Wall Street accessible, profane and funny.

Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia is a good place to start to understand how many believe that derivatives and lack of regulation is damaging our financial system. Especially if you like your economic explanations to come with four letter words.

Taibbi – a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone – chronicles our national transition into a casino, where financialization of the economy takes precedence over allocating capital and actual work.

The result? Higher prices for food and oil, government officials paid to look the other way, and a towering edifice of credit and collateral debt swaps supported by a tiny amount of actual capital.

(By the way, that real capital has been sold and leased a hundred times over, so real ownership is unclear at best).

Features a great chapter that explains collateral debt swaps, and the musical chairs aspect of this form of financial insurance.

There’s also a chapter about the ideology of the elite, and its growing influence in what is supposed to be a democracy under rule of law.

Highly recommended.

Featured Author: Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a fascinating thinker, economist, urban studies and public policy theorist. Her work addresses the growth of cities and their economies.

Here are some interesting ideas she poses in her work The Economy of Cities.

Why adding new work to old work is crucial to growing an economy (instead of merely dividing existing work more)

Why loosely structured and inefficient economies are better suited to survive change.
Why cities predated agriculture as we know it.
How cities can replace imported goods with their own industries.
Why some villages grow into cities and some do not.
How the design of urban spacies can either promote order or hinder it.

If you are studying urban studies, public policy or economics you need to read her.

For some reason, she has two entries in the catalog. One here, the other here.

Featured Author: Gordon Parks (The Learning Tree, Shaft)

All Gordon Parks books here.

Gordon Parks was a multi-talented photographer, writer, film director, and more.  Not only does Gordon Parks have a critical reputation as a photographer, he also directed the movie Shaft, wrote The Learning Tree, and co-founded the magazine Essence.

Here’s a more detailed biography from Ebscohost:

His first books were the instruction manuals Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits (1948). His books also include five collections of his photos accompanied by verse, including Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera (1968) and Eyes with Winged Thoughts (2005). Born Black (1971) is a collection of his biographical essays, with photographs. One of his photo essays for Life led to his book Flavio (1978), about a poor, gravely ill Brazilian boy for whom he was instrumental in obtaining lifesaving medical treatment.

Parks wrote three novels: The Learning Tree (1963), a best-seller based on his childhood in Kansas, the historical novel Shannon (1981), about Irish immigrants in the early 1900s, and The Sun Stalker (1981), a fictionalization of the life of the British painter J. M. W. Turner. He published the memoirs A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), and A Hungry Heart (2005) and the quasi-memoir Half Past Autumn (1997), published in conjunction with a touring exhibition of his photos.

Parks became the first African-American to write, produce, and direct a feature film for a major Hollywood studio when he made the screen version of The Learning Tree (1969). In Hollywood he later directed the hit blaxploitation action-thriller Shaft (1971) and its sequel Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), the action-comedy The Super Cops (1974), and the film Leadbelly (1976), about the folk singer/guitarist Huddie Ledbetter. On TV he directed several hour-long documentaries, including The World of Piri Thomas (1968) and the Emmy Award-winning Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), as well as the made-for-TV movie Solomon Northrup’s Odyssey (1985), about a northern-born black man kidnapped into slavery in the 1840s. He himself was the subject of the TV documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000). In 1970 he helped to found the monthly magazine Essence.

 

 

Book Review: Moneyball

Moneyball is about an unlikely success: how the cash strapped Oakland A’s baseball team found ways to win without the ability to afford highly priced skills. One simply must find players with unusual and overlooked talents. One does this by identifying talents that no-one else can see – a tough business in a 100-year old game that few thought held any more secrets.

Those people were wrong. Baseball did have secrets. And these were ferreted out by Bill James, an eccentric and charming former night watchman from Kansas. Famed business writer Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker) tackles the subject of how the Oakland A’s turned baseball shibboleths on their head by using these unconventional insights gleaned from reams of statistical data.

For Moneyball is a story about how insight into statistics can uncover hidden patterns and exploit the holes in conventional wisdom. The A’s used new data that redefined critical aspects of the game and what made a good player effective. And then they found these stealth players whose contributions to the game had been hidden in history.

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s very important to realize that things are not always what they seem. It’s also a great way for people to learn to think about the behavior of numbers and stats – even if they’re not about baseball.

Featured Author: Novelist Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt (link to our books here) s a best selling author whose principal theme is the moral seduction of working class innocents who are drawn into the world of glamorous but dangerous wealthy people.

Here’s a review of her work (about her famous debut The Secret History) from Literature Resource Center.

“The Secret History is less a mystery–the killers are revealed on the first page–than “an exploration of evil, both banal and bizarre,” in the words of Martha Duffy in Time. The story is narrated by Richard Papen, a transfer student who disavows his own middle-class upbringing to gain entrance into an elitist circle of students. “The gradual moral seduction of Richard is all the more cleverly revealed by its depiction in his own voice,” commented Andrew Rosenheim in the New York Times Book Review. As Richard becomes accepted by the group, he learns that four out of the five other members had participated in the bloody murder of a farmer who interrupted their late-night “bacchanal.” When one among the small coterie threatens to betray this dark secret, that person, too, is killed. “Tartt shows a superior sense of pace, playing off her red herrings and foreshadowings like an old hand at the suspense game,” Duffy stated in Time. In the New York Times Book Review, Rosenheim praised Tartt’s “skillful investigation of the chasm between academe’s supposed ideals and the vagaries of its actual behavior” and further commented that her prose was “at once lush and precise.” Nancy Wood, reviewing The Secret History in Maclean’s, believed that Tartt “is strongest when she finds poetry in everyday events: the sights and smells of a campus, the familiarity of certain television shows.” The Secret History, Wood concluded, “stands out as well written and original.”