Staff Picks: Matt Taibbi, Financial Journalist for Rolling Stone

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: Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)

All Neal Stephenson books.

Futurist and groundbreaking author focusing on what we now call the net, computer viruses, globalization, and virtual reality.

Review/plot of Snow Crash (Hoo-boy, this isn’t for everyone!):

In Neal Stephenson’s cyberspace, called the Metaverse, the 120 million richest people in the world conduct their pleasure and business blithely unaware that L. Bob Rife, the owner of the fiber-optic network they all use, is plotting their domination. Meanwhile, Hiro Protagonist, a hacker who wrote some of the earliest software for the Metaverse, prowls about looking for intelligence to sell in an information-overloaded age. Hiro has a debt to pay: He owes the Mafia-run CosaNostra, the twenty-first century version of Domino’s Pizza, the cost of a new delivery car. Before he can repay his debt, he is swept up into a larger adventure. At the urging of his still-intriguing former lover Juanita, he begins investigating a new drug, Snow Crash, that has rendered his former partner, Da5id, brain dead. The ominous part about Snow Crash is that it affects the brain when administered in the Metaverse; in a twist on the typical relationship, the virtual determines the real.

With the help of Y.T., a Kourier who meets Hiro on the fateful night he wrecks his car, Protagonist steps on the trail of Snow Crash in both real and virtual life. In the former, he traces the path of Raven, an atomic-bomb-toting Aleut who seems to be the source of Snow Crash. In the latter, he employs a nearly omniscient virtual librarian to investigate the drug’s extensive history. He discovers that Snow Crash is not a drug at all but a modern manifestation of an ancient metavirus that provides access to deep structures in the brain that control individuals. Prior to the fall of Babel, all people spoke a language that used this infrastructure and thus lived in a static culture. The Sumerian priest Enki released humanity from the metavirus by uttering an incantation, or nam-shub, that reprogrammed the brain so that people could no longer understand the deep language. Consequently, multiple languages developed.

Featured Author: Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Moneyball)

Michael Lewis is one of America’s best known financial writers.  His book Moneyball was made into a motion picture starring Brad Pitt, and his book The Big Short iwas recently made into a movie. He is also the author of the book Blind Side, which was made into a very successful movie.

All Michael Lewis books here.

Here are a couple of books by Michael Lewis that I’ve written about previously.

Liar’s Poker is an account of the high pressure deals on Wall Street during the 1980s. The author, Michael Lewis, was a bright and very young recent college graduate who suddenly found himself making insane amounts of money trading bonds on the floor of Salomon Brothers.

Lewis recounts his adventures in learning to trade the market, the profane culture of the brokerage, and playing Machiavellian office politics. It’s pretty dramatic, with lots of high stakes deals, backbiting and secret alliances, and the stench of greed. It’s also how the financial world operates.

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.

Learn to Identify Historical Forgeries

If a newly discovered photo of a famous person has pencil writing on the back, that’s a mark against it being real. Why? Ink is easy to date, and the age of lead is almost impossible to measure. So forgers often use pencils.

You should check out author Joe Nickell – he got started as a forensics investigator and then moved on to investigate historical document forgeries and real-life X-files (always with a skeptical mind of course).

Here’s the table of contents for his book Real or Fake?

pt. I. Documents — Investigating documents — Diary of Jack the ripper — Novel by an American slave — Lincoln’s lost Gettysburg address — An outlaw’s scribblings — Out of the archives — pt. II. Photographs — Photo sleuthing — A second photo of Emily Dickinson — Likenesses of Lincoln — Assassin or look-alike — From the album — pt. III. Other artifacts — Authenticating artworks and other artifacts — Lost icon found — Jefferson Davis’s musket — Debris from the Titanic — Off the shelf.

Highly recommended for the historian’s thought process. Clues reside in the strangest places: a turn of phrase, hairstyle, kind of stamp, anachronisms, as well as technical analysis of ink, paper, handwriting styles and more.

Featured Author: Walter Kirn (Up In The Air)

All Walter Kirn books here

Walter Kirn is an American novelist and journalist who has written for several prominent magazines as well as being the author of Up In The Air (which was made into an excellent film starring George Clooney).

His most recent book is Blood Will Out (link to a review of the book, signin required) –  a fascinating nonfiction account of his relationship with a con man with a murderous past. Excerpt from the review linked above:

“Powerful people fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center.Kirn was targeted for something else. At certain moments of lucidity, Kirn self-flagellates over his phony pal, and the reader feels a little sorry for him. (Yeah, yeah, but first: “In 1975, when I was twelve, my family packed a U-Haul van, snapped a Yale padlock on its rear loading door, and left predictable rural Minnesota for burgeoning, anarchic Phoenix.” Even Walter Kirn‘s hardware is pedigreed.) Kirn writes, “Maybe my egotism was a homing beacon. Maybe it made me a more attractive mark.”

This was the central characteristic of Rockefeller’s frauds–and Crowe’s, and Chichester’s, if not Gerhart’s: their puffed-up prey. The prey who needed some insecurity polished by having nobility, American or otherwise, within their lives. There were the wealthy old ladies threatened by the middle-class-ification of their town. There were the Wall Street men who wanted to employ a broker who was to-the-manor-born and had connections in Hollywood. Then there was the management consultant who wound up leading her firm’s work for Michael Bloomberg and Charles Schumer; her Rockefeller connection could not have hurt her there. And of course there was the educated, snobby journalist on the make, looking for a story and an entrée into society. The people who accepted Gerhartsreiter in his various grandiose guises had hustles of their own. Powerful people within a nation ostensibly impervious to aristocracy fell for a man who said he had a master key to Rockefeller Center. Gerhartsreiter’s joke was on them.”

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.