Book Bits: 9 October 2021

Risk: A User’s Guide
Stanley McChrystal and Anna Butrico
Summary via publisher (Penguin Random House)
Retired four-star general Stan McChrystal has lived a life associated with the deadly risks of combat. From his first day at West Point, to his years in Afghanistan, to his efforts helping business leaders navigate a global pandemic, McChrystal has seen how individuals and organizations fail to mitigate risk. Why? Because they focus on the probability of something happening instead of the interface by which it can be managed. In this new book, General McChrystal offers a battle-tested system for detecting and responding to risk. Instead of defining risk as a force to predict, McChrystal and coauthor Anna Butrico show that there are in fact ten dimensions of control we can adjust at any given time. By closely monitoring these controls, we can maintain a healthy Risk Immune System that allows us to effectively anticipate, identify, analyze, and act upon the ever-present possibility that things will not go as planned.

Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age
David Wessel
Summary via publisher (Public Affairs Books)
In a Winners Take All meets This Town narrative, a New York Times bestselling author tells the story of the creation of a massive tax break, in which political and economic elites attend to the care and feeding of the super-rich, and inequality compounds. David Wessel’s incredible tale of how Washington works-and why the rich keep getting richer-starts when a Silicon Valley entrepreneur develops an idea intended as a way to help poor people that will save rich people money on their taxes. He organizes and pays for an effective lobbying effort that pushes his idea into law with little scrutiny or fine-tuning by congressional or Treasury tax experts-and few safeguards against abuse. With an unbeatable pair of high-profile sponsors, bumper-sticker simplicity and deft political marketing, the Opportunity Zone became an unnoticed part of the 2017 Trump tax bill. The gold rush followed immediately thereafter.

Geopolitics for the End Time
Bruno Maçães
Summary via publisher (Hurst)
As we approach catastrophe, everything changes. What are the lessons from the pandemic? How well have different cultures and societies responded, and could this become a turning point in the flow of history? Before Covid, a new competition was already arising between alternative geopolitical models–but the context of this clash wasn’t yet clear. What if it takes place on neutral ground? In a state of nature, with few or no political rules, amid quickly evolving chaos? When the greatest threat to national security is no longer other states, but the environment itself, which countries might rise to the top? This book explores how Covid-19 has already transformed the global system, and how it serves as a prelude to a planet afflicted by climate change.

Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order
Colin Kahl and Thomas Wright
Essay by co-author (Wright) via The Atlantic
The pandemic is not yet over and already a number of expert reports are calling for the world to come together, reform the WHO, and prepare for the next pandemic. The past 18 months have raised an unsettling yet vital question: How do we function when we’re broken? The true lesson of 2020 is that we need a plan to deal with enormous global problems in moments of high tension.

Life Is Simple: How Occam’s Razor Set Science Free and Shapes the Universe
Johnjoe McFadden
Review via The Wall Street Journal
If a friend tells you “I’ve seen a UFO!” what would you think? It might have been an alien spacecraft—or perhaps the friend was mistaken. The first possibility requires numerous unproven assumptions about extraterrestrial life; the second is consistent with what we know about human fallibility. The 14th-century Franciscan friar William of Occam was never troubled by flying saucers, but he did see the importance of eliminating unnecessary assumptions—the principle known as Occam’s Razor. It forms the central theme of Johnjoe McFadden’s “Life Is Simple,” a tour through two millennia of scientific discovery.

The Myth of Private Equity: An Inside Look at Wall Street’s Transformative Investments
Jeffrey C. Hooke
Interview with author via Investment Magazine
In episode 110, Alex Proimos speaks with Jeff Hooke, a senior finance lecturer at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. This episode delves into Jeff’s background and motivation to writing The Myth of Private Equity: An Inside Look at Wall Street’s Transformative Investments. The conversation covers why the performance of private equity struggles to beat a 60-40 public market portfolio, the illusion of stability, and whether the asset class truly offers diversification.

Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take
Paul Polman and Andrew Winston
Adaptation via Harvard Business Review
Society’s expectations of business have changed more in the past two years than in the previous 20. A pandemic, expanding and ever-more-expensive natural disasters, George Floyd’s murder, attacks on democracy, and more: All moved us past a tipping point. Both practically and morally, corporate leaders can no longer sit on the sidelines of major societal shifts or treat human and planetary issues as “someone else’s problem.” For their own good, companies must play an active role in solving our biggest shared challenges. The economy won’t thrive unless people and the planet are thriving.

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