Book Bits For Saturday: 2.25.2012

The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations
By Michael L. Ross
Summary via publisher, Princeton University Press
Countries that are rich in petroleum have less democracy, less economic stability, and more frequent civil wars than countries without oil. What explains this oil curse? And can it be fixed? In this groundbreaking analysis, Michael L. Ross looks at how developing nations are shaped by their mineral wealth–and how they can turn oil from a curse into a blessing. Ross traces the oil curse to the upheaval of the 1970s, when oil prices soared and governments across the developing world seized control of their countries’ oil industries. Before nationalization, the oil-rich countries looked much like the rest of the world; today, they are 50 percent more likely to be ruled by autocrats–and twice as likely to descend into civil war–than countries without oil. The Oil Curse shows why oil wealth typically creates less economic growth than it should; why it produces jobs for men but not women; and why it creates more problems in poor states than in rich ones. It also warns that the global thirst for petroleum is causing companies to drill in increasingly poor nations, which could further spread the oil curse.

The Wrong Answer Faster: The Inside Story of Making the Machine that Trades Trillions
By Michael Goodkin
Summary via publisher, Wiley
In 1968, Michael Goodkin is about to graduate from Columbia University. While his classmates interview for jobs, he daydreams of seeing the world as a man of independent means. Noticing that there are no computers on Wall Street and drawing on his experiences as a failed teenage investor and successful gambler, he has an epiphany: since no one knows the right price for anything, the only way to beat the market is to make a computer that comes up with the wrong answer faster than the professionals. And thus begins a journey that takes this provincial Midwesterner from nearly broke to opulent Park Avenue. The Wrong Answer Faster is the story of unintended consequences: how a technique originally created to minimize market risk spiraled into a multi-trillion dollar game with unparalleled risks. Having founded and sold a firm that changed the world, Goodkin left New York to travel and play backgammon—only to return to found another groundbreaking firm, Numerix, a software company that substituted computational physics for econometrics to better manage derivative risk.
The Oxford Handbook of Quantitative Asset Management
Edited by Bernd Scherer and Kenneth Winston
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
Quantitative portfolio management has become a highly specialized discipline. Computing power and software improvements have advanced the field to a level that would not have been thinkable when Harry Markowitz began the modern era of quantitative portfolio management in 1952. In addition to raw computing power, major advances in financial economics and econometrics have shaped academia and the financial industry over the last 60 years. While the idea of a general theory of finance is still only a distant hope, asset managers now have tools in the financial engineering kit that address specific problems in their industry. The Oxford Handbook of Quantitative Asset Management consists of seven sections that explore major themes in current theoretical and practical use. These themes span all aspects of a modern quantitative investment organization. Contributions from academics and practitioners working in leading investment management organizations bring together the key theoretical and practical aspects of the field to provide a comprehensive overview of the major developments in the area.
Encyclopedia of Municipal Bonds: A Reference Guide to Market Events, Structures, Dynamics, and Investment Knowledge
By Joe Mysak
Summary via publisher, Wiley
Until now, there has been no accessible encyclopedia, dictionary, nor guide to the world of municipal bonds. Comprehensive and objective, this groundbreaking volume covers the history and mechanics of the municipal market in clear and understandable terms. It covers all aspects of the market, including pricing, trading, taxation issues and yields, as well as topical events such as the financial crisis, hysteria about defaults and Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, fraud, and regulation.
Fixing the Housing Market: Financial Innovations for the Future
By Franklin Allen, James R. Barth, Glenn Yago
Summary via publisher, FT Press, and interview with authors via Milken Institute
Ever since the ancient Greeks, financial innovation has enabled more people to purchase homes. Today is no different: in fact, responsible financial innovation is now the best tool available for “rebooting” crippled housing markets, improving their efficiency, and making housing more accessible to millions. In Fixing the Housing Market, three leading experts explain how, covering everything decision-makers should know about today’s housing and financial markets.