Best of Book Bits 2018 (Part I)

As 2018’s close nears, it’s time again to look back at some of the year’s highlights from The Capital Spectator’s weekly Book Bits column. The focus each week is on new titles that span all things money, investing and economics, along with a touch of business and politics thrown in for good measure. As per tradition, your editor will choose just ten books from the year’s columns — a select group that, for one reason or another, are worth a second look. We’ll begin with five books from 2018’s archive, with the balance listed next week. Happy reading!

● Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World
By Adam Tooze
Review via The Economist
Four big themes emerge from Mr Tooze’s account of the post-2008 era. The first was the immediate post-crisis response, in which the banks were rescued and both the monetary and fiscal taps were loosened. The second was the euro-zone crisis, which hit Greece and Ireland hardest, but also affected Portugal, Italy and Spain. The third was the shift in the developed world after 2010 to a more austere fiscal policy. The fourth was the rise of populist politics in Europe and America.

● Market Timing with Moving Averages: The Anatomy and Performance of Trading Rules 
By Valeriy Zakamulin
Review via Alpha Architect
There are many popular academics (Moskowitz, Ooi, and Pedersen) and bloggers (i.e., Gary Antonacci) with a solid grasp of trend-following rules. However, Valeriy is the expert’s expert when it comes to the details on trend-following rules. In fact, we were so impressed by the depth and scale of Valeriy’s knowledge on moving average rules, a few years ago, we labeled Valeriy the, “Moving Average Research King.” Valeriy’s new book only emphasizes that we were probably correct in our assessment.

● The Tyranny of Metrics
By Jerry Z. Muller
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
By Jerry Z. Muller
Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we’ve gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing–and shows how we can begin to fix the problem.

● Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts
By Annie Duke
Summary via publisher (Portfolio)
Annie Duke, a former World Series of Poker champion turned business consultant, draws on examples from business, sports, politics, and (of course) poker to share tools anyone can use to embrace uncertainty and make better decisions. For most people, it’s difficult to say “I’m not sure” in a world that values and, even, rewards the appearance of certainty. But professional poker players are comfortable with the fact that great decisions don’t always lead to great outcomes and bad decisions don’t always lead to bad outcomes.

● It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear
By Gregg Easterbrook
Summary via publisher (Public Affairs)
Is civilization teetering on the edge of a cliff? Or are we just climbing higher than ever? Most people who read the news would tell you that 2017 is one of the worst years in recent memory. We’re facing a series of deeply troubling, even existential problems: fascism, terrorism, environmental collapse, racial and economic inequality, and more. Yet this narrative misses something important: by almost every meaningful measure, the modern world is better than it ever has been. In the United States, disease, crime, discrimination, and most forms of pollution are in long-term decline, while longevity and education keep rising and economic indicators are better than in any past generation. Worldwide, malnutrition and extreme poverty are at historic lows, and the risk of dying by war or violence is the lowest in human history. It’s not a coincidence that we’re confused–our perspectives on the world are blurred by the rise of social media, the machinations of politicians, and our own biases.

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