Book Bits: 17 February 2024

Goodbye Globalization: The Return of a Divided World
Elisabeth Braw
Summary via publisher (Yale U. Press)
A bold new account of the state of globalization today—and what its collapse might mean for the world economy. After the Cold War, globalization accelerated at breakneck speed. Manufacturing, transport, and consumption defied national borders, companies made more money, and consumers had access to an ever-increasing range of goods. But in recent years, a profound shift has begun to take place. Business executives and politicians alike are realising that globalization is no longer working. Supply chains are imperilled, Russia has been expelled from the global economy after its invasion of Ukraine, and China is using these fissures to leverage a strategic advantage. Given these pressures, what will the future of our world economy look like? Elisabeth Braw explores the collapse of globalization and the profound challenges it will bring to the West.

Private Equity: A Memoir
Carrie Sun
Review via The Washington Post
“Private Equity,” a memoir by Fidelity-analyst-turned-MFA-graduate Carrie Sun, documents her years as a personal assistant to Boone Prescott, the founder of a hedge fund named Carbon. (Sun has given pseudonyms to both the fund and its founder.) Carbon is not just any hedge fund; it was described to Sun as “a rock star of a fund” and “the world’s hottest hedge fund,” and Boone as a “once-in-a-generation investor.” He is also — according to the headhunter who recruited Sun for the job — supposed to be “the nicest,” which is evidently odd enough for a billionaire, let alone a hedge fund guy, to be worth highlighting.

The Wisdom of Plagues: Lessons from 25 Years of Covering Pandemics
Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Review via The Economist
“The Wisdom of Plagues” puts the struggle against pestilence in historical context, noting how the shift from hunter-gathering to farming made it easier for bugs to jump from livestock to people. Mr McNeill explains how plagues have shaped history, from the typhus that crippled Napoleon’s invasion of Russia to the covid-induced isolation that, he speculates, might have aggravated Vladimir Putin’s paranoia.

The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America
Michael J. Gaetz
Review via The Washington Post
How did the GOP go from being a center-right party epitomized by the likes of Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush to an extreme-right party largely incapable of governing and hellbent on political warfare? There are many familiar answers: the rise of conservative media; the increasing import of an evangelical Christian base that craves hypermasculine, bellicose leadership; the role of structural factors tied to primary elections and geographic polarization. Michael J. Graetz’s “The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America” provides a comprehensive account of another key factor.

The Hammer: Power, Inequality, and the Struggle for the Soul of Labor
Hamilton Nolan
Q&A with author via Vanity Fair
The Hammer, which hits shelves this week, comes at a moment of unprecedented public interest in organized labor, even as the percentage of American workers in unions continues to decline. It is both a love letter to the power of workplace organizing and a lacerating critique of the shortcomings of mainstream labor organizations, which Nolan argues have failed to meet the moment. In this interview, edited for length and clarity, Nolan talks to Vanity Fair about whether Joe Biden really is “the most pro-union President in American history,” and why he believes that the labor movement is “absolutely central to the success or failure of the American experiment.”

Hedged: How Private Investment Funds Helped Destroy American Newspapers and Undermine Democracy
Margot Susca
Review via Publishers Weekly
This damning debut from American University communications professor Susca examines how “overharvesting profits, the debt born of mergers and acquisitions, and the greed of private investment funds” has hollowed out newspapers across the country over the past 20 years. She explains that private equity firms and hedge funds’ practice of purchasing companies by taking on exorbitant debt has disastrous consequences for employees; for instance, private equity billionaire Sam Zell’s 2007 purchase the Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, saddled the business with $13 billion in debt that it dealt with by laying off 5% of its publishing employees.

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