Book Bits | 2.15.14

The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World
By Zachary Karabell
Review via Kirkus Review
Our leaders regularly agonize over unemployment figures, the consumer price index, gross national product and the balance of trade. These and other leading indicators are important but also overrated, writes journalist and Reuters “Edgy Optimist” columnist Karabell (Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World’s Prosperity Depends on It, 2009) in this lucid measurement of how the United States is faring.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
Review via The Washington Post
“The Second Machine Age” is largely a reprise of an e-book, “Race Against the Machine,” that Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee self-published two years ago. It builds on their work at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, along with that of “new growth” theorists such as Paul Romer, Brian Arthur and Martin Weitzman. And while Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s policy prescriptions reflect the somewhat self-referential outlook that you run across in technology enclaves such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, their book offers a timely antidote to the economic pessimism that has taken root in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans
By Simon Head
Summary via publisher, Basic Books
We live in the age of Computer Business Systems (CBSs)—the highly complex, computer-intensive management programs on which large organizations increasingly rely. In Mindless, Simon Head argues that these systems have come to trump human expertise, dictating the goals and strategies of a wide array of businesses, and de-skilling the jobs of middle class workers in the process. CBSs are especially dysfunctional, Head argues, when they apply their disembodied expertise to transactions between humans, as in health care, education, customer relations, and human resources management. And yet there are industries with more human approaches, as Head illustrates with specific examples, whose lead we must follow and extend to the mainstream American economy.

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success
By Megan McArdle
Review via
America succeeds because Americans fail and forgive. That’s the intriguing message — or part of it — of Megan McArdle’s new book “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
McArdle, a Bloomberg blogger and columnist, stands out among economic writers, and not just because she’s the only woman among them who is 6 feet 2 inches. She combines a shrewd knowledge of economics and practical experience with a writing style that every so often segues into comedy monologue.

The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day
By David Hand
Q&A with author via NPR
Q: So, I’m going to put you to the test and ask you to explain what the improbability principle is. You’ve written an entire book on this, but I’m going to ask you to distill it down to a few sentences.
A: OK. So, we’ve all experienced strange coincidences, perhaps bumping into a friend in a strange city or having a dream and then having the thing happen the next day. We’ve all heard of people being struck by lightning or people winning lotteries – never us, unfortunately, but we’ve heard of people winning lotteries. The improbability principle says that those very rare events, those very strange coincidences, in fact should be expected to happen. Now, that sounds like a contradiction. That’s what the book does really. It takes that statement of the improbability principle, splits is up into its components and describes why you do get these very rare events happening lots and lots of the time.

Investor Behavior: The Psychology of Financial Planning and Investing
By H. Kent Baker and Victor Ricciardi
Summary via publisher, Wiley
Investor Behavior provides readers with a comprehensive understanding and the latest research in the area of behavioral finance and investor decision making. Blending contributions from noted academics and experienced practitioners, this 30-chapter book will provide investment professionals with insights on how to understand and manage client behavior; a framework for interpreting financial market activity; and an in-depth understanding of this important new field of investment research. The book should also be of interest to academics, investors, and students.