Book Bits: 24 February 2024

Taming the Octopus: The Long Battle for the Soul of the Corporation
Kyle Edward Williams
Review via The Wall Street Journal
The question of corporate purpose is central to Kyle Edward Williams’s “Taming the Octopus,” a history of efforts by American government officials and activists to rein in corporate power and even harness it to their favorite causes. These efforts are based on the idea that the limited-liability corporation, “its tentacles wrapped around the globe many times over,” ought to be accountable. But, as the author asks: “Accountable to whom or to what?”

Wall Street’s War on Workers: How Mass Layoffs and Greed Are Destroying the Working Class and What to Do About It
Les Leopold
Summary via publisher (Chelsea Green)
In Wall Street’s War on Workers, Les Leopold, co-founder of the Labor Institute, provides a clear lens with which we can see how healthy corporations in the United States have used mass layoffs and stock buybacks to enrich shareholders at the expense of employees. With detailed research and concise language, Leopold explains why mass layoffs occur and how our current laws and regulations allow companies to turn these layoffs into short-term financial gains.

The Race to Zero: How ESG Investing will Crater the Global Financial System
Paul H. Tice
Op-ed by author via The Wall Street Journal
Good news is brewing in finance. The public backlash against ESG—environmental, social and governance investing—has grown, shedding light on the left’s ideological takeover of Wall Street. The bad news is that the anti-ESG coalition isn’t prepared to defeat a global “sustainability” campaign. The movement needs a makeover and should begin by following a few guiding principles:
Virtue signaling isn’t the only problem. The current bout of woke capitalism in corporate boardrooms is merely a symptom of the underlying malady. Through its pervasive asset integration and overriding focus on nonfinancial factors, ESG is slowly changing the pecuniary purpose of investing. Waging public spats with management over critical race theory and gender ideology distracts from how ESG investing is re-engineering global financial markets. No matter how many brands go broke from misplaced trust in sustainable policies or social-justice activism, it won’t slow ESG’s market momentum.

Battle for the Bird: Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, and the $44 Billion Fight for Twitter’s Soul
Kurt Wagner
Review via The New York Times
“Musk would often say the things that his partners wanted to hear, and then do the things that would make them shake their head in disbelief,” Wagner explains, rather wanly, making it sound as if Musk was behaving like the resourceful rascal in a Mentos commercial. Yet Wagner goes on to describe how Musk has gutted the company: firing much of its staff; instructing employees who remained to “try weird stuff” and then throwing them under the bus when those risks didn’t pay off; reinstating banned accounts while cracking down on speech he didn’t like.

Extremely Hardcore: Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter
Zoë Schiffer
Review via The Daily Beast
Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover may have dominated the news cycle for months, but as Zoe Schiffer’s new book Extremely Hardcore proves, there’s still a lot more to learn.
Schiffer, a veteran tech journalist who worked as a senior reporter at The Verge before becoming managing editor at Platformer, meticulously details the chaos before and after Musk’s much-covered coup, surfacing new details of the takeover.
The book starts with Musk’s very first tweet—“This is actually me,” he wrote, after being impersonated by another user—and runs all the way through the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, misinformation about which ran rampant on the platform. Along the way, it details Musk’s stealth Twitter stock purchases, his failed attempt to get out of his purchase agreement, the botched rollout of Twitter Blue, and much more. The book is based on interviews with more than 60 employees and “hundreds of pages of internal memos, whistleblower complaints, and court documents,” according to Schiffer’s foreword.

Smoke and Ashes: Opium’s Hidden Histories
Amitav Ghosh
Review via The Economist
The opium poppy looks delicate and innocuous. But for Amitav Ghosh, an Indian writer, it is “one of the most powerful beings that humans have encountered in their time on Earth”. Mr Ghosh’s elegant history of the plant’s influence is both a tribute to what he calls “the historical agency of botanical matter” and a reckoning with the imperial past.
The book’s origins lie in his trilogy of “Ibis” novels, set in the thick of the opium trade in the 1830s. The research Mr Ghosh carried out while writing them prompted him to probe how the drug trade shaped free-market capitalism and globalisation.

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