Book Bits: 27 February 2021

The Delusions Of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups
William J. Bernstein
Review via Publishers Weekly
God, greed, and the yen for conformity reliably override reason, according to this sweeping survey of religious and financial manias. Neurologist and historian Bernstein (A Splendid Exchange) shares vivid accounts of several centuries of sectarian crazies, from the Anabaptists who took over the German city of Münster in 1534, imposing communism and polygamy and executing dissenters, to Branch Davidian messiah David Koresh and the Islamic State. On the finance front, he recaps the South Sea bubble in 18th-century England, the 1990s tech bubble, and other stock market frenzies. Bernstein lucidly deploys neurobiology, behavioral economics, and social psychology to explain why reason fails and other instances, noting, for example, that many people will believe two obviously unequal line segments to be the same length if other people say they are.

The World For Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources
Javier Blas and Jack Farchy
Review via The Economist
The commodity-traders who feature in “The World for Sale” are not the kind who yell orders at each other in the ring of the London Metal Exchange. Javier Blas and Jack Farchy, journalists at Bloomberg News, are instead interested in the small band of mostly private companies that move bulk commodities from there to here. It is a fascinating and revealing story, largely because of where “there” is: usually a place where many people would prefer not to do business, run by characters they would prefer not to do it with. A handful of swashbucklers became billionaires by overcoming such qualms.
Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels
Ioan Grillo
Review via LA Times
Grillo’s new book, “Blood Gun Money,” explores the “iron river” that allows guns, especially assault rifles, to flow from America’s wildly permissive gun culture south to Mexico and Latin America — as many as 200,000 trafficked guns per year, according to Grillo.
It’s the author’s third book (after “El Narco” and “Gangster Warlords”) about the endless bloodshed in Latin America, and it’s a culmination of his years on the beat. Like so many journalists, Grillo didn’t realize at first that he’d been watching “the beginning of the meltdown” of Mexico. His moment of clarity came during the government’s first military crackdown, when he saw an entire town fleeing in a convoy of trucks, “like refugees.”
Conflicted: How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes
Ian Leslie
Review via Publishers Weekly
Journalist Leslie (Born Liars: Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit) sheds light on disagreement in this encouraging take on the reasons communication tends to break down in conflict. Arguments often go poorly, Leslie writes, due to the high emotions at play: conflict is “nearly always entangled with how we feel about each other.” He studies professionals who manage “high-stakes adversarial conversations,” such as therapists and hostage negotiators, and examines the way power and status impact emotional response: an attack, for instance, is a way of “asserting status.”
The Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured
Big Business

Stephen R. Soukup
Essay by author via The New York Post
For decades, Democrats and the media labeled the GOP the “party of Big Business.” This was never true in the first place, but even if it were, the opposite is the case today. On Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and indeed throughout the country, big businesses have unofficially declared war on free and fair capital markets, free and fair commerce, and free and fair political expression. This is the Dictatorship of Woke Capital.
Empire of Silver: A New Monetary History of China
Jin Xu (translated by Stacy Mosher)
Summary via publisher (Yale University Press)
This revelatory account of the ways silver shaped Chinese history shows how an obsession with “white metal” held China back from financial modernization. First used as currency during the Song dynasty in around 900 CE, silver gradually became central to China’s economic framework and was officially monetized in the middle of the Ming dynasty during the sixteenth century. However, due to the early adoption of paper money in China, silver was not formed into coins but became a cumbersome “weighing currency,” for which ingots had to be constantly examined for weight and purity—an unwieldy practice that lasted for centuries.
Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company
Jeff Immelt
Review via Fortune
Why would Jeff Immelt write a book about his troubled tenure as General Electric’s CEO from 2001 to 2017? He confronts that question on page one. “My tenure had ended badly,” he acknowledges in the first paragraph of Hot Seat: What I Learned Leading a Great American Company. “My legacy was, at best, controversial … Maybe it would be better not to write a book at all.”
He changed his mind in 2018; an article I wrote played an indirect role. He decided to tell the story of why he did what he did, to own up to mistakes, distill what he had learned, and defend himself against criticism he considers unmerited. He does it engagingly and candidly, emphasizing his successes while admitting to errors of judgment and action.

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