Book Bits | 5 September 2015

Playing the Long Game: How to Save the West from Short-Termism
By Laurie Fitzjohn-Sykes
Summary via publisher (Imprint Academic)
We obsess about what our politicians are doing, but ignore that our companies are no longer investing, instead they are focusing on next quarter’s profits in order to justify ever higher executive compensation. This is in turn accelerating the West’s economic decline versus the East. While the short-term focus of business is becoming widely acknowledged, we are not doing enough to reverse this. Looking at the less known history of companies shows us the choices we can no longer afford to ignore. Some current reforms need to go further and some areas that need reform are currently being ignored. Encouraging our businesses to invest again is one of the most important issues of our time.

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots
By John Markoff
Summary via publisher (Ecco/HarperCollins)
In Machines of Loving Grace, John Markoff offers a sweeping history of the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and computers. In recent years, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, posing an ethical quandary. If humans delegate decisions to machines, who will be responsible for the consequences? As Markoff chronicles the history of automation, from the birth of the artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation communities in the 1950s and 1960s, to the modern-day brain trusts at Google and Apple in Silicon Valley, and on to the expanding robotics economy around Boston, he traces the different ways developers have addressed this fundamental problem and urges them to carefully consider the consequences of their work. We are on the brink of the next stage of the computer revolution, Markoff argues, and robots will profoundly transform modern life. Yet it remains for us to determine whether this new world will be a utopia. Moreover, it is now incumbent upon the designers of these robots to draw a bright line between what is human and what is machine.

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers
By Gillian Tett
Review via The Economist
The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers
WHY do organisations fail? Sometimes it is because their market or purpose disappears completely, as in the case of, say, video-rental shops. But often it is because as they grow, they lose the same innovative streak that made them a success. Like individuals, groups can become stuck in their ways, with fatal results.
In her new book Gillian Tett, the US managing editor and a columnist with the Financial Times, blames silos for such failures to adapt. Through eight fables, Ms Tett argues that internal divisions and classifications, say, between doctors and surgeons, hold back creative thinking and encourage turf wars. Breaking them down can lead to innovation and, subsequently, success.

Katrina: After the Flood
By Gary Rivlin
Review via The New York Times
True to the genre, “Katrina” follows the star-crossed fortunes of a cross-section of residents: old-money millionaires, a middle-class black family in New Orleans East, white transplants turned political activists, and Lower Ninth Ward natives determined to rebuild their neighborhood despite deep opposition and deeper indifference. At the heart of the story are three local power brokers who granted Rivlin intimate access: the real estate mogul Joseph Canizaro, a personal friend of George W. Bush, who talks of “planning” a city, as if this one had not already existed for nearly three centuries; Alden McDonald, president of Liberty Bank, one of the nation’s largest African-American-owned financial institutions (“Liberty’s success and the future of the city’s black neighborhoods were entwined”); and the former mayor Ray Nagin, whose shellshocked incompetence is revived in exasperating detail. In these pages, Nagin is compared to Osama bin Laden, Richard Nixon and Willy Wonka.

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West
By Michael Walsh
Review via The Washington Free Beacon
In The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, Walsh argues that the current obsession with politically correct speech began with a group of Marxist academics at the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, who would come to be known as the Frankfurt School. The scholars, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse, among others, developed a wide-ranging, if often contradictory, critique of the principal tenets of “bourgeois” Western culture—from the centrality of reason and individuality to Christian sexual mores.