Book Bits: 9 September 2023

Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations
Simon Schama
Review via The Economist
The first recorded vaccine—for smallpox—was administered by Edward Jenner, an English doctor, in 1796 to an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps. Jenner (pictured) took fluid from the lesions of a dairymaid who had become infected with cowpox and used it to inoculate Phipps against cowpox and smallpox.
That people could become immune to diseases after being exposed to them had been known for more than a thousand years before Jenner carried out his experiments. But the idea that people could be purposely infected as a way to ward off future illness, though ancient, took a surprisingly long time to spread and become accepted around the world.

Broken Money: Why Our Financial System is Failing Us and How We Can Make it Better
Lyn Alden
Summary via Amazon
Broken Money explores the history of money through the lens of technology. Politics can affect things temporarily and locally, but technology is what drives things forward globally and permanently. The book’s goal is for the reader to walk away with a deep understanding of money and monetary history, both in terms of theoretical foundations and in terms of practical implications.
From shells to gold, from papyrus bills of exchange to central banks, and from the invention of the telegraph to the creation of Bitcoin, Lyn Alden walks the reader through the emergence of new technologies that have shaped what we use as money over the ages. And beyond that, Alden explores the concept of what money is at its very foundation to give the reader a framework to analyze and compare different types of monetary technologies and monetary theories.

Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic-and What We Can Do About It
Jennifer Breheny Wallace
Review via The Wall Street Journal
Why have things turned “toxic” for high-flying kids? Ms. Wallace sees widespread status anxiety fueled by a post-1980s stalling of social mobility and a rise in economic precariousness. Competition has intensified for spots in exclusive colleges and universities. So even mothers and fathers who try not to push, who try to be mellow and undemanding—dwelling less on grades and more on effort, for instance—can feel the pressure and pass it on to their children.

Gambler: Secrets from a Life at Risk
Billy Walters
Summary via publisher Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
Anybody can get lucky. Nobody controls the odds like Billy Walters. Widely regarded as “the Michael Jordan of sports betting,” Walters is a living legend in Las Vegas and among sports bettors worldwide. With an unmatched winning streak of thirty-six consecutive years, Walters has become fabulously wealthy by placing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in gross wagers, including one Super Bowl bet of $3.5 million alone. Competitors desperate to crack his betting techniques have tried hacking his phones, cloning his beepers, rifling through his trash, and bribing his employees. Now, after decades of avoiding the spotlight and fiercely protecting the keys to his success, Walters has reached the age where he wants to pass along his wisdom to future generations of sports wagerers.

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