Book Bits For Saturday: 3.19.2011

The Little Book of Alternative Investments: Reaping Rewards by Daring to be Different
By Ben Stein and Phil DeMuth
Excerpt via publisher, John Wiley
This book is largely about finding legitimate assets that will make your finances less tied to the churn of the stock market. To the extent that you succeed, the tradeoff is that you really will be less tied to the stock market. When stocks are rocketing to the stars, you won’t be. When stocks are melting through the earth, you won’t be. It will be less clear to you from day- to- day how you are doing. This can be liberating but also can be anxiety producing, especially if you’re used to checking the Dow Jones Industrial Average every 15 minutes or 15 seconds. It requires a leap of faith that there is life beyond stocks. We want to interest you in accepting a higher degree of stock market de- correlation into your life than you probably have at present.

Guaranteed to Fail: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Debacle of Mortgage Finance
By Viral V. Acharya, Matthew Richardson, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh & Lawrence J. White
Excerpt via publisher, Princeton University Press
In 1818, a nineteen-year-old English girl, Mary Shelley, published her first novel. The novel tells the story of a young, talented scientist who discovers how to create life from the inanimate. Collecting old human bones and tissue, the scientist constructs a man from scratch and brings him to life, only to be disgusted by his appearance and shape, calling him the Monster. The scientist deserts the monster,and,left to its own devices, his creation causes havoc and mayhem. In the finale of the story, as the scientist confronts the monster, the monster eventually destroys its creator and, stricken with grief, takes its own life. Shelley decided that the name of the talented scientist should be the title for the novel: Frankenstein.
Former executives of Fannie and Freddie, members of Congress, and past administration officials all talk about the good work of the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and, they will add, if it were not for the equivalent of an economic asteroid hitting the markets, all would be fine. They will point to affordable housing goals and the benefits to the underprivileged.
We are skeptics.
Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong
By Alina Tugend
Audio interview with author via KUOR/Southern California Public Radio
Does practice really make perfect? Or is perfection a mythical, unattainable goal? These are some of the questions author Alina Tugend explores in her new book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong. Also a columnist for the New York Times, Tugend once made a mistake in one of her articles, ultimately resulting in a dreaded public correction. Before ‘fessing up, she agonized over her error. She tried to ignore it. She contemplated keeping quiet about it. She even went so far as to rationalize that she was actually correct. Eventually, however, journalistic ethics won out and she told her editor. The internal struggle she experienced at the presence of a singular, superficial mistake led her to investigate further the nature of human error and how it’s perceived on both a personal and societal level. With the zeal of a recovering perfectionist, Tugend delved into how mistakes are dealt with from the dynamic of errors between parents and children, to those between corporations and consumers. Are mistakes really deserving of humiliation and punishment? Or should they be accepted – even revered – for their powerful learning potential?
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
By James Gleick
Review via The New York Times Book Review
The universe, the 18th-century mathematician and philosopher Jean Le Rond d’Alembert said, “would only be one fact and one great truth for whoever knew how to embrace it from a single point of view.” James Gleick has such a perspective, and signals it in the first word of the title of his new book, “The Information,” using the definite article we usually reserve for totalities like the universe, the ether — and the Internet. Information, he argues, is more than just the contents of our overflowing libraries and Web servers. It is “the blood and the fuel, the vital principle” of the world. Human consciousness, society, life on earth, the cosmos — it’s bits all the way down. Gleick makes his case in a sweeping survey that covers the five millenniums of humanity’s engagement with information, from the invention of writing in Sumer to the elevation of information to a first principle in the sciences over the last half-century or so.
The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism
By Fran Hawthorne
Summary via publisher, Random House
We live in a society that is at once the most politically aware and the most consumer oriented in human history. Twenty-first-century shoppers don’t just consume; we investigate and categorize the impact of our decisions on climate change, animals, our health, our political views, geopolitical relationships, working conditions, and more. Yet when we actually try to live according to our principles, it can be so overwhelming, contradictory, and demanding that we want to scream. Every step, every dollar, every swipe of a paper towel has become a decision that can make the world a better—or worse—place.
Take one daily dilemma: what jacket should I buy? If it was made in El Salvador, China, or Vietnam, was it sewn by workers in a sweatshop at near-starvation wages, forced to labor twenty-hour days in dangerous conditions? Are those jobs actually considered desirable in those countries? Can I even find a jacket made in the United States? If I do, should I insist on union-made? But what if that’s more expensive? And what fabric is it made of? Does it contain animal skins? Is the cotton organic? What kind of dyes were used? Does it have fair-trade certification? Oh, and by the way: does it look good on me? Veteran journalist and levelheaded mom Fran Hawthorne sets out to answer these questions—and spark more.