Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review: Debunking Economics

Review: Debunking Economics - Revised and Expanded Edition: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?
Author: Steve Keen
Published Date: October 25, 2011

  As I mentioned in my review of The Myth of the Rational Market, I've never studied economics formally, so this book was simultaneously an introduction to, and debunking of  modern economics all in one shot.  Steve Keen sets out to explain the field to both economists and laymen without the use of equations, and he's successful in that to a moderate degree.  Sometimes when reading a two page description of an economic model, I did find myself wishing he'd just include the relevant equation so the mathematically inclined reader could digest the information a little faster.
  This was a terrific follow up to The Myth of the Rational Market since it tells a more in depth (and agenda-backed) story of a few of the big names introduced in Justin Fox's book.  It also takes on most of the economics concepts with which the average non-economist is familiar. For example showing how the inverse relationship between supply and demand is far from a "law", demonstrating the faulty logical leaps from single-variable to multi-variable modeling (also referred to as aggregate supply and demand). 
  This book is full of challenging ideas and I'll probably have to read it and review it several more times throughout my life before I'm able to really summarize the ideas contained competently.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Reivew: The Myth of the Rational Market

The Myth of the Rational Market
Author: Justin Fox
Published Date: June 9, 2009

  For how much the title sounds like political ideology, the book itself is actually the complete opposite.  I thought this would be an economic version of Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States (which is much better than it's critics give it credit for), but in truth it's a dispassionate outline of the main characters of western economic thought over the last 100 years.
  The one qualm that I've heard from many other reviewers was that the book is really is just an outline, only touching on the main characters and their ideas lightly.  There is a lot of complicated material and people to cover and the book is only 400 pages long.  If you find yourself tempted to use terms like "Keynesian", "business cycles" and "loss aversion" but suspect you might not actually have a grasp on what they mean, you may find the history of minds that defined these terms illuminating.
  Personally, I found the outline structure provided a great base for learning more about the history of economic thought.  I never took a single economics class in high school, college, or grad school (and it seems I may be better off for it!), so just learning that Irving Fisher lost his fortune in the Great Depression and Hyman Minsky developed his Instability Theory in the 60's, and Eugene Fama recanted his own Efficient Markets Hypothesis in 2004 helps me keep track of just how and when ideas have changed.
  This book is intended for the lay reader and includes almost no math (which is an asset), it seems to me to be a terrific base upon which to build a foundation of historical economic knowledge.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: The Humanure Handbook

Book Review:  The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure
Author: Joseph C. Jenkins
Published Date: Sep 6, 2005

  "The world is divided into two categories of  people: those who shit in their drinking water supplies and those who who don't.  We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate into water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our excrement, we flush the polluted water "away," meaning we probably don't know where it goes. nor do we care."

  So how does it feel to part of a society with the worst waste management skills since pre-history's nomadic tribes?  It feels expensive.  Americans spend a huge amount of resources piping clean water into porcelain portals in almost every residence polluting gallons of water per person, per day, and then trying to purify that water again (or discharging it into the sea).  Even nomadic tribes could ostensibly be given marks above us since dropping trow wherever you happen to be standing is at least cheap.

  If you are open to considering the alternatives to our current waste disposal system, the Humanure Handbook will make a very strong argument for going the composting route.  There is a bit of technical science for the lay reader but it's couched in humor and pictures that should help anyone with interest understand how thermophilic composting works.

  If you are considering alternative toilets but are scared of handling or smelling feces, then please read this book.  The author has been composting humanure for over 20 years and gives you a lot of confidence and quite a bit of ammo to defend the composting toilet against detractors and your own self-doubts. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: Open: An Autobiography; by Andre Agassi

Book Review: Open: An Autobiography
Author: Andre Agassi
Published Date: November 9, 2009

  The compelling little secret that makes Open and interesting read is that Andre Agassi has always hated tennis.  He seems to have the same conversation with every character who gets close to him.  "I hate tennis", he eventually confesses.  "Oh, haha, don't we all. . ." they reply.  "No, I really hate it" he'll deadpan back.  They mostly don't seem to understand.  How can someone can be such a titan in a sport if they don't really love it deep down?
  Oddly, I found myself repeating this conversation as Andre's proxy almost every time I recommended the book.  The experience gives a measure of sympathy and gravity to his situation. 
  To those wondering, no, Mr. Agassi did not write this book all on his own.  He thanks lauds and was denied permission to credit on the cover, a one J.R. Moehringer, whose own autobiography (The Tender Bar) was inspirational the tennis star.
  I am not an tennis fan, and the book doesn't really give you any great understanding of tennis except that there is a lot of stress put on your knees and back.  It is fairly captivating to hear the story of a high school drop out from Las Vegas being courted by celebrities and struggling with fame.
  It's a quick and enjoyable read.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Polland

Review: In Defense of Food
Author: Michael Pollan
Published Date: 2008

  "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

  If you've read anything about Mr. Pollan's musings on food you've heard this phrase; it is the thesis of In Defense of Food.  The introduction explains that this book was written in response to the number of people who read his earlier book about the food industry, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and requested some actual diet advice.
  The book is still filled with interesting anecdotes about specific foods (skim milk for example; what exactly do you think needs to maintain the appearance of milk after you remove the fat?), but it strives to give you a more general philosophy to follow when shopping, cooking or foraging.  The best way to gain that philosophy is to understand the (mostly recent) history of food, especially through food science and "nutritionism".
  Pollan surveys the history quickly, and explains why your own gut is probably a better source of food intel than any diet book or government program.  I definitely started eating better after reading this book.