What Americans Really Want
We Americans have> selective memories about the past yet we re always eager about the future. Here are four books we ve chosen that look at what Americans used to be like, what we are like now and how we might be able to figure out what happens next. The books range from an analysis of our hopes and fears, to a game-theory expert s tips on predicting the future, to an economist s advice on dealing with daily life and financial planning, to a personal look at the social and cultural scene of New York in the 1970s.
What Americans Really Want Really:
The Truth About Our Hopes, Dreams, and Fears
By Dr. Frank I. Luntz
Everyone from store owners to managers at corporations wants insights into how Americans think in order to increase business and retain employees. This book, by Frank I. Luntz, draws on a decade s worth of interviews over 25,000 in person and another one million phone surveys -- to offer concrete data.
The book is divided into seven chapters, each with thought-provoking findings. Topics range from simple daily tasks to job satisfaction to what we look to in religion and what we hope for in retirement. There s even a chapter on what the coming generation of 2020 will think of today s cultural and business leaders.
Given the structure, it is tempting to jump back and forth looking for interesting tidbits throughout the book. But given the current job market, it is worth dwelling on the chapter that deals with the workplace. Luntz has advice on how both employers and employees should approach work, as well as some management rules: More training is better than less, more conversation with employees is better than less and, most important avoid surprises. One of the most unexpected findings is that people would like to be entrepreneurs: 80% of Americans would rather be the owner of a small business than the CEO of a large corporation. The implications for bosses: Workers need to feel empowered.
Luntz writes in clear language that s free of jargon and marketing lingo, and his book is an engaging egghead page-turner for employees, managers and even investors. Who doesn t want to know what makes us tick?
Dear Undercover Economist
Dear Undercover Economist:
Priceless Advice on Money, Work, Sex, Kids and Life s Other Challenges
By Tim Harford
At the beginning of this entertaining collection of how-to economic and lifestyle advice, Financial Times columnist Tim Harford asks whether economics can make you happier. Well, if it focuses on real-life problems instead of, say, the mathematical probabilities of certain vague behavioral tendencies among a faceless statistical population, then maybe yes.
Using the format of an advice columnist, Harford dispenses practical, often humorous, tips on such topics as whether coming into work early will help get one a raise (probably not), whether a wealthy man should express his values by investing in an ethical fund (it won t make a difference, since so many other investors won t follow his lead), or if a new parent should create a tax-free trust fund for his child when he s worried that she ll blow the money when she comes of age (raise her well and try not to be so controlling).
Harford s book may not help you pick the next hot investment prospect, but it s likely to give you food for thought about some of the irritations and nagging questions of daily life.
The Predictioneer's Game
The Predictioneer s Game:
Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future
By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
What investor doesn t want to know the outcome of everything, from something as simple as the winner of Sunday s football game to the next hot stock?
This book, by a professor of politics at New York University who s also a game-theory expert, looks at how self-interest can help people think more strategically about business and investing.
He demystifies game theory, which among other things is a way of looking at the world through the eyes of others. In his view, people compete always, and always do what they think is in their best interests. The book aims to show a person how to think strategically about what his opponents want and how he might react to their actions.
For example, if you are shopping for a new car, it helps to know beforehand what make and model you want and be willing to do some homework/phonework. Call all dealerships within a 50-mile radius, telling each salesperson you ll tell the next dealer the price you ve been quoted; that will set up an auction of sorts where dealers compete to give you the best bid.
Not all of Bueno de Mesquita s examples are that nuts-and-bolts practical, but his book makes for enlightening, if occasionally dense, reading. The Predictioneer s Game is kind of like Machiavelli s The Courtier for a millennial generation: ruthless and self-serving, yet driven by statistical modeling.
By Edmund White
An age defines itself by politics but also by art. The Elizabethan era had Shakespeare and Spenser. The Victorian age boasted Dickens and Trollope, Thackeray and Eliot. That much-maligned decade, the 1970s, had a host of creative souls too, and may be remembered as much for people like choreographer George Balanchine and theater artist Robert Wilson, as for the New York fiscal crisis or the Watergate scandal.
In this entertaining memoir and social history, Edmund White gives us a particularly vivid impression of New York City in the '70s, as well as one writer s beginnings among literary strivers high and low. White takes us through what it s like to be a writer with ambition and spot-on portraits of literary giants such as Nabokov, critics including Susan Sontag and once-exalted writers such as Harold Brodkey.
White s writing is fresh, and the 1970s in Manhattan (with stops in Italy and San Francisco) come alive. For anyone who wonders about the way we live now, this book shows it s a result of how we lived then, through the eyes and experiences of an astute writer.