This week,> the stock market closed above 10,000 for the first time in over a year, but is it time for investors to breathe a sigh of relief? Hmm. Maybe you shouldn t spend that bonus money just yet.
Books addressing money issues are among those our editors and writers have chosen here. They include a study of how the rich really live, a follow-up to the bestselling Freakonomics, and advice on how to profit from the recent crash and future ones. We ve also got a short new novel from Philip Roth about a man s loss of confidence, a collection of early stories from the late Kurt Vonnegut and a massive book on basketball from an ESPN.com writer.
By Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Reviewed by Alexandra Scaggs
Good news for free-market devotees: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the mega-popular Freakonomics, are back with "SuperFreakonomics."
And this time they re bringing their dry wit to such hot-button issues as health care, terrorism and global warming from an economic perspective.
The book s larger-than-life subjects include a prostitute making six figures, a society of money-exchanging monkeys and a group of self-actualized inventors seemingly sprung from the pages of an Ayn Rand novel. While the inventors task themselves with solving the globe s problems one at a time, Levitt and Dubner provide hope that some of the world s biggest challenges can be solved by old-fashioned, low-cost innovation.
They tackle the question of why so many doctors prescribe chemotherapy, and how one would measure doctor effectiveness. They also look at group-think and a 1964 New York Times article about Kitty Genovese, who was murdered as up to 38 people looked on. It turns out there s more to that story, too. The authors use that tragic tale (and the article) to address -- and discredit -- extreme ideas of human behavior, including both apathy and altruism.
"SuperFreakonomics" provides a refreshingly logical look at some divisive political problems, with studies that encourage the reader to look beyond the surface and to question common wisdom.
Stop Acting Rich
Stop Acting Rich And Start Living Like a Real Millionaire
By Thomas J. Stanley
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
If you think that having a 5,000-square-foot McMansion means you ve arrived financially, think again. You may be fooling the neighbors. You may be fooling yourself. But you re certainly not fooling Thomas J. Stanley, who aims to show readers the difference between how the really rich really spend and how wannabe millionaires jeopardize their financial security by focusing so much on the appearance of wealth.
Stanley, who has written before about the affluent in such books as "The Millionaire Next Door," and who runs a marketing and research firm geared toward the wealthy, outlines the differences between the haves and the almost-haves, the really wealthy and the merely wealthy and all of us others who make up the rest of the population.
What Stanley discovers (through a special survey he used to collect the information for "Stop Acting Rich") is that rich people in general are actually frugal, driving Toyotas instead of BMWs, owning only one home instead of several. They re not cheap, but they re also not concerned with showing off their wealth. That s an attitude markedly different from that of the aspirational buyers in our spendthrift culture who fork over $60 for bottles of Grey Goose vodka, $3,000 for Chanel suits and $250 for haircuts. Most of these people are merely buying into a myth that looking the part will get them the gig, as Stanley observes.
How should those of us who don t have a personal net investment worth of $1 million spend our money? In other words, how should we start living like real millionaires?
Mainly, Stanley has the good sense to suggest that, as millionaires do, we live below our means, that happiness isn t found in having a wine cellar, or a walk-in closet or a Maserati (hard to believe, but apparently true). It seems like an all-too-easy prescription for our society of debt-addled consumers. But after reading through Stanley s engaging anecdotes about how the other America actually lives, you may come to feel that perhaps you don t need to impress the other guy so much. This in itself is no small thing. Your wallet will thank you. And you may end up happier.
Crash Proof 2.0
Crash Proof 2.0 How to Profit from the Economic Collapse
By Peter D. Schiff, with John Downes
Reviewed by: Robert J. Hughes
In this follow-up to 2007 s "Crash Proof" (also written with John Downes), Wall Street prognosticator and investment advisor Peter Schiff examines the dramatic changes that are reshaping the American economic landscape and offers advice on how to maintain financial security.
He suggests that investors rethink their stock portfolios and he advises weighing heavily toward foreign securities that he believes are better positioned to offer long-term returns. In fact, Schiff believes investors should get out of the domestic stock market and out of the U.S. dollar, as he has advised before. Wall Street has led the American public to think stocks have the safety of bonds, he writes, adding that Wall Street has also muddled the distinction between investing and speculating. We know that now, but it s always good to be reminded of it forcefully, as here.
Some investors may not agree with Schiff s other suggestions, such as living abroad rather than in the U.S., but the book has interesting information on inflation, the value of placing money in precious metals and the real-estate debacle (which he blames on the conflicts of interest arising out of securitization).
Most valuable, though, is the clear-cut way Schiff has of explaining the basic ins-and-outs of finance, such as what a common stock is, how inflation works, what are valuation ratios, and such, so that when speaking to a broker an investor can at least make sense of the jargon that s being tossed at him.
The Book of Basketball
The Book of Basketball
By Bill Simmons
Reviewed by: Jason Kephart
Over the course of its 60-plus-year history, the NBA has given fans countless topics for debate. How would the stars of yesterday handle themselves against the stars of today? Which team had the single greatest season? And, of course, everybody s favorite who are the all-time best basketball players?
It s questions like these that author Bill Simmons tries to answer and for the most part does in his engaging 700-page tome. "The Book of Basketball" covers everything from the league s struggles with race in the '60s and '70s (having a mainly white fan base and black stars complicated things), to the secret of basketball as Simmons learned it from one of the NBA s greatest players and worst general managers while poolside at a topless bar in Las Vegas.
The real heart of the book is Simmons s restructuring of the NBA s hall-of-fame into a five-tiered pyramid, based on his own rankings that go beyond simple statistics and individual accolades to include how someone played as part of the team. Which is why Simmons prefers a person like Celtics great Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlin. On paper there doesn t seem to be much comparison: Chamberlin trumps Russell in nearly every statistical category, except championships won. But for Simmons, Russell s overall strengths were greater: I d rather have the guy who always seemed to end up the winner in close games.
Of course, Simmons s preference for Russell over Chamberlin could be attributed by some to his not-at-all-secret Boston-bias (he refers to Larry Bird as Basketball Jesus more than a few times). But as anyone who has read Simmons s Sports Guy columns at ESPN.com knows, it s traits such as his unabashed love of Boston that make Simmons such a great read for sports fans. He s a fan like us.
Whether you agree with his conclusions in the book or not (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over Magic Johnson? Really?) isn t really important. As every sports fan knows, it s the arguing that s really the fun part.
Look at the Birdie
Look at the Birdie
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Reviewed by: Damian Fowler
The late, great American writer Kurt Vonnegut clearly found his voice early. In this delightful anthology of previously unpublished short stories written just as he was starting out, Vonnegut s characteristic style is already well underway. The mordant wit and gentle humanism that would later characterize his most famous novels "Slaughterhouse Five," "Cat s Cradle," "Breakfast of Champions" is evident in all of these pieces.
In the dark circus of Vonnegut s imagination, small-town America is at once bizarre and familiar. So often his seemingly unexceptional characters find themselves embroiled in absurd situations. In the title story, a quack psychiatrist turned murder counselor finds new outlets for his paranoid patients. In The Nice Little People, a linoleum salesman coming home to celebrate his wedding anniversary discovers a hollow paper knife filled with tiny little aliens. This is science fiction with a neurotic twist.
Then there s Vonnegut s tragicomic take on the corporate world. In Fubar, isolated office worker Fuzz Littler tries to impress his new secretary only to face the monumental pointlessness of himself and his job. Not to worry, though there s a wonderful redemption that only Vonnegut could dream up.
Vonnegut, with one of the most distinctive voices of post-war America, used humor to tackle fundamental questions of life, love and work. "Look at the Birdie," a terrific collection (featuring his whimsical line drawings) comes two years after his death and reminds us that Vonnegut s work is as urgent, relevant and funny as ever.
By Philip Roth
Reviewed by: Jami Makan
In his recent novels Philip Roth has explored aging and its impact on creativity, on the continuing hunger for erotic connection in the face of physical decline, on the nature of being itself. His newest, "The Humbling," concerns a catastrophic breakdown of ability: For one man, what worked so well in the past no longer seems to function at all. This unanticipated failure unleashes panic, despair and a subsequent loss of power and prestige.
This may sound an awful lot like the economic meltdown. But here Roth examines the fate of a creative artist, Simon Axler, a legendary stage actor whose life unravels as his confidence in his skill vanishes. Axler s crisis of artistic validation, combined with the departure of his wife, Victoria, leads him to consider suicide, then to a voluntary stay at a psychiatric hospital. There, the aging actor befriends Sybil, a younger woman who dreams of killing her second husband for molesting her 8-year-old daughter.
Axler meets another young woman after leaving the hospital. This time the connection is sexual, and as it deepens each partner takes something from the other. The woman receives clothes, jewelry and the chance to recover from a traumatic relationship. Axler, meanwhile, regains his confidence and begins plotting a return to the stage. But when his plans are suddenly jeopardized, Sybil must return to help him complete his journey toward artistic reinvention.
"The Humbling" displays Roth s undiminished command of prose, but is a little too stripped-down: Many questions remain unanswered at the end.
Kind of like the recent financial crisis.