Category Archives: Books

Don’t judge this book by its title

Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum exposes the crucial paradox between the title of Judge Richard Posner’s new book — A Failure of Capitalism — and the contents of the book, which mostly blames the Federal Reserve for the financial crash. 

I asked Posner why the Fed’s errors constitute a failure of capitalism. He said the central bank was part of the “capitalist structure,” along with property rights and a judicial system to enforce them. To the extent that the Fed mismanaged the money supply (or interest rates) and failed to assure “a reasonable degree of economic stability,” it has to be regarded as a failure of capitalism. . . .

“[Milton Friedman] wouldn’t agree” it was a failure of capitalism, said Anna Schwartz, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Friedman’s co-author on “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960.” “It was a failure of government.”

The Fed conducted “very easy monetary policy, which permitted the asset-price boom,” she said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It had nothing to do with capitalism failing. It had to do with the policies and institutions that conducted them.”

The Quantum Future

My friend Louisa Gilder gets a rave from Nature for her new book The Age of Entanglement . . .

Gilder writes a delightfully unconventional history in the form of conversations — real or reconstructed — among the physicists themselves. She emphasizes the recent history of Bell’s theorem, which concerns correlations between the quantum properties of separated elementary particles, its experimental tests and the subsequent exploitation of quantum entanglement in quantum computing, quantum information theory and quantum teleportation.

Gilder’s is, on balance, the better book [Don Howard reviews another physics book, too], partly because of the conversational format, which brings the scientist actors to life as complex personalities with interesting lives. Especially enjoyable are the portraits of the less famous physicists who, starting in the 1960s, put entanglement to the test and taught us how to engineer with it, starting with John Bell and including Abner Shimony, John Clauser, Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger.

. . . and she speaks at length with George Johnson about her book and the very latest quantum developments, including a very cool phenomenon called “entanglement swapping.”

“Fraud anxiety” and other modern mysteries

How does the Net boost “fraud anxiety”? How is workplace equality responsible for income inequality? Here’s Elisabeth Eaves of Forbes on modern times and one of its rising explicators, Dalton Conley:

David Kirp, a public policy professor at UC, Berkeley, who has known Conley since Conley was a postdoctoral student, calls Elsewhere, USA “audacious in its scope” and says that Conley’s goal is to become one of his generation’s public intellectuals.

At the age of 39 he appears to be well on his way. His books include a memoir, Honky, about growing up white in a black and Latino neighborhood, an academic study of the relationship between race and wealth and another on the effects of sibling birth order.

“He is the wunderkind,” says Kirp, noting that Conley won tenure at New York University when he was 29 and became chairman of the sociology department when he was 36. Married with two children, Conley says he is also his family’s “primary caregiver.” On the day he misplaced his BlackBerry, he had just come from walking one of his kids to school. He’s got another memoir, unpublished, in the drawer, and is studying for a Ph.D. in biology. In other words, ever distracted and ever working, he’s the living embodiment of the thing he describes.

As for income inequality:

The arrival of women in the paid workforce, meanwhile, dramatically affected mating habits. Conventional wisdom, as promulgated by Maureen Dowd, holds that highly paid professional men want to marry their secretaries. In fact, the research shows they want to marry someone of around their own income level, which means that low earners end up mating with other low earners. It turns out that marrying the secretary, so to speak, was a good way of redistributing income across society. The changing nature of marriage, writes Conley, probably explains about 40% of the rise in income inequality.

Talent, merit, luck, obsessive hard work, all-the-above?

Ross Douthat discusses Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Outliers.

This means that while meritocratic success tends to be inherited, in an important sense — because the whole culture of obsessive hyper-achievement is just that, a culture that some Americans are raised in and steeped in and some aren’t — everybody doesn’t inherit the same level of success. Getting into the right kind of schools because you have the right kind of parents is generally a necessary condition for ascending the meritocratic ladder, but it isn’t a sufficient one; it tends to create a floor for failure, but it doesn’t guarantee a ceiling for achievement.

“The Age of Entanglement”

My friend Louisa Gilder’s brand new book The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn arrived in the mail from Amazon today.

Matt Ridley, author of Genome, says:

Louisa Gilder disentangles the story of entanglement with such narrative panache, such poetic verve, and such metaphysical precision that for a moment I almost thought I understood quantum mechanics.

The cover art alone is spectacular. Can’t wait to crack it open tonight.

Malcolm Gladwell phones it in…

…just in time for the holiday shopping season, at least according to Michael Maiello of

Oh, and one of the Lakeside parents had a computer company called C-Cubed and [Bill] Gates got a job there and so on and so forth. Gladwell’s not surprising conclusion is that if Gates had been an eighth grader in Cambodia rather than Seattle in 1968, things might have turned out differently for him. Thank you, Mr. Gladwell! Now why does my cat’s breath smell like cat food?