Thursday, 8 May 2008

Books, bands and a bad day at the office

I've had a pretty bad day at work today, which I'll cover another time once I can laugh about it (10 years or so). In the meantime I thought I'd do an amalgam post bringing together a few disparate bits and pieces that might be of interest to people and also cheer me up.

First up, there are a number of books that I've read over the past couple of years that have really contributed to the way I look at the world. I've never really tried listing these before so it's quite revelatory to me. Looking over the list I obviously go for books with a sceptical outlook. Because I think everything we experience is refracted through our personalities I can only conclude I must have a taste for this kind of thing. I am certainly am put off by books that are groundlessly idealistic. Anyway, here's the list...

Irrational Exuberance - Robert Shiller
I've done a fair bit of reading about stockmarkets, fund management, pension fund investment etc, and this is probably one of my faves. It has an interesting explanation of stockmarket bubbles (naturally occuring pyramid schemes) and contributed to my already low opinion of the ability of markets to allocate capital efficiently.

Capitalism Unleashed - Andrew Glyn

Although I'm a moderate lefty, and not an enemy of markets, my politics are rooted in the labour movement, rather than left liberalism (which is why I worked for the unions rather than an NGO). Ultimately I do think the economic interests of employees and managers conflict and this book really reminded me how these things have played out since free market capitalism has triumphed.

Having Their Cake - Don Young and Pat Scott
Not one many people know, but it's basically a report from the front line of managing a business, focusing on the way the finance sector has become increasingly influential. You could characterise it as a critique of financialisation from the perspective of companies.

The Paradox Of Choice - Barry Schwarz
I think this book is great - although a friend whose opinion I take seriously and who is a policy dude described it as jumping on the bandwagon! Basically it takes apart the idea that choice is necessarily good for us (not the same as saying it is bad). I had a load of ideas about 'choice' running round my head, I read this and realised there was already quite a bit of academic evidence about how it really works. One of the books that stimulated my interest in behavioural economics.

The Halo Effect - Phil Rosenzweig

Ace book about what we might call the myth of management. Forget business books that tell you there is a fool-proof formula to running businesses, it's way more randon than that, and we misinterpret the data we do have repeatedly. Brilliant stuff too about the narrative nature of business reporting.

Fooled By Randomness - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Lots of people hate this guy, and his writing style but I liked it. If you know much about statistics you'll probably read it and think 'eh? so what?'. But for a doofus like me it was very interesting. Again, not one to boost your faith in professional investors.

How We Know What Isn't So - Thomas Gilovich
If you are at all interested in cognitive biases (which feed into behavioural economics in a big way) this is a killer book. Again for it was useful for providing weight to ideas I already had about the way we process information, but it has loads of useful information in there. I can honestly say it has prevented one or two arguments at home too!

So onto music. I downloaded a few bits and bobs lately, with various results. For example, right now I am listening to Entertainment by Gang Of Four. So far I can't see what all the fuss is about, although I really like Anthrax. Maybe a) it will grow on me and/or b) I am too used to bands that have a sound that is derived from them (Fugazi?).

Other new bits - Crystal Castles, again a bit so what. But I'm liking 1000 Things by Autokratz. I also downloaded Weight by the Rollins Band recently, which has some decent angry man ranting over rawk guitars type stuff going on that is good for the gym. And I am waiting for the new Whitey album to come out. The first one is genius and the track Non-Stop is currently on that advert where the bloke has to run to get to his wedding, getting dressed etc on the way (can't even remember what company it is for?).

Not sure why I've gone a bit guitar-y lately, I'm normally mr electro. Still, that IDJ2 is looking pretty appealing...


Charlie Marks said...

I love gang of four. I liked their second album better. I did a music video (!) for their track "I Love A Man In Uniform": which detournes the original lyrics...

Tom P said...

How old are you out of interest Charlie? I'm not being sarky, just that most of the people I know that are big Gang Of Four fans are a bit older than me! (I'm just about to hit 37 by the way)

Charlie Marks said...

I'm in my twenties (which is a nice way of saying I'm a decade younger than you!)

And congratulations on being hounded by the reactionary Standard, by the way. What next - the Daily Mail? ;->

Tom P said...

So it's not an age thing then.

Actually I've had my picture in the Mail once, a long time ago. I went on a demo (think it was an criminal justice bill one) that turned nasty. It was common practice on those sorts of demos to mask up, and I had a scarf over the bottom half of my face. The Mail printed loads of pictures from the demo the next day, and there was a little one of me in there with the caption 'masked yob'!

I've had a load of sarky comments from mates about my appearnce in the standard as you can imagine!