Review: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana The Life of Reason, 1905

I’m quite surprised this story does not come up more frequently. Yet, another too big to fail story, but this time from a decade prior to our more recent economic crisis in 2008. The fact the company was founded by Nobel prize winners and actually named “Long Term Capital Management” compounds the unlikelihood of them going bust. However, they managed to lose $4.6 Billion dollars. Most of which occurred in less than the span of a month.

One of the more interesting stories within this story was the “pencils down” portion of the book, which I won’t spoil here. I would recommend this for those interested in fiance or for anyone who is a student of history, but it does get a bit deep into finance for those who are just casual readers. I liked it because it takes place near New York City, and especially near Greenwich Connecticut so the regional references were appreciated. If you are a fan of Jim Cramer you’ll recall how LTCM impacted him during his book “Confessions of a Street Addict”. But, for a casual reader I’d steer you away in favor of pretty much anything Michael Lewis has written, as this is a bit more narrow.




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Review: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this book up years ago, got about 1/4 of the way into it and put it down. I hated it. It was difficult to read, as the concepts were challenging and the writing style was a bit scattered. In fact the author has been known to reject changes from his editor as he feels it makes the message less authentic.

Due to my interest in Daily Fantasy Sports I was told to give Taleb another shot. I did, but this time in the form of the audio book. I’m extremely glad I gave this a second chance, and I listened to the audio as it completely changed the experience. Listening to the audio is much more digestible as it sounds like talk radio rather than reading a scatter shot book, even though the content is the same.

The gist of the book is to look at things from a contrarian view point. Most of the times swans are white but, sometimes they are not. From there Taleb explores the notion that in many walks of life trying to fit the world backward into a neat and clean bell-curve leaves for some pretty big downside. It only takes the existence of one black swan to blow up that model.

You’ll see a lot of good and bad reviews for this book so I’d recommend giving it a listen and whether you find it good or bad, it will certainly be different enough to challenge your thinking one way or the other.



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Review: Dad Is Fat

Dad Is Fat
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is pretty much what you’d expect. The short chapters leave a lot of blank space on the beginning and end pages of chapters, so you can get through it even faster than the 274 pages would suggest. My advice would be to sandwich this between two more challenging books, as the pace and difficulty of the material make it very fast to read.

Very little deviation from Gaffigan’s stand up is seen here but there is a focus on funny situations encountered by new Dad’s. I’d liken it to a re-run you stumble upon, in that you don’t really seek it out; but once it’s in front of you it really isn’t that bad for passing the time.

You’ll probably get it as a gift like I did when you have a new baby, and get around to reading it about 6 months later. Who has time to read when they have a new baby? Extra bump for people who live in NYC as those who have spent any time in the city will appreciate the unique challenges Jim has raising kids in the big city.



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Review: Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak

Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak
Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak by Travis Sawchik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Pirate fan, should read the last chapter of this book titled “Magic Act” as it contains a great recap of the Pirates first playoff game in PNC Park on 10/01/2013 a.k.a. the “Cueto Game” where he dropped the ball. Do yourself a favor and google it to see just how crazy the blackout crowd was in the stadium that night. This chapter really digs into what Martin and Liriano were doing behind the scenes to keep an over aggressive Reds team off balance. Getting to re-live that game through this chapter should bring a smile to every long suffering Pirates fan’s face. Especially for a generation of fans who were not old enough to live through the Maz homer, it’s nice to finally erase the “Sid Bream” game as the most memorable Pirate moment of their lives.

If you are a fan of big data or a long time pirates fan, reliving the 2013 season through the first eleven chapters of this book is for you. I wouldn’t recommend this to a casual fan, as it is pretty much a derivative and geekier version of Moneyball. But, for that niche geeky Pirate fan audience (like me) this book is fantastic. I very much enjoyed this as we head into late September.



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Review: Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives

Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives
Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives by Satyajit Das

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A long walk for a medium sized drink that gets warm by the end. This is no Michael Lewis book, which is what I thing most readers desperately want it to be. The reader will be challenged which is good and bad. I have to admit this was one of the hardest books I’ve ever read as the material is pretty thick. The depth of the subject covered in this book not for a casual audience. I probably now know more than I’ll ever want to about derivatives, and more than I probably should about the internal dealings of Wall Street. I agree with the Financial Times assessment from the cover that this is fascinating reading, but only for those who are deeply, deeply interested in the topic. I was pulled in by the title’s inclusion of the word “guns” as I was hoping for a book similar to “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins. I was looking for more adventure and explosions or something with at least hit of espionage, in fact I don’t think a gun ever made an appearance, so I felt suckered by the title. This book really was closer to a text book study of derivatives or at least one man’s life story of working in derivative markets on Wall Street, than anything having to do with guns. Though perhaps I just didn’t go all in on the metaphor the author was trying to push on the reader. I prefer the analogy that derivatives are closer to WMD’s, not guns.

The book is a bit more interesting reading in 2015, as it was published in 2006 before the big crash. The author makes many points that you cringe reading in hindsight about just how out of hand things had gotten during the era of his authorship. Many “shame on us” moments, but when has that ever stopped us (the American public) before, and doubtful it will stop us in the future.

If you are the right audience for this, dive right in, other wise pass on by as it’s going to be a long journey.



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Review: Tripwire

Tripwire
Tripwire by Lee Child

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Jack Reacher book is as solid as any other I’ve read. I will say the character development of the villain was excellent. I developed a general dislike of “Hook” Hobie that rivals only Commodus (as played by Joaquin Phoenix) in the film Gladiator. Granted probably not the best literary analysis of all time but as far as I can remember I have not hated a character this much in a long time.

Outside of that piece of the story most of the typical Jack Reacher stand by’s are included in Tripwire. I did learn a bit about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and how much time the U.S. has spent trying to resolve all MIA and KIA cases, which was fascinating. As expected another entertaining volume in the Reacher story, has left me looking forward to the next one.

 

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Review: Death March

Death March
Death March by Edward Yourdon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I strongly disliked this book. I knew going in, as the title suggested, it would be a depressing topic, but geez, the reader is in for a slew of negative stories and thoughts on how to solve difficult projects. I realize the point is to help the reader cope with how to handle difficult projects where there is no way to really “win”. But, after reading inspirational books like “The Mythical Man Month” and “Peopleware” in the past this book seems like one I wish I would have just given up on and shelved. Unless you are truly trapped in a “Death March” project with no way out and just need something to help you cope, I would move on from this book, or at least read the other two I mentioned first. There are much better ways to spend your time learning than to suffer through this book unnecessarily.




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Review: Elon Musk: Inventing the Future

Elon Musk: Inventing the Future
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future by Ashlee Vance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Musk is doing at Tesla and SpaceX is nothing short of amazing. The book did a great job of shedding light on Musk’s childhood and personal life, but not to the extent that it overwhelmed or got in the way of telling the story of how his companies came to being. The portions on SpaceX were much more interesting, than the portions on Tesla, which is how I think most people are familiar with Elon. In the grand scheme of things a company designed to put people on Mars is a bit more interesting than a company designed to put people in…cars.

Though, the portions on Tesla and Solar City were spectacular in their own right. There is a chapter in the book called “The Unified Theory of Elon Musk” which is a great way to describe Elon. He has so many balls in the air, the reader needs a unifying theory to understand how they are all connected. Ashlee Vance did a great job pulling together the different aspects of Elon’s life into one coherent (and interesting) story, it’s hard to believe he started writing the book without Elon’s permission. Glad to say he won Elon over, as described in the prologue, as the access Vance was able to get into all the different part’s of Elon’s life really made you feel like the curtain was pulled back.

This book was fantastic. It will be interesting to see 10 years from now how much of what Musk was working on came true.



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Review: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the top ten books I’ve ever read. Anything that scores over a 4.0 on Goodreads is well above average in my experience.

The book explains there are essentially two types of mindset Fixed and Growth. This can be seen in may parts of life from school, to business, to relationships to parenting.

One of the better part of the book focusing on business shed some light on Lee Iacocca’s time as the head of Chrysler. The author Carol Dweck cited another one of my favorite books “Good to Great” recounting of how Iacocca “achieved a miraculous turnaround for his company, then spent so much time grooming his fame that in the second half of his tenure, the company plunged back into mediocrity (p. 112).

I can also relate this growth mindset as being one of the cores of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Rarely in Jiu Jitsu is something considered flat out wrong, as there is no fixed way to do things, but rather preferred or optimal ways of doing things. The key is to continuously trying new things and thus growing your skill set and knowledge base.

Also interesting to me were the aspects of how to speak to children as to aid them in adopting a growth mindset. One example of this is on page 183, with a simple story about a child spilling a bag of nails, and how to respond.

Extremely well put together book for pretty much anyone. I highly recommend it thus I gave it 5 stars.

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Review: Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People: How to Turn Your Hobby into a Fortune

Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People: How to Turn Your Hobby into a Fortune
Fantasy Football (and Baseball) for Smart People: How to Turn Your Hobby into a Fortune by Jonathan Bales

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you play daily fantasy sports (DFS) and plan to learn the game a little bit at a time, you should probably start here. If you’d been playing DFS for a while you may pick up on a few new things, but can probably safely skip the first 50 pages. Existing DFS players will especially enjoy the section where Bales talks about how pros use their time. What was especially interesting was that not all pros have the same process and some of them actually disagree in how to approach the game.

It was a bit funny seeing how some of the specifics were already out-dated in this book, showing how much the games have changed from 2013 when it was published to 2014 when I read this version. Bales does a good job of keeping the book high level enough to be interesting but specific enough to be actionable, which is very tough to do for this audience. His style is not preachy at all and writes like he is talking to his buddies rather than lecturing to a class, which can be good and bad. A fantastic effort here from Bales as there are some really good pieces of advice that will certainly change the way I approach the game. This is a must read for anyone serious about daily fantasy.



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