Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book review: Spider Network and Golden Passport

Monday, July 10th, 2017

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (reviewed here) has been on the New York Times’ list of best sellers for almost a year and his memoir is one of only 5 titles on Bill Gates’ summer reading list. In his insightful book, Vance illustrates how the consumer-oriented values and chaotic family customs of the working class limit their children’s chances for a prosperous future.

But that is not the whole story. In addition to suffering from their own dysfunctional behaviors, ordinary people are routinely cheated in subtle ways that are impossible to detect. Two new books illustrate how elites are advancing their own agendas, while abandoning a longstanding sense of social responsibility.

book cover imageEnrich, David. The spider network. Custom House, [2017].

Wall Street Journal editor David Enrich tells the story of British math prodigy Tom Hayes, who was convicted of criminal fraud in 2015 for manipulating Libor, the benchmark that underlies the interest rate on loans worldwide. From his first days as a trader in the City of London, Hayes learns that his sole objective is to make money. Working at a series of banks, he speculates on the companies’ own funds, using sophisticated pricing models. Hayes optimizes his performance by working with a group of bankers to change their Libor submissions in the direction favorable to his security holdings.

Executives at powerful banks, Citigroup, Goldman, UBS and others, were complicit; yet these influential people were never held accountable. Oversight from regulators was minimal. Meanwhile, people on Main Street who used a credit card, took out a variable rate mortgage or carried a student loan paid more for interest on those obligations. Those with pensions saw lower returns.

Also available as an audiobook on CD, an audiobook on OverDrive, and an eBook on OverDrive.

book cover imageMcDonald, Duff. The golden passport. Harper Business, [2017].

The Harvard Business School (HBS) proudly claims to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. But business journalist Duff McDonald holds HBS to blame for the key problems in America today — growing inequality and the flawed structure of today’s shareholder capitalism. As the most prominent and largest graduate business school, HBS has shaped countless companies, but also the world’s financial system, the economy and society itself. An HBS MBA is the “golden passport” to influence and wealth.

McDonald explains that HBS created the Socratic case method to train MBA students to operate in an ambiguous environment, to diagnose problems and frame solutions, to prioritize, communicate and act. But he also argues that the case method is backward facing and has armed its graduates with conventional answers to conventional questions. McDonald holds Harvard faculty members responsible for the theories that empower executives to increase stock prices by laying off employees. He also criticizes the pervasive focus on money within the school. MBA’s flock to lucrative consulting and investment banking careers. Administrators fixate on raising money from alumni. Faculty members multiply their salaries by serving as consultants for corporate clients. While the institution revolves around making money, McDonald calls for HBS to live up to its aspiration to make the world a better place.

Also available as an audiobook on CD, an audiobook on OverDrive, an eBook on OverDrive, and on Notable Business Books Kindles at the Ford Library.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Black Edge

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Kolhatkar, Sheelah. Black Edge: inside information, dirty money, and the quest to bring down the most wanted man on Wall Street. Random House, 2017.

book cover imageStories about powerful people behaving badly make good beach reading, especially if the protagonists are rich financiers and they come to a bad end. Extra points if the books illuminate the workings of Wall Street.

Ruthless hedge fund owner Stephen A. Cohen is the subject of Sheelah Kolhatkar’s new book, Black Edge. The story begins as Cohen graduates from Wharton and begins his career at a small brokerage firm in lower Manhattan. His natural instincts make him a star trader almost immediately. Fearless and self-confident, he generates huge profits by trading large blocks of stock at high frequency.

In 1992, Cohen starts his own hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, and by 1995, the company is worth $100 million. He charges exorbitant fees and keeps half the profits. As he grows more powerful, he requires Wall Street bankers to give him advance notice before releasing information that would affect the price of a stock. After SAC surpasses $1 billion in assets, he hires new traders who have personal connections with people working in public companies. He uses these contacts to gather inside information (black edge) that he uses for trading. Cohen becomes one of the richest men in the world.

One of Cohen’s first in-house analysts is Duke engineering alumnus C.B. Lee, who travels to Taiwan and China to gather inside information on companies that manufacture semiconductors. Another early hire is Mathew Martoma, a Stanford MBA, who had attended Duke as an undergrad under the name Ajai Mathew Thomas. Martoma is a biotechnology specialist at SAC who had black edge on pharmaceuticals. After the FBI and SEC investigates, Lee cooperates with law enforcement, while Martoma is convicted of securities fraud and sentenced to prison. He never turns on Cohen, who goes free. At the end of the book, Stephen A. Cohen is more wealthy and powerful than ever. Instead of ending corruption in a powerful industry that operates in the dark, the FBI and SEC stop prosecuting high level corporate criminals on Wall Street.

Sheelah Kolhatkar is a master storyteller. Her entertaining and well-researched book is recommended for anyone interested in finance and ethics. She presents complex material in a clear narrative. Characters are multi-dimensional, including Duke alumni C.B. Lee and Mathew Martoma, who are treated sympathetically. Duke readers note: there is a third university connection — ethics professor Bruce Payne (Sanford School of Public Policy) who is depicted as acting with honesty and integrity.

Also available as an audiobook on OverDrive and as an eBook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review Update: The Circle

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

book-coverThe film The Circle was released last month and has already grossed $170 million. Reviews have been negative, but that has not stopped readers from wanting to read the book that the film was based on.

I reviewed The Circle by Dave Eggers on this blog in 2015, after it was selected as one of the best business books of 2014 by leadership expert James O’Toole. In Eggers’ novel, The Circle is the name of the powerful internet company that replaces Google, Facebook, Twitter with one unified corporation that offers a single account for email, banking, social media and all other identity needs. The goal of the company is to improve the world, through utility, efficiency and transparency.

The story is about a young woman who lands a customer relations job at The Circle and is selected for a new technology project at the company. Employees are pressured to share their experiences through social media and in company sponsored events. This habit of online sharing intensifies into constant surveillance called “transparency.” Employee performance is based on feedback from millions of nameless users.

As time passes at The Circle, relationships become superficial and everyday communication sounds hollow. Individuals are conscious of everything they do and filter everything they say. As employees begin spending all their time at work, life becomes one-dimensional.

While not a great book, The Circle provokes ideas about workplace culture, privacy, surveillance and freedom. I recommend The Circle to anyone interested in the culture of organizations as well as those concerned about the changes in society arising from use of the internet.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Economic Evolution

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Americans are living in a time of unprecedented prosperity. At the beginning of the 20th century, life at home and at work was dull, dangerous and uncomfortable. Today, average Americans live as comfortably as royalty a few decades ago, and have more leisure time. Four new books combine economics and history to provide ideas on how prosperity evolved in our modern age and insights into what is likely to happen in the lean years ahead.
 
book cover imageThe Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon
The technological, economic and social transformations that drove the rise in prosperity between 1870 and 1970 overshadow today’s advances in communication and information technologies, which have not produced a comparable prosperity.
 
 
 
 
book cover imageEmpire of Things by Frank Trentmann
Since the dawn of civilization, people’s role or work defined who they were, but in today’s consumer culture, material possessions display identity. The transformation to a worldwide consumer society developed over the past 5 centuries and changed the course of history.
 
Also available as an eBook on OverDrive.
 
 
book cover imageBourgeois Equality by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey
Citizens in advanced nations are better off than they were in 1800 by an astounding 3000%. The reason?
Innovation. In Europe, ideas for inventions were widely disseminated for the first time under a new ideology of individual dignity for common people and their right to improve their lives.
 
 
 
 
book cover imageMoney Changes Everything by William N. Goetzmann
A financial historian explains how the development of finance made civilizations possible. A tool for managing time and risk, finance was an innovation that permitted individuals to move economic value forward and backward through time – allowing people to imagine and to calculate a future.
 
Also available as an eBook.
 

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

WSJ: Best Business Books 2016

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Every year, the Wall Street Journal asks writers, academics, business owners, athletes and assorted interesting people for their recommendations for the best books of the year. Here’s what the contributors said for 2016.
 
Retired basketball player and sportscaster Bill Walton is “the proud and fortunate son of a librarian.” He proposed Shoe Dog to entrepreneurs as a guide to success. “Phil Knight started Nike in 1963 with a $50 loan from his father. I don’t need to tell you how that story ended up.”
 
 
Fellow athlete Abby Wambach recommends Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “As I have transitioned into retirement, Grit is a powerful reminder of the qualities that made me a successful soccer player would serve me just as well in the world beyond the field.”
 
 
Alan Greenspan’s biography, The Man Who Knew was selected by several readers, including Elliott Management Corp founder and CEO Paul Singer, who noted, “As important as it is to know which qualities to look for in the next Fed chair, it is also important to know which qualities to avoid.”
 
 
No surprise that several people chose Hillbilly Elegy, including Roger Altman, founder/chairman of Evercore as well as U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who called J.D. Vance’s memoir, “the story of overcoming a tumultuous family life in southern Ohio and Kentucky. This isn’t just Mr. Vance’s story. It’s the story of many other people across rural America who have lost hope.”
 
 
Fuqua faculty member’s Dan Ariely’s newest best-seller, Payoff is recommended by James Altucher, author of 17 business books. “Dan Ariely makes the strong case that the best way to motivate people, including ourselves, is not through persuasive tactics, however subtle, but by providing the groundwork for meaning in people’s lives. James Altucher also endorses Tools of Titans, “interviews from hundreds of peak performers – from athletes and artists to generals and entrepreneurs and shares the ‘tactics, routines, and habits’ that made them titans.”

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: The 100-Year Life

Monday, March 20th, 2017

book cover imageGratton, Lynda and Andrew Scott. The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. Bloomsbury Information, 2016.

Fuqua students in their 20’s have a 50% chance of celebrating their 100th birthday. Their grandparents in their 60’s have a 50-50 chance of living another quarter century. Millions of people are looking forward to a long life and those who exercise regularly, do not smoke and control their weight are expected to remain healthy and fit deep into old age.

A long and healthy life has long been regarded as one of the greatest gifts, yet foresight and planning are needed to guarantee that the decades late in life will be happy. Structuring and using those extra years effectively is the subject new book, The 100-Year Life, by two professors at the London Business School, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

The book begins with the obvious question: How will this gift of time be financed? Obvious answer: The increase in life expectancy will be funded by working longer or saving more. “Making the most of the gift of a long life requires everyone to face up to the truth of working into your 70s or even 80s. Simple as that.” To some that may sound depressing, but the nature of work will change profoundly to include more innovation, decision making and social engagement.

Gratton and Scott explain that currently, there are three stages in adult life: Education – Career – Retirement. When working life extends to 6 or 7 decades, transitioning between careers will become normal. In some decades, workers will choose maximize finances while in others, they will focus on creating a work-life balance. Workers will routinely take breaks to become re-educated for new careers.

In every age, there are winners and losers. As the 100 year life becomes commonplace globally, there are ways to ensure a successful life. Remain flexible. Continue to learn. Take action. Defer gratification. Authors Gratton and Scott present the financial and social strategies that lead to a long life that is creative and fun. This book is recommended.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Recommended Spring Break Reading

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Editors, writers and guests at the Financial Times give their opinions about what to read now: It’s a long list. These 5 are my top picks to read over spring break.
 
book cover imageThe 100 Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott
A Duke student has a 50% chance of living to 100 years old. In the future, the familiar education/career/retirement stages of adult life will be transformed into a flexible, multi-stage life with implications for careers, personal finance and relationships.
 
 
 
book cover imageOnly Humans Need Apply by Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby
In the U.S. employment of highly skilled workers, such as managers, engineers, analysts, doctors and lawyers peaked in 2000 and has been falling due to advances in artificial intelligence. But opportunities abound for those who learn how to work collaboratively with intelligent machines.
 
 
 
Makers and Takers by Rana Foroohar
Finance dominates the U.S. economy, representing 25% of corporate profits, but only 4% of all jobs. Wall Street’s financial thinking has invaded other sectors, depressing innovation and job creation in companies, controlling natural resources, and increasing social inequality.

Also available as an eBook on OverDrive and as an audiobook on OverDrive.
 
 
Dear Chairman by Jeff Gramm
Backstories of corporate conflicts between management teams and shareholders, including power struggles involving American Express and Warren Buffett in 1964; General Motors and Ross Perot in 1985; BKF Capital and Carlo Cannell in 2005; and many other stories of shareholder activism.

Also available as an eBook on OverDrive, as an audiobook on OverDrive, and as an audiobook on CD.

The Originals by Adam Grant
“The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” In entertainment, business and politics, innovators make breakthroughs by recognizing original ideas, managing risks and removing barriers that hinder implementation.

Also available as an eBook on OverDrive, as an audiobook on OverDrive, as an audiobook on CD, and on Business Best Seller Kindles at Ford Library.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Monday, January 30th, 2017

book cover imageVance, J.D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Harper, 2016.

When I came to interview at Duke 35 years ago, a finance faculty member told me she pinched herself every morning while driving to work on 15-501. But it was not by luck that she landed a tenure track position at an elite university. She was a product of upper class culture. She inherited attitudes and habits about work, education and relationships that put her on the road to success.

As J.D. Vance explains in his childhood memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, the upper class and working class are different and the customs and values of each group determine their children’s chances for a prosperous future or a grim one. Vance was born to a dysfunctional family originally from the hills of Eastern Kentucky who moved to the Rust Belt, taking their chaotic and violent culture with them.

Vance begins his story by describing the lives of his forebears. In the 1940’s after his maternal grandparents move to Ohio, their lives improve financially, yet their marriage is a war zone. A generation later, Vance’s mother is a teenager with two children, already divorced. Vance is raised in a turbulent environment with a new stepfather and new stepsiblings every year. They move from home to home. His mother becomes a drug addict. In high school Vance moves to his grandmother’s peaceful house, and his life begins to turn around. After a stint in the Marines and a degree from Ohio State, he attends Law School at Yale and discovers how the other half lives.

Vance calls himself a cultural emigrant and he is acutely aware of the differences between social classes. On one hand is a self-reliant, hardworking and optimistic culture that invests in education and the future. The other is a consumer-oriented and cynical culture that blames social problems on the government. Vance’s grandmother and later the Marines teach him to expect more from himself. His years at Yale expose him to opportunities and to mentors. To Vance, these advantages separate the successful from the unsuccessful. This best seller is recommended.

Also available on Business Best Seller Kindles at the Ford Library and as an audiobook on OverDrive.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Book Review: Designing Your Life

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

book cover imageBurnett, Bill. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

During my last year of college, I woke up one afternoon and realized that I would be graduating soon. I had no job and no idea how to get a good one. I had no life plan. This is not unusual. Millions of recent graduates do not know how to find a meaningful job or how to design a purposeful life. For those already mid-career, 66% are unhappy with their jobs. And many successful professionals at the end of their careers want to downshift into a position with social impact, but lack the skills to make the transition.

In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans of the Stanford University Design Program advise using the principles of design thinking to create a life that is creative, productive and constantly evolving. They explain that design is a process of experimentation. As they explore, designers create prototypes, building on them when successful and discarding them when not. As designers try new things, they build their way forward.

To create your own ideal life, Burnett and Evans recommend “starting where you are,” improving the life that you are already living, without making disruptive structural changes like resigning your job or moving to another city. Assessment tools included in the book help clarify current work/life situations, then show how to customize existing jobs or careers to make them more engaging. For those who feel stuck, options can be developed by reframing problems and finding fresh solutions. There is more than one answer to creating a good life.

Burnett and Evans include an avalanche of examples from students who have taken their class at Stanford. Their writing style is informal; some illustrations are scribbles. I recommend this book despite these style elements. A second key book about personal wayfinding is Clayton Christensen’s excellent How Will You Measure Your Life?

Designing Your Life is also available as an eBook on OverDrive, an audiobook on OverDrive, and on Business Bestsellers Kindles at the Ford Library.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

Bill Gates’ Must-Reads

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Bill Gates imageBillionaire Bill Gates reads every day, finishing off at least one book a week. “Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading.” Here are Gates’ must-reads for 2016.

The Grid by Gretchen Bakke.
Says Gates: “The electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world.” Yet it stands in the way of an alternate energy future of solar or wind.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
Nike founder Phil Knight tells the story of building his company into a global athletic success but his path is “messy, precarious and riddled with mistakes,” Gates says.

The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown.
Successful leaders “tend to be the ones who collaborate, delegate and negotiate – and recognize that no one person can or should have all the answers.”

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
“The new genome technologies are at the cusp of affecting us all in profound ways,” Gates says, influencing our lives, personalities, identities, fates and choices.

String Theory by David Foster Wallace.
In this collection of essays about tennis, the author “found mind-blowing ways of bending language like a metal spoon.”

Thanks to Fuqua’s Gwen Barclay-Toy for bringing the Fortune article to our attention.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.