Submitted by taoyue on Sat, 05/22/2010 - 13:00
The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood
by Edward Jay Epstein
Random House, 2005
Edward Jay Epstein occupies the strange position of being a Hollywood
columnist – but one who focuses on the business side of Hollywood rather
than the razzle-dazzle. That is a unique niche to be in, but it's also a
very small one. When times got tough in the magazine business, Slate
dropped his Hollywood
Economist column, and Epstein now gets his film-business commentary
out through his
But he's absolutely right to point out that the news media rarely covers
the substantial parts of the film business. All the focus on box-office
receipts obscures the fact that the box office is no longer so important
to profitability. A film need only do well enough to guarantee an
afterlife, in which the real money gets made. On the other hand, the
shallow focus on box office grosses is not unique to Hollywood. Most
business coverage in newspapers is awful, whatever the industry. They
focus on big day-to-day events, and rarely do the simple arithmetic to
explain the economic fundamentals that drive whole industries.
Submitted by taoyue on Thu, 12/03/2009 - 12:00
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
by Alice Schroeder
Alice Schroeder's comprehensive biography of legendary investor Warren
Buffett tracks practically every one of Buffett's business ventures since
childhood. His paper route, his business recovering and selling used golf
balls, his jalopy rental-car – all presented to the reader, presumably so
that we can trace his later success back to the business acumen that he
showed early in life. Schroeder is a chronicler rather than a storyteller
– she writes down nearly every detail that she can pry out of her
interview subject, rather than making a judicious selection. That's why
the book unfolds over 838 pages of text (plus endnotes).
But at the same time, Warren Buffett is a fascinating person. The
advantage of a chronicle is that it allows the reader to draw his own
conclusions. Even when Schroeder is clearly being sympathetic to Buffett,
such as when she describes some of the negative press coverage that he
once received, she does not inject much color or bias. You can really
read the book in peace and then think about how the various pieces fit
together? Schroeder's prose is more businesslike than eloquent, as
befitting a former Wall Street analyst, but it succeeds in telling the
story of Buffett's life without turning it into the author's opinion.
Alice Schroeder came into Warren Buffett's confidence, and the result is
a book with many details that are hard to find in the many other accounts
of the Buffett legend.
Submitted by taoyue on Fri, 11/20/2009 - 12:00
The Eastern Front, 1914-1917
by Norman Stone
In the West, World War I is remembered for the futility of trench
warfare, as men died in the tens of thousands for gains of a few hundred
yards. In an attempt to break that stalemate, the most industrially-
advanced nations of the world applied their ingenuity towards developing
industrial ways of killing on the battlefield. Men were asphyxiated by
poison gas, burned alive by flamethrowers, and finally, crushed by tanks.
Yet another First World War was also fought alongside the war in the
trenches -- a war of movement, in which victorious campaigns led to advances
of tens, even hundreds of miles. That was the war on the Eastern front -- a
war forgotten by a Western Europe that was preoccupied with its own
tragedies, a war whose results were overturned by later events, a war
that ended up overshadowed by revolution, a war that Winston Churchill
"the unknown war".
Decades after it was written in 1976, Norman Stone's meticulously researched
book remains the most complete English-language account of the Eastern front
of World War I. In the introduction, Stone summarizes the existing English-
language literature as consisting of essentially two books, one of them
being Churchill's book from 1931! Of course, by the time Stone was writing
his book, the Eastern front of World War I had long since been overshadowed
by the Eastern front of World War II, which saw the fiercest fighting of the
war and ultimately decided its outcome. The same cannot be said of the
Eastern front of World War I.
Submitted by taoyue on Thu, 10/29/2009 - 13:00
by Erwin Rommel
Published in German in 1937.
English translation as "Attacks!": Athena Press, 1979.
Later editions are retitled "Infantry Attacks!"
"Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
-- George S. Patton (in
Well, not quite. The movie shows General Patton reading Field Marshal
Rommel's book on tank warfare, which he never got a chance to complete.
But it's possible that Patton had read this earlier work on infantry
tactics, which the US Army rediscovered and had translated into English in
Infantry Attacks! describes the engagements that Rommel
participated in during World War I, as a young lieutenant in the Imperial
German Army. The book is structured as a set of tactical problems, giving
the disposition of friendly and enemy troops and setting out the objective.
Rommel then describes the solution that he decided on, followed by the
actual results, along with an assessment of the lessons he learned and
suggestions for improvement. It is given largely in
Submitted by taoyue on Sun, 10/25/2009 - 21:55
This book traces the development of MIT’s Mathematics department after
World War II, as it developed from a service department in an engineering
school into a world-class center of research. In that sense, the book
follows in the footsteps of The
Princeton Mathematics Community in the 1930s, which attempted to
capture a Golden Era of mathematics at Princeton. But the MIT oral
history is somewhat more cohesive, for Joel Segel conducted all the
interviews himself. As a result, he can adapt his questioning as he goes
along, seizing on salient events and getting reactions from later
For example, several of the professors mentioned the tension between the
pure and applied groups in the department. Indeed, many top math
programs handled this tension by splitting into two departments. The
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is still home to a unified
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, seems to be
reluctant to split disciplines apart. Yet that doesn’t mean that
everything was smooth sailing.
Submitted by taoyue on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 13:47
First, I read Peter Hessler’s articles in The New Yorker. Then,
I encountered the author last month on one of his periodic visits to his
alma mater. Finally, I got around to reading his first book – and
discovered what I’d been missing all this time.
River Town is en exceptional book that describes the two years
that Hessler spent teaching English literature in Fuling, Chonqing as a
Peace Corps volunteer. Since my encounters with Hessler had taken place
in reverse order, I couldn’t help but compare his . The book has a
fresher quality to it, for Hessler is is younger and perhaps a bit
brasher than he is now. It combines the personal development of a young
man fresh out of college with China’s still-early steps into the larger
Submitted by taoyue on Sun, 04/13/2008 - 13:00
This is a 500+ page book, and it is chock-full of details. There's even a table that lists every American carrier pilot who fought at the outset of the Second World War in the Pacific. Not just their names, but also the number of Japanese planes that each shot down, when and where some of them were killed, and — for those who survived — their date of retirement and final rank. There are quite a few Captains and Admirals on this list.
But it’s not just facts and figures. The profuse level of detail extends to the history of the fighter squadrons, which is recounted almost on a day-by-day basis. After all, wars is not just a matter of great battles and turning points. In-between the battles comes the daily routine of continual inner-air patrols, for there was always a reconnaissance threat from Japanese scoutplanes. Every once in a while, there would be minor engagements that do not decide the outcome of the war, but cumulatively advance the cause of victory.
Carrier aviation is a very dangerous field in which high-performance aircraft are flown off minuscule shipborne airfields. During the early days of World War II, it was even more hazardous, for the planes had shorter ranges and flew more slowly. Returning home from a mission and flying slow to conserve fuel, the pilots depended on the carrier's own 30-knot speed, for it was a sufficiently-substantial fraction of the airplane's own speed that it affected the navigational calculation. It was not uncommon for a routine scouting mission to run out of fuel and end up with the crew “on the beach,”, waiting to be rescued by the next passing destroyer. And that was if you were lucky, and your radio worked. If nobody heard from you, then the search party had to guess at your position. It was also hazardous on deck. A grizzled veteran may survive numerous encounters with the Japanese, only to be killed by a mechanical accident on a day that saw no combat.
Submitted by taoyue on Sun, 09/23/2007 - 16:00
A Plan for a Preemptive Strike on the United States by the British
Dominion of Canada, circa 1921
[...] Yet, until the 1920s, there was a real
risk that the Anglo-Japanese alliance would draw Canada into war with the
United States. The British were quite serious about their alliance with
Japan, inviting Japan into the inner circle of the Allied Powers in the
Paris peace talks ending World War I1.
The alliance bound Britain to neutrality in the event of war between
Japan and one other power, and to military support of Japan in the event
of war between Japan and two other powers.
[...] James Sutherland "Buster" Brown prepared for a war
with the United States. Thus was hatched Canadian Defence Scheme No. 1. [...] To counter the seemingly overwhelming American military advantage,
"Buster" Brown envisioned a preemptive strike against the United States.
Canadian troops would mobilize quickly and attack with little warning,
relying on surprise to penetrate American soil as far south as Oregon.
Submitted by taoyue on Fri, 11/10/2006 - 15:00
The Undercover Economist
Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor — and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!
by Tim Harford
New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Hardcover ISBN: 0-19-518977-9
On the jacket cover of The Undercover Economist is a blurb from Stephen Levitt, the author of the bestselling Freakonomics: "Required reading." Quite an endorsement. In this book, author Tim Harford present a lucid exposition of general economic principles, as applied to the big-issue topics of today. For a college student, this book might make some nice supplementary reading, to introduce deeper topics in economics that will not be reached for several semesters in the regular course sequence. For the general public, it is even more important, for there is a deep disconnect at the moment between popular sentiment and economic theory.
Many ideas that are only minimally controversial in economics circles are highly controversial with the general public. The economist (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman attributes much of the anti-globalization rhetoric to a fundamental understanding of comparative advantage [...]
Submitted by taoyue on Thu, 07/13/2006 - 16:00
How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12324-0
The Box is a 370-page (almost a hundred of which are endnotes)
history of the shipping container, the economic phenomenon that
revolutionized the world of shipping and underpins today's global
market. The book is not as dense as an article in the Economist, which
is unfortunate. Economist articles frequently read like they were
written at twice the length and then edited to add figures and sharpen
the analysis to the most salient points. Levinson's book does not appear
to have undergone such a distillation step, which might have transformed
an already interesting and insightful book into the standard work on the
The Box traces containerization from its now-mythologized
beginnings with Sea-Land's Ideal-X, through the Vietnam War when it
proved its worth in the logistics chain, to its maturity as the enabler
of global commerce. Much of the story is told from the perspective of
Sea-Land maven Malcom McLean, who conceived of the container in roughly
its modern form and shepherded the concept through its infancy. Along
the way, Levinson follows the ASA and ISO discussions of standardized
container construction and sizes, and tracks the union negotiations and
votes on container handling and compensation. He also follows
politicians' plans for city waterfronts, and explains how
containerization caused many traditional ports to decline and newly-built
ports to take their place, with a particular focus on the Port of New
York. (Later it would be renamed the Port of New York and New Jersey, as
Newark and Elizabeth overtook the City proper in shipping volume).