2021 Archive

March/April/May

American Amnesia:

HOW THE WAR ON GOVERNMENT LED US TO FORGET WHAT MADE AMERICA PROSPER
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson
Sometimes one simply must read books they disagree with to challenge their own views, or to be better equipped to deal with the arguments they most find unsettling. This book was painful to read in that so much of its underlying presuppositions are so horrifically contrary to the classical liberalism I hold dear, and yet truth be told the book was fair, honest, and in some cases enlightening. Now, it was also almost entirely wrong, but I am better off for having read it.
The Hour of Fate:
THEODORE ROOSEVELT, JP MORGAN, AND THE BATTLE TO TRANSFORM AMERICAN CAPITALISM
Susan Berfield
For any paying attention, our economic and political system seem hell-bent on relitigating and re-discovering various complexities of large and powerful businesses, and what limits there ought to be on the wealth and the power of these behemoths. Easy answers are not going to be found, but one thing is clear to me – those who have a better understanding of the history behind our previous grappling with these issues will be more prepared to understand the present environment. One will be struck in reading this book how much things have changed since the early 1900’s, and one will be struck by how much things are still the same.
Wild Company:
THE UNTOLD STORY OF BANANA REPUBLIC
Mel and Patricia Ziegler
I am a sucker for business biographies, especially underdog stories and rags to riches stories and all that other American dream stuff. And even when the author/self-made gazillionaire/entrepreneur themselves protests to loathe the ladder that they climbed, I find these stories inspiring (and their protests comical). The story of how a writer and an illustrator were able to start buying throwaway military garb and “style it” and “sell it” – eventually building one of the dominant clothing brands of the last generation – is really quite remarkable. And their contempt for the “corporate buyers” who funded their scale and expansion is equally remarkable, as much for its lack of self-awareness as anything else.

January/February

The Predator’s Ball:

THE INSIDE STORY OF DREXEL BURNHAM AND THE RISE OF THE JUNK BOND RAIDERS
Connie Bruck
2020 was a year that strongly reaffirmed the role that credit markets play in policymaker’s thinking and priorities. And Michael Milken was the 1980’s legend who has taught me more about credit markets than anyone else. If one ever needs a refresher in credit markets, Milken is worth reading. This book, though, is authored by a jaded Milken critic who felt that much of the 1980’s M&A boom was intrinsically dirty. Few people studying corporate America only from 1990-2020 actually understand what true “corporate raiding” was, and the 1980’s are a historical understanding must for people serious about navigating corporate finance in the 2020’s and beyond.
The Man Who Ran Washington:
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BAKER III
Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
The authors of this tour de force had a pretty big leg up before they typed a word of this book … that is, the subject. James Baker, still alive at age 90, is quite the tour de force himself, one of the most accomplished and significant men in American political history. But the husband-wife authors did a magnificent job bringing to the pages a gripping story of a person who is so unbelievably missed in American politics. A statesman, a pragmatist, an executioner, a grown-up – James Baker’s story can’t be recapped here, but you won’t regret reading it in this delightful book.
The Acquirer’s Multiple:
HOW THE BILLIONAIRE CONTRARIANS OF DEEP VALUE BEAT THE MARKET
Tobias E. Carlisle
Investors can make good returns following the crowd, running up a high momentum trade, and exiting before trouble ensues. But the greatest investors of all time have always done the opposite of that – running from the crowd, buying what has no momentum, and achieving great returns out of what the masses had left for the dead. Carlisle describes both the mentality and the mathematics of contrarianism in this short primer, and does it with flair.
Payback:
THE CONSPIRACY TO DESTROY MICHAEL MILKEN AND HIS FINANCIAL REVOLUTION
Daniel R. Fischel
I first read Fischel’s book years ago when I had begun my obsession with understanding Michael Milken. After reading Connie Bruck’s Predator’s Ball last month I had to re-read Fischel, if nothing else, for a rejuvenation of perspective that is pro-capital markets, and pro-financial innovation. Fischel is not just an author, and he wasn’t any kind of journalist. Unlike the pure journalists who sought fame and fortune tearing down Michael Milken (James Stewart at the top of that list), Fischel writes as an expert economist who clearly explains why ambitious politicians, ignorant journalists, and jealous Wall Street competitors sought to tear down Milken.