Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Few Book Reviews

The very last book I completed was the California Driver's handbook. Man, what a snorer. I have to get my CA driver's license this week, so I figured I better know what the speed limit is in a 2-lane alley with a bike-lane on thursdays is. In any case, avoid this book like the plague - its only to be read as an aching reminder that driving is a privilege and the DMV is a perfect example of a system without competition (i.e., its inefficient, broken, and is barely preferable to getting hot pokers stuck in your eyes).

Apart from that, tonite I also finished Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich--and CheatEverybody Else which does not disappoint.

On one hand its a basic consideration of what we all know. Want to avoid taxes? Get rich. It does however examine in detail some pretty amazing tax loopholes (and downright scams). From a surprising number of people that simply don't pay because they don't think they should (and the IRS having scant resources to catch them) to companies like Stanley Works and Ingersoll-Rand that try (or succeed) in moving their theoretical corporate headquarters to Bermuda to avoid US taxes.

In the end it's a pretty grotesque look at our tax system. If you're easily made mad, then by the end of this, you'll definitely be mad (if you're not in the top 1% of our country's wage earners, you'll be mad because of how much you pay and they don't. If you are in the top 1%, you'll be mad because you're bound to find some tax loopholes you're not taking advantage of).

In any case, I found myself looking forward to getting back to reading this book every time I had
to put it down.

A few weeks back I got done with a long read of
The Birth of Plenty : How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created. Its an interesting book in that it basically qualifies as "economic history". A methodical study of why somewhere a hundred or 2 years ago, human civilization went from basic subsistence to spurt of radical productivity. The examination is done on a country-by-country basis and is a pretty great read.

Interestingly, the same author wrote The Four Pillars of Investing : Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio (which I haven't read.. yet). He seems like he'd be an interesting guy to meet.

Its quite long but wonderfully researched. If economics or history interests you, its worth the time.

At the end of last year I got through about half of A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. It was recommended to me by a member of the board of my Ohio company Preemptive Solutions. Simply said, he's the kind of guy that if he recommends a book, you might just want to check it out.

Anyway, this is not a leisurely saturday afternoon read. Its dense and it makes you think with every section. I plan on getting back to it soon, but Chapter 2 alone was worth the price of admission (after I reread it a time or two).

It lays out a theory for levels of thinking. From the most basic levels concerned with food, water, sex, etc. to the highest levels that only (an estimated) 1-2% of our population functions at. Its really a fascinating way to consider simply how we think.

Oh.. and finally.. I read about half of Now, Discover Your Strengths before I fell into a reading induced coma.

This book purports to be an analysis of how to analyze people and play to their strengths. The one worthwhile message was that we tend to look to improve people's weaknesses (for example, if you are a manager, you might do this to an employee). However, this is misguided - you're better off to play to their strengths. If they're a great coder, let them be that. Encourage it - help it. Don't force them into management (for example).

Thats a fine idea but I found most of the rest of the book arbitrarily contrived. I really hate it when I see a bulleted list presented as fact thats clearly just someone's opinion. Such lists can be added to or deleted from and be just as correct.

In any case, I'm pretty done with that book. If you're interested, you can have my copy.