How We Got Here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets – Andy Kessler

In 1642, 18-year-old Blaise Pascal, the son of a French tax collector, tired of waiting for his dad to come play a game of “le catch”. Blaise’s dad was what is known as a tax farmer, sort of a 17th century version of a loan shark, threat of broken bones and all. Tax farmers advanced tax money to the government and then had a license to collect taxes, hopefully “harvesting” more than they advanced. Elder Pascal was constantly busy calculating and tabulating his potential tax haul. To help him out, Blaise envisioned a mechanical device with wheels and cogs and gears and numeric dials that could sum up numbers to eight digits long. That’s 10 million francs. Dad must have been a top tax guy.

The book explains the history of technology, from the Industrial Revolution to contemporaneity, through the lenses of capitals and stocks. The books is written in a simple way and without much depth, kind of like Wikipedia is explaining. However, the connections it makes are genius and really make the reader think.

Andy Kessler, the author, worked for two decades in the banking and investor sector, from research analyst to hedge fund manager.

A brilliant and easy to follow history of technology, that connects the dots and makes you think.

The book is divided in 5 chapters: The Industrial Revolution; Early Capital Markets, Components Needed for Computing; Digital Computers and Modern Capital Markets.

Each chapter has small stories, linking to each other, explaining the creation and change of some concepts, laws, industries. The overall thematic is economics, trade and, partially, laws influencing trade, money, finance and national economies.

Andy Kessler explains in a simple and brilliant way very complex concepts, such as fractional reserve banking and the Corn Laws. While it doesn’t have depth, it has the right amount of detail to made the reader understand why things happened that way.

All those facts presented are freely available online, but Kessler put them together in a logical and consequential way. It is really a book that “connects the dots”.

It is rarely that a book has so much ingenuity, easiness of writing, clarity in thinking and presenting the facts. The book can be freely found on the author’s website. One of the few that I would read twice.

 

Fearless (The Lost Fleet, Book 2) – Jack Campbell

The longstanding thorn in your side Captain Numos is stupid. In fact, Numos is so dense that I’m surprised he doesn’t have his own event horizon.

The second book of the series continued the adventures of Captain Jack “Black Jack” Geary in his quest to save the Alliance fleet from the enemy in Syndic space.  This time around, Captain Geary has to deal with unexpected mutiny as well, having to fight internal and external enemies at once.

Military scifi book, for the fans of the genre.

The protagonist is now better defined, Captain Geary having to work on the politics of his own fleet, as well as dealing with the continuing enemy pursuit. The story universe is given more depth and there is even more action than in the first book. However, the book manages to keep the main story straight and introduces some very unexpected twists, on several levels.

The second book is at least as better as the first one, with a bit more creative narrative and better described space battles. The effort put in imagining scientifically coherent space battles is impressive.

There is little psychological monologue and soul-searching, which makes the book uncomplicated and easy to read. For military scifi fans, it is a quite rewarding read.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.

Hands down, this is one of the best motivational books I have ever read: practical and full of wisdom gems. It is basically a self-development book which tries to teach the reader to be a better person with others, with pragmatic advance, encouragements and a positive attitude.

A very positive, helpful book, easy to read even for those who don’t like reading.

Written in 1936, the book is a classic, almost 80 years in print, a testament of its solid advice, timelessness, deep thinking and overall, just common sense. It feels like it was written last year.

It is true that the book is addressed foremost to a readership looking for improving speaking for sales and building self-confidence. However, it does not teach duplicity nor underhandedness. It looks a bit cheesy and superficial indeed, but that makes it easy to read, re-read and motivate for every reader, even the ones that don’t like reading.

The author, Dale Carnegie, had several selling jobs, quite successful, before trying teaching public speaking, which made him rich. He wrote several other books, but this one is the most famous.

From a political philosophy viewpoint, it presents the classical liberal argument that rationally helping others, you help yourself. In essence, even forgetting empathy, we help others for a virtual social safety net. A human being doesn’t need to be nice, it just need to be rational, in order to be kind, attentive to others, helpful and polite.

To conclude, this is an easy-to-read book with timeless advice for those who look for a better self and a better place in society. A short book that I recommend wholeheartedly.

[Featured image by BK, Flickr]

Koban – Stephen W. Bennett

His octet was to be limited to the same weapons these humans were given. A very detailed video of the compound’s terrain was furnished. This he shared with his octet, because every Krall had an inborn ability to memorize such details for a mission. Repetition was unnecessary.

Koban is a very imaginative and action-packed military survival sci-fi. The story revolves around Captain Mirikami, who is transporting in a passenger spaceship scientists to a far colony, when he is attacked by an unknown and far more advanced alien species. Captain Mirikami and all on board is then isolated on a dangerous planet, Koban, where he has to prove to alien war race that humanity deserve to be treated as worthy opponents.

The author creates an entire universe with this book, with a new planet and a new alien species. The Krall are very advanced military, highly physical, destroyed or enslaving every other intelligent species they met so far. They use those wars to enhance their military abilities. Humans are considered weak and very low technologically speaking, but they are still put to trial. If they succeed, aliens plan to destroy humans gradually, rather then in a one big stroke, hence the struggle of Captain Mirikami.

Scifi survival story

Stephen Bennett creates a future where genetic warfare  almost killed the entire male population and changed ways of society. The men are subservient to women and the first part of the book is full with sexist situations. After the genetic war. humanity is not fighting internally nor meeting any other intelligent species in 300 years.

The narrative is captivating, some chapters are looking at events through the eyes of predators on Koban, some others through the Krall aliens. It makes the story a lot more interesting.The book has some fantastic ideas, but with others it went overboard. The sexism is interesting, but not adding to the story. The genetic enhancement done in days leave too many logical holes.

Nonetheless, it is a solid scifi survival book, imaginative, well paced, action-packed and entertaining.

Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy 1453 to the present – Brendan Simms

The hatchet with France was slowly being buried, but there were still serious differences to be ironed out over North Africa. Russia remained a huge threat, and it was against her that Britain’s first major diplomatic initiative of the new century, the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, was directed. The main worry, however, was Germany, which had shown unconcealed sympathy for the Boers and whose naval ambitions were seen as a direct challenge to British maritime supremacy.

At 550 pages, Europe is a very dense book of European history, mainly focusing on German lands, due to their position in the center of Europe. It follows the struggles between kingdoms and nations from an international relations perspective. The depth of detail is impressive, but the way the narration progresses and the events are presented keeps the reader engaged.

The book has everything, from the wars within the Holy Roman Empire to modern Germany, from conquest of Cyprus by Ottomans to Crimean war, from Ivan the Terrible to Putin. While Europe is the main focus, there are historical events from Afghanistan, China or the United Stated which get much attention as well.

Brendan Simms offers a thorough explanation of some crucial questions, such why Germany is so important and why Europe conquered the world. It explains brilliantly the motivations of why some countries acted in a specific way.

International relations in action

Brendan Peter Simms is Professor of the History of International Relations in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. He shows an impressive quality of understanding historical events, while not pinning down the reader in an infinite enumeration of details.

Just until the present day analysis, the book is a scholarly masterpiece. The present day  events are a lot less clear as the author wants them to be. Also, international relations and foreign policy are sometimes given too much weight, while other actors, such as technology, leaders at a specific time or culture, were important factors as well.

To sum up, this is a brilliant scholarly book on European history from a primacy of international relations viewpoint.

One Second After – William R. Forstchen

She’d always talk about how great Gandhi was. I’d tell her the only reason Gandhi survived after his first protest was that he was dealing with the Brits. If Stalin had been running India, he’d been dead in a second, his name forgotten.

Have you wondered what will happen if electricity suddenly stops coming? This book replies exactly at that questions, under a fictional story following an ex-military history professor, in a small town in the mountains in the United States.

Loss of electricity (not a blackout, in a blackout you kind of expect electricity to return) can have several reasons. In this book, there is an electromagnetic pulse that fries the grid and everything electric (circuitry). This threat is actually possible, and the guy in the US Army looking at this problem (asymmetrical threats) was an advisor for the book.

In case electricity stops coming, the very fiber of society disintegrates: no communications (no phones, television, internet, newspapers), no commerce (no card readers, only cash for a while, then only barter), no food (no refrigeration, no trucks to bring food to supermarkets, no machinery to harvest, no trucks to bring food from silos to animal farms), government loses the monopoly of violence (how can you announce the police of a robbery, crime, rape, if communications are down?), no medicines for the needy (diabetics and others). Also, no hygiene products for women.

Without electricity

Electricity allows to increase tremendously the efficiency of agriculture and food production. Therefore, as soon as it disappears, human population reduces to the efficiency of food production before electricity. This means mass starvation, which the book painfully describes.

The story takes place in the United States, in a mountain town. Hence, some features are present, which might be specific to the country, such as : numerous people have guns that can hunt with and many citizens have military experience. This comes as an advantage, because, as society breaks, individuals usually kept in check by police, re-surge as organized bands, taking food by force and killing. Police can’t quickly intervene, without the instant communications.  Also, many officers and hospital staff might be wanting to return home, at their loved ones, until some form of community protection is realized.

William R. Forstchen is asking many interesting, deep questions about the vulnerabilities of our society. The literary value of the book is quite low, writing is ok, fluid, but not fantastic; however, the strength of the book is coming from the really good questions that it asks. This is kind of hard fiction, from politically conservative perspective.

There are many low chance, high threat events that could destroy civilization. Supervolcanoes, meteorites, robots, plagues, but it is not a lot you can do if a meteorite comes. On the other hand, just blowing a nuclear bomb at high-altitude, for example 50 km up over a continent, the US Army colonel specialized in this issue argues, is enough to destroy a country. In the book, they don’t even know who launched the nuclear bomb. All that they know was that the launch was from a freighter out in the sea and they speculate that maybe a terrorist group or a country not friendly to US or even a large power that covered their tracks really well.

A report from nine scientists was published, unluckily in the day of the 9/11 attacks and, seemingly, a US Congress inquiry was made over this, but overridden by the terrorists attacks.

Overall, a must-read book for the interesting questions it asks.

 

[Picture from http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Strommast-Current-Pylon-Steel-High-Voltage-Sunset-520008%5D

Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, Book 1) by Jack Campbell