The Mind of the Market

For someone who works on ‘understanding markets’ and is familiar with previous works of Michael Shermer, picking “The Mind of the Market” from the bookshelf was an impulsive decision. And, the blurb made it clear that I have an interesting read for my weekend.

Shermer, drawing extensively from behavioral economics, neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology, offers his explanation of our seemingly irrational and often unpredictable economic behavior. Shermer, en route to his explanations, builds an excellent repository of cutting edge research in several disciplines and provides his readers a plethora of interesting examples and theories which have been part of great debate among academics; this itself makes his book immensely valuable and enriching. He starts with drawing parallels between Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Adam Smith’s invisible hand makes a cogent argument about interconnectedness of these two seminal works and how they affect behavior. His rebuttal of ‘Homo Economicus’ might not be very convincing to some but it does provide some good insights nonetheless. 

“Morality of the market” and “morality and market” are the two themes you will come across in many chapters.
While Shermer confesses the limitation of research findings when applied to real life settings, yet he does resort often to the same for his arguments. Shermer cherry-picks cases and examples to establish the creativity and efficacy of markets and its self correcting mechanism; and this has invited a fair amount of criticism to this book. This was almost expected if you consider that Shermer is also known as skeptic and wrote a scathing criticism for Ayn Rand’s philosophy in his essay “The unlikeliest cult in history” , in this book Shermer the skeptics takes the back seat and Shermer the libertarian emerges very strongly.

Reading list – 2011

Fiction
1. Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro Kazuo
Highly recommended if you are looking for a good thought provoking science fiction.  A mushy story about the lives of clones who were raised to be ‘donors’ for human beings. Was shortlisted for Booker in 2005.

2. 1984 by George Orwell
I read a couple of dystopian novels recently. This was surely one genre defining novel. Does not need any recommendation.

3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Probably the most widely read novel by an African author. Loved this book, reading this book was a pleasure. Simple story, simple writing, great impact.

4. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevesky
One of the greatest Russian novels. You will love the struggle of ‘the original’ protogonist  with the materialistic society. The tragic love story of Prince and Nastasya adds a number of new dimensions to relationship and love.

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The second dystopian novel that I read this year.

6. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
A very highly rated crime novel. Some people put this novel in top 100 novels of last century. Did not impress me that much, story seems too familiar.. probably I read too many adaptation or saw different versions of the story in some movies.

7. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Somehow finished it. I am not a big fan of horror stories, Stephan King’s writing and story telling skills made me tolerate this one.

8. Along came a Spider by James Patterson
Wanted to read some light fiction and picked the Alex Cross series for time pass. Nothing much to write about here. A time pass.

9. Max: Maximum Ride by James Patterson
Juvenile fiction. Well just picked it out of curiosity and lack of other options.

10. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
I read this 15 years ago, could not get much of this book at that time. Re-read it.

11. 2666 by Roberta Bolano
A slow and very lengthy novel. Over 1000 pages. It was an ordeal in patience and test of my passion for reading as the story did not move much in first few hundred pages.

Non-Fiction
12.I hope they Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max
Curiosity. Yes, that’s why I picked the book.

13. May I hebb Your Attention Pliss by Arnab Ray
By One of my favorite bloggers who turned author. A great satire on our life in eighties and nineties.


Night Train to Lisbon

Some stories gradually grow on you and some characters seem that they have been made from ingredients picked from your own life. And when this happens in a book, which is written lyrically and full of erudition, for readers like me, it is a something mesmerizing.
A few weeks back I finished Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”, a book originally written in German and later translated in several languages. The theme of book is delightful mix of philosophy and suspense. This concoction is very much expected as Pascal Mercier is pseudonym of philosophy professor Peter Bieri. The philosophy does not seem to take precedence, often case with most of the philosopher cum writers, it unfurls itself subtly with the story.

When I saw the blurb of the book, I was immediately tempted to grab a copy and I did just that. A middle aged teacher of Classics walks out of a class to explore life of an enigmatic Portugese doctor, a few pages from a book written by the doctor pushed him on an uncertain journey. The teacher, Gregorius middle aged, relatively well ensconced in his life, walking out on sheer impulse and on pull of an enigma, is in itself awe inspiring considering the way we cling to nugatory inane stuffs.
Though the book intrigues you when Gregorius walks out but soon relegates Gregorius to a secondary role, he just becomes a prop in emergence of a larger than life character of Portugese doctor Prado. Prado is our typical larger than life hero who resides in almost everyone , struggling to come out but succumbs to cruelties of rational mind and selfish emotions. A hero, whose personality is carved with a mute conflict between a father and a son, a conflict which stemmed from deep love and unexpressed expectations, Prado is gifted in many ways.
The life of Prado is portrayed in the book in many stories told by Prado’s friends and his sister to Gregorius. Marcier’s virtuoso story telling makes each of phase of Prado’s life and his struggle come alive in front of your eyes with exquisite stories told by different characters in the book. Gregorius goes on to discover Prado and his extraordinary life, punctuated by many events depicting superlative emotions, and this discovery for him becomes a self-discovery.
This is surely one of the better books I have read in recent times, would recommend to anyone who savors intelligent well written fiction.

My Reading List, 2008

Fiction

  • Sacred Games By Viikram Chandra
  • Bandicoots in moonlight by Avijit Ghosh
  • The Girl with Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson
  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Non-Fiction

  • Egonomics by David Marcum and Steven Smith
  • The Cult of Amateurs  by Andrew Keen
  • A Perfect Mess by David Freedman
  • Super Crunchers by  Ian Ayres
  • Wikinomics by Tapscott and Wiliams
  • How to change the world by David Bornstein
  • Stick to drawing comics, monkey brain! by Scot Adams
  • Getting things done by David Allen
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  • The Stuff of Thoughts by Steven Pinker
  • Madness and Civilization by Foucault

Half Read / Unfinished Books

  • Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani
  • The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
  • Hot Flat and Crowded by T. Friedman
  • Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon (Thanks Srey for the gift.)
  • India: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya
  • Phantoms in the brain by Blakeslee and Ramachandran
  • Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Tribe by Bruce Parry

Surely I could not read a lot of fiction this year and spent a lot of time on  non-fiction/ pop-economics. Though I wanted to read some good fiction titles. I bought many books last year and I think I need to speed up my reading to consume them this year.

My Reading List of Last Year (2007)

Though I could not read as much as I did last year and left many books half finished, or just untouched on the shelf. These are books I did manage to finish, apart from the compulsory reading required by my job.

Fiction

  • Alchemy of Desire by Tarun Tejpal
  • Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille
  • The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  • The Innocent Men by John Grisham
  • The Broker by John Grisham
  • The Last Song of Dusk by Sidhart D. Sanghvi

Non-Fiction

  • Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner
  • The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
  • The Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid by C K Prahalad
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  • The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
  • The way of the Sufi by Idries Shah

I bought several books last year and many of them are still waiting to be finished. I read a few pages and somehow could not finish them. Hope to finish them soon this year.

Half Read / Unfinished Books

  • Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Cuckold by K Nagarkar
  • The Moral Mind by Marc Hauser
  • Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Let see how much time I get this year to satiate my desire to read. Getting Thinds Done by David Allen and The Perfect Mess by E Abrahamson and D Freedman are the two books which I am finishing this month. Two books advocating completely contrasting approach to manage your work-life.

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Seven Mags I loved When I was kid

1. Chandamama – We were waiting more eagerly to get this magazine from newspaper wala then our results. Beautiful stories of Kings, stories from ancient epics with written with clear motive of promoting values and culture in children made this magazine immensely popular among kids.

Recently, Chandamama’s last 60 years issues have been digitized, so those who want to gift their children a good read, devoid of gory action and violent fantasy, this is a great option.

2. Champak – Loved it. Cheekku (the rabbit), Meeku (the mice) and their adventures were superb, since 1968 this magazine has established itself as the number one Children’s Magazine of India. A part of Delhi Press Group, they followed their group policy of not promoting any superstitious or bhoot-prate stories, but clean healthy entertainment for kids. Even today, I get my hands on any issue of Champak, I make sure to find Cheeku’s column and read it.

3.Lotpot – Full of laughter and great comic strips. The stories were invariably successful in bringing laughter and making you go ‘lotpot’ . No advertisement and reading material from cover to cover at price of Rs. 2 (At present it is being sold at Rs.5). Though the paper was not great but stories were. Motu, Patlu and Ghasita’s always used to find themselves in trouble in whatever they did. Though Ghasita was not the main hero of the Motu Patlu strip but his hair style and Haryanwai accent made him my favorite character.

4. Nandan – Unlike many children’s magazine of that time, this one has backing of a one of the leading media house of country Hindustan Times Group and has some of the biggest name as its contributor. Edited by Jayprakash Bharti (one of the biggest name in Children’s literature), it had/has strong focus on indian mythology and presented stories from Puranas and Upnishads. It was more structured and well presented compared to its competitors in 80’s, there you had Crosswords, Find the Difference (Kaun Kitna Buddhiman), a very popular Tenaliraman. The Pari Katha Visheshank was its eagerly waited special issue by its readers. Vishwa Prasidha Kahania provided its reader the best of childrens literature from world over translated in hindi.

At the moment, it has gone numerous changes and is being edited by Mrinal Pandey, I just recently checked one issue from my brother, and found that the new avataar is no longer as fascinating. Earlier Nandan used to be full of stories and stories only. Now, they have started putting articles (probably following other mags), interviews and other pieces but somehow it doesnt reminds one of the old Nandan we were fond of.

5. Madhu Muskan– If anyone of you have read it, you would vividly remember, Daddy jee, Chustram Sushtram.. Great comic and great mag. I dont know whether it is being published today or not but it was really one mags I wanted to read again and again. I even had a collection of around 5-6 years of Madhu Mushkaan, but some of dear friends loyal to borrowed reading, betrayed me.

6. Suman Saurabh – Aimed at teens and probably only magazine in Hindi in late 80s and in 90s which went beyond storytelling and provided useful articles. Again from the stable of Delhi Press Group, I loved its Jasoosi Katha Visheshank (Detective Stroy Specials) and Vigyan Katha Visheshank (Sci-fi Specials). It is still going strong.

7. Balhansh – Though this was quite new compared to Champak, Chandamama and Nandan, but it can be categorized as more balanced reading experience for kids. Published by Rajasthan Government, it kept the allround growth of its reader in mind. While Kavi Aahat made people go hither and thither fearing his poems, Havaldaar Tholaram was no less then a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond with grey matters borrowed from the likes of Kaanti Shah and Raakhi Sawant, taking care of goons and evildoers as well as problems of common man. It has some great informative articles which were not very common at that time in children’s magazine as most of the mags provided only stories and comic strips, the focus was not there on interesting or informative articles.

Now let me know, which were your favorites …..

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