Sunday, December 20, 2009

Summer Reading

The past few weeks I’ve somehow found time to read.  Here are a few interesting titles that I would recommend.

Christopher McDougall has written an intriguing story amidst a lesson in human evolution which will leave you inspired.  The following things have happened to me since reading this:
  1. I run more
  2. I run bare feet whenever possible
  3. A pair of these are on my Christmas wish list  
  4. I like to talk about human evolution and rabbit skeletons a lot more than I used to
I don't want to give away too much, but I can’t recommend this book enough – READ IT!

I’ll admit that I am a Richard Dawkins fan.  In this book you get a break from his famous anti-religious crusade which was popularised by his documentary Enemies of Reason, and book The God Delusion.  Instead, you get an easy to read account of the emerging evidence for evolution, and a theoretical discussion that crafts often complex and counter-intuitive ideas into accessible analogies.

If you are short of dinner party discussion topics, you will find everything you need this festive season – from how the skull of almost every mammal is made up of the same 28 bones (in a rigid structure), or how the bizarrely long detour of the laryngeal nerve in the neck of the giraffe is exactly what we’d expect from evolution.

Those with a thirst for knowledge and an interest in evolution should read this book.

I was expecting a lot from this book and after reading, felt that I was deceived by the title.  While George Soros may be a spectacularly successful investor, this book is actually about his theory of reflexivity.  

Soros’ theory can be a little philosophical.  Its starting point is fallibility, which is the idea that our understanding is always imperfect because we are part of reality, a part cannot understand the whole.  He says “The human brain cannot grasp reality directly but only through the information it derives from it.”  To translate, there is no such thing as perfect information – the necessary precondition for perfect markets.

What is important in this book is that Soros shows how much economic reasoning is fallacious because money is assumed to be neutral far too often.  One of his key messages is that the state of financial markets has a tangible impact on the real economy.  Of course, this idea itself is not new. 

But his ideas for improving the stability of the economy appear logical.  On the premise that the market is imperfect, and that regulation is imperfect, he suggests that governments set stronger boundaries for financial institutions – I interpret it as a bounded market.  By setting known boundaries to market behaviour he also hopes to avoid the moral hazard inherent in many financial institutions.  The fact that big banks know they can’t be allowed to go broke increases the propensity for risk taking.

Soros believes that there was a bubble riding on a super-bubble, which will both burst in time (it reminded me of Wave Theory).  Of course, like always, the timing can be a problem.

For those budding detectives this book is quite interesting.  It is essentially a lesson in the psychology research of author Sam Gosling on behaviour residue.  What makes this book interesting are the experiments that show how good we are at intuitively knowing the personalities of people from the bedrooms, offices, cars, and websites.  
For example, researchers photographed cars and their owners separately by the side of a toll booth, and asked students to match up car and driver – and they were bloody good at it!  From a waist up photograph and a single external photo of the car, people could guess the personality and lifestyle of the person, and match it with the car that they thought reflected those characteristics. Quite amazing when you realise how difficult it is to deconstruct how we achieve this miraculous feat.


  1. Seasons Greetings Cam - have a good 2010.

  2. Snoop sounds like fun - especially after seeing the new Sherlock Movie - The Master!

    ...oh and thanks for saving me the time reading George Soros ;)