Tag Archives: Book Reviews by Bill Dahl

More Money Than God – by Sebastian Mallaby

More money than god_edited-1

This is the magnum opus on the hedge fund industry. As other hedge fund related books seek to either vilify the industry or brazenly praise the uncanny good fortunes industry insiders – this book does neither – which I found refreshing and a strategic positioning of this work from “the rest.”

Sebastian Mallaby is currently the Paul Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s also a columnist at the WA Post and spent over a decade with The Economist responsible for international finance coverage – serving a bureau chief in Washington, Japan and southern Africa. He is the author of several noteworthy books on the political economy.

This work is an epic contribution to the historical evolution of certain financial products and the global industry(s) spawned therefrom in primarily, the western world. Welcome to the hedge fund industry, including an amazing cast of characters, their thought processes, training, relationships and the outcome of their work – The Making of A New Elite – with More Money Than God.

Admittedly, it is rare for me to dedicate myself to the reading of 400+ pages contained in any one volume, on any subject. Yet, the manner in which this book develops contains the unique qualities that inflame the desire within reader to come back for more. Incredibly well-written, researched, balanced and apolitical. This work is REQUIRED READING as an essential component in developing an understanding of global financial markets, risk assessment, risk management and the art of speculation.

As I read the book, Mallaby makes some points that have been central themes of other authors (See The WSJ’s Scott Patterson’s – The QUANTS), regarding the miscues that fueled poor investment/risk management strategies. Listen to Mallaby to garner the essence of this observation as it relates to the “art of speculation” – The art of speculation is to develop one insight that others have overlooked and then trade big on that small advantage.” P.91

“After the 1971 debacle, Weymar set about rethinking his theory of the market. He had begun with an economist’s faith in model building and data: Prices reflected the fundamental forces supply and demand, so if you could anticipate those things – you were your way to riches. But experience had taught him some humility. An exaggerated faith in data could turn out to be a curse, breeding the Sol of hubris that leads you into trading positions too big to be sustainable.”

“The real lesson of LTCM’s failure was not that its approach to risk was too simple. It was that all attempts to be precise about risk are unavoidably brittle.” P.231

(LTCM) Had misjudged the precision with which financial risk can be measured.”p.245.

The point is that an unrepentant belief in the quantitative modeling that provides that “one insight that others have overlooked and then trade big on it” can have enormous consequences in either capturing returns or accelerating a cataclysmic demise of the capital under management.

How has that all worked out, in recent years? According to Mallaby, “Between 2000 and 2009, a total of about five thousand hedge funds went out of business, and not a single one required a taxpayer bailout.”

Ah yes, “bailouts” – what is Mallaby’s take on this issue? Listen to the following: “Capitalism works only when institutions are forced to absorb the consequences of the risks that they take on. When banks can pocket the upside while spreading the cost of their failures, failure is almost certain.” P.13. Mallaby is clearly not a proponent of “privatizing the gains and socializing the losses.”

What about our affection with history that drive financial and other forms of socio-economic modeling. Mallaby has some succinct insights:

“Projections are based on historical prices, and history could be a false friend.” P. 233.

“In 1997, Merton and Scholes (LTCM) received the news that they had won the Nobel Prize for economics. The award was greeted as a vindication of the new finance: The inventors of the option-pricing model were being thanked for laying down a cornerstone of modern markets. By creating a formula to price risk, the winners had allowed it to be sliced, bundled, and traded’ l thousand ways the fear of financial losses, which for centuries had acted as a brake on human endeavor, had been tamed by an equation.” P.231.

So, where does Mallaby leaves us at the end of this magnum opus? His analysis leads him to conclude “The worst thing about the crisis is that it is likely to be repeated.” P. 377. However, to suggest that the hedge fund industry was the primary culprit in either the creation or magnitude of the Great Recession would be erroneous. Again, between 2000 and 2009, 5,000 hedge funds are to have ceased operations – none of which required a taxpayer bailout. Mallaby also takes a rather benign approach to the plausibility/practicality of regulating this industry (“The record suggests that financial regulation is genuinely difficult, and success cannot always be expected.” P. 379).

Yet, at the conclusion of this work, one quote from Mallaby continues to resonate with me: “It is the nonintuitive signals that often prove the most lucrative.” p.302. However, the term “lucrative” as is as applicable to assessing risk and thereby avoiding potential losses, as it is to capturing returns on investment.

Like I said, an epic contribution to the historical evolution of the hedge fund industry. An uncanny, incredibly thorough, balanced treatment – written in a way that is appropriate for both industry insiders, and the lay-person. A perfect volume for graduate coursework in finance — one that focuses on human beings, as well as the quantitative financial services products they develop and deploy in the global markets today.

Consuming Jesus – Beyond Race and Class Divisions in A Consumer Church by Paul Louis Metzger

Consuming Jesus – Beyond Race and Class Divisions in A Consumer Church by Paul Louis Metzger

I’m going to have lunch with Paul Metzger — it’s on me Paul.

There are voluminous reviews of this work on-line at Amazon. I am just simply going to say that I truly enjoyed this work…and the heart of a man (Metzger) that resonates the love of Christ on most every page. Listen to Metzger:

“Paul is fond of saying that we settle for so little when God calls us to so much more. We need to settle for more — much more of God’s compassionate embrace of us so that we will extend that same compassion to the least of these in our world.” (p. 180).

This book reminded me of reading John Perkins. However, Metzger approaches many issues from new angles.

I highly recommend this book.

Thank you Paul!

Soul Graffiti – Making A Life In The Way of Jesus by Mark Scandrette

Soul Graffiti – Making A Life In The Way of Jesus

Editor’s One of the Best Books I’ve Read  Award

Scandrette, Mark SOUL GRAFFITI – Making A Life In The Way Of Jesus Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA Copyright 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

An Epic, Emerging Way Contribution

One of my difficulties with the emerging church movement is that I can’t find enough stories about people who are actually living what they say they yearn for. The “conversation” and the “dialogue” seemingly take precedence with many who yearn for a way of life with Jesus on this planet, in this lifetime that is somehow more meaningful than their former spiritual practices, relationships, affiliations and beliefs have delivered.

Mark Scandrette’s book, SOUL GRAFFITI – Making A Life In The Way Of Jesus is a first, hopefully not last, model of what’s been missing, addressing the fundamental concern I expressed above. Jossey-Bass should be congratulated for their foresight in producing this work as part of A Living Way: Emergent Visions Series. Soul Grafitti is a superbly crafted work that profiles what it really means to live the emergent way…this is footprints in the sand with a real live human being attached to those feet, holding your hand, stirring your soul, tugging at your heart — walking you through life today, the emergent way — Making A Life in The Way of Jesus. As Mark says, “As important as conversation is, it is stillborn if it doesn’t eventually lead to common action. In our fragmented society it is too easy to have discussions about problems and how we wish things could be different without making a commitment to work together to see change occur” (p. 56).

The term ‘vision’ typically contains a dimension that allows one to do, feel and believe that which you had heretofore been unable to experience on your own. ‘Vision’ provides elements of power, persuasion, passion and permission to move beyond where you presently find yourself in your spiritual journey. Mark Scandrette unselfishly shares his journey with us, weaving the ‘vision’ so many in the emergent movement have been so desperately yearning to visualize. I am humbled, grateful and awed by the bountiful, multi-dimensional contribution of this work. – it is unequivocally bountimensional. Visionary, yet practically essential for our times.

From a critical standpoint, the first 100 pages were a bit slow and somewhat redundant for me. Don’t skip the first hundred pages. After that, the book increasingly picked up momentum. That was my only complaint. The contemplation/action sections at the end of each chapter provide individuals and groups a superb resource for practical experimentation with growing into a life in the way of Jesus. (I hope Jossey-Bass will consider a separate ‘journey book supplement’ to the actual book that people can take with them during the week to ponder, relish and act upon). The psalms, Scripture, poems and people that Mark shares are precious. He is truly a companion, artist, healer and mystic led by Jesus today.

This book will not be without the anticipated critical backlash from those threatened by the emergent movement. However, one of the blessings of this book is the ‘Jesus dojo’ defined by Mark in the final pages of the book. Wondering what the “theology” of ‘this (Mark) emergent’ is, read Chapter 15 in Soul Graffiti. Of course, there is discussion of a number of theological constructs that are bound to elicit howls from those who really don’t understand the emerging church. There is the “opt-in/opt-out” stuff (p.87) that Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor illuminated in their recent book. There are distinctions about doing v. believing, good news vs. the gospel, doing v. being, intellectual assent v. actual behavior, and a myriad of other issues that will provide fodder for the cannons of the critics. However, in my opinion, all the controversy is overshadowed by the overpowering truth of a boundless love and endless compassion, as evidenced by Mark’s life…a life we must admire…a transformed, being transformed, Christ centered life available to all.

One of the most common criticism’s of George Barna’s book entitled ‘Revolution,’ (Tyndale House, Fall 2005) was from people wondering “where are they, these revolutionaries Barna is speaking about?” Well, read Mark Scandrette’s book, SOUL GRAFFITI – Making A Life In The Way Of Jesus – you’ll meet one. Learn to reimagine making your life in the way of Jesus. The choice is yours. Indispensable fare. Buy the book. You’ll be indelibly infected for the better. I have been.

I needed this book. Jesus tattooed my soul with this book. May Christ continue to change my life as Mark has modeled. The milepost literary work I have been looking for in the emergent way.

Thank you Mark (and Sheryl…and Tony).

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts On Faith by Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts On Faith

Anne Lamott is essential reading. Schizoid, insecure, funny, earthy — compelling. A master storyteller. Riveting spiritual insights derived from the raw soul that has learned it the real way… through the complexities of life. Consider some of the dfollowing to whet your appetite:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” p. 143

“I understand just enough about life to understand that I do not understand much of anything.” p. 75.

‘Not forgiving is like drinking rat posion and then waiting for the rat to die.” p. 134.

I needed to read this book. Now, I’m going to read another of Anne’s works.

A Whole New Mind – Moving From The Information Age to the Conceptual Age by Daniel Pink

A Whole New Mind – Moving From The Information Age to the Conceptual Age

Although copyrighted in 2005, this book is a terribly important work for those interested in the present-future. It is a textbook for creativity. It’s one that has important implications for the spiritual life as well. Essential for the home or office library.