Book review: Flash Boys – A Wall Street Revolt

Book cover for Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

Modern crime has become a lot more sophisticated. Back in the day, as my grandfather liked to point out, Jesse James used a gun to rob people. Today, in the age of computers and the internet, people hide behind terminals and sophisticated algorithms that do their dirty work for them. It also allows them to steal on a much larger scale.

In Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, author Michael Lewis exposes how money was stolen from both sophisticated and average investors shortly after the economic collapse of 2008. That crimes were committed and money stolen is not all that shocking. Bad actors are everywhere, and Wall Street is no exception. What’s shocking is who the bad actors were in this case. They were the investment firms, trading firms, and big, household name banks that we trust to do the right thing with our money.

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The Dark Side of Capitalism

Philosophically speaking, I favor capitalism over other economic systems. The free market is a beautiful thing. When operating as it should, consumers are free to choose the companies and people they want to do business with. Those entities that provide the most value to consumers are rewarded, and those that don’t go out of business.

I also favor smaller government, particularly at the federal level. When the government regulates marketplaces, they alter the playing field. Their actions can significantly disrupt a market and determine the winners, even when not intended. When this happens, consumers are usually the ones who lose.

Unfortunately, my philosophical views don’t always work out for the best. There is a dark side to capitalism. There are times when unchecked capitalism is not in the public interest. In extreme scenarios, it can bring harm to the public. It can concentrate wealth among the rich through the exploitation and transfer of wealth from the public domain.

Allow me to explain.

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Book review: Man’s Search for Meaning

Book cover for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frnakl

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning in your house or apartment. You are going about you’re morning routine – making coffee, eating breakfast, watching the morning news. There is an unexpected knock at your door. You answer and are greeted by group of uniformed men. They enter your house, uninvited. Two of them immediately bind your hands behind your back while the others gather the other members of your family – your spouse, your children, other family members living with you. You are led out to a truck without the opportunity to gather any of your personal effects. They put you and your family in the back, where you see other people you recognize from your neighborhood. You are led to a train station where you are separated from your family and placed into a crowded cattle car. The car is enclosed so you cannot tell where you are going. At your destination, you are shaved head to toe, sprayed down, and given rags for clothes. For the foreseeable future, your life involves limited food, limited sleep, and hours of forced manual labor. All of the modern amenities you enjoy have been taken away from you – no cell phone, no internet, no email, no social media, no television. You have no connection to the outside world. Your only connection is to the guards and other prisoners who are in your camp.

Sound far-fetched and unbelievable? It isn’t.

Such was the fate of many Jews across Western Europe during the Second World War. They were rounded up, removed from their normal every day lives, and taken as prisoners by the Germans. They were separated from their families, subject to inhumane living conditions, and forced into performing manual labor in support of the German war effort. Many of those who were taken prisoner were doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. They were hard-working, law-abiding citizens who had done nothing wrong.

Remarkably, some survived these conditions. One of the survivors was Viktor E. Frankl, and his book Man’s Search for Meaning documents his experience in the concentration camps. More importantly, Frankl talks about how he survived, what the experience taught him about himself, and what he learned about man’s existence. His experience inspired the formulation of logotherapy, the methodology that he used as a basis for psychological treatment.

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Winning the Day

Over the last couple of years, I’ve read numerous books on improving personal productivity. I’m interested in learning and putting into practice what the experts do and recommend to operate at their highest performance level.

One item that has come up repeatedly is starting the day with planning and solitude. Why? By starting the day off right, you win the morning. And by winning the morning, it puts you in the best position possible to win the day.

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Book review: The Last Conversation

Book cover for The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

In somewhat of a coincidence, the last story left for me to read in Amazon’s Forward Series was The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay. I didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened.

Reading a short story is different than reading a long form novel. The author has a limited amount of pages to develop characters and explore a topic. It means there are usually fewer characters, the pace of the plot tends to be faster, and the author leaves it up to you the reader to fill in more of the details. In a well written short story, the ending is typically a stunning plot twist or reveal – the more unexpected the twist, the better. It’s not unusual for the ending to be abrupt, lacking closure. One gets to use their imagination to create their own ending, or to debate possible endings with others who have read the book.

Some are put off by this format, but I like it, a lot.

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Book review: Bandwidth

Book cover for Bandwidth by Eliot Peper

I enjoy discovering authors, especially those who are somewhat new and under the radar. It provides a great source of new books for my reading list that I can generally trust. Every year, I like to have a book by these authors on my list.

I don’t have a long list of these authors. Names that come to mind are Hugh Howey, William Hertling, A.G. Riddle, Blake Crouch, and Daniel Suarez. There are also classic authors like William Gibson, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick.

I expect that I will soon be adding Eliot Peper to the list.

I first discovered his work in 2015 with the Uncommon Stock trilogy. I liked that trilogy, so I read his follow-up Cumulus, which was also quite good. When Bandwidth was made available for free through Amazon Prime’s First Reads for April 2018, it was an easy decision to grab a copy. It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading it at the end of last year.

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Book review: Mastery

Book cover for Mastery by George Leonard

For my last morning read of 2019, I chose Mastery by George Leonard. Mastery was regularly referenced in other books I’ve been reading as part of my personal development journey. When it showed up on The Learning a Day blog that I follow, I knew it was time to move it up towards the top of my reading list.

Mastery was originally published in 1992, almost 30 years ago. Personal development books typically follow the latest trends and fads. I try to stay away from those and stick to the classics that stand the test of time. The question is, was Mastery one of those classics or just a book that built off the trends of its time?

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Is your time spending you?

“Either you’re spending your time. Or your time is spending you.” – Seth Godin

I’m reminded of the classic story where you are given a magical bank. Each day if puts $86,400 into your bank account, but there’s a catch. (There’s always a catch, right?)

At the end of the day, whatever you don’t invest, whatever you don’t give away, whatever you don’t spend, it vaporizes. It goes away without anything to show for it.

If you were granted this magical account, what would you do with it?

I’m sure most of us would blow it on ourselves, but eventually, that would get old (or then again, maybe not). We would start to find ways to invest it in future opportunities. And once we experienced the joy of spending it with and giving it to others, we would start spending it with and giving it to those around us. Eventually, we would realize that every dollar is precious and would make certain that we were getting the most of every dollar, every day.

Where am I going with this?

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Book review: Company Town

Book cover for Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Each year, I like to put books by authors I haven’t read on my reading list. It keeps my reading fresh, keeps me from falling into a rut, and best of all, I usually discover an author or two each year that I want to get more familiar with.

One of the new authors on my reading list last year was Madeline Ashby. Her books Company Town and vN appeared repeatedly in my Amazon recommendations and through my other book recommendation sources. Since her writing falls squarely into my near-term science fiction interest, adding one of her books to my list was an easy decision. For my first selection, I chose to read Company Town.

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