More Books to Read During Hurricane Season
by Joseph Dancy, LSGI Advisors, Inc. September 8, 2009Print
One year ago this week Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana after passing through some of the most productive oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Two weeks later Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston, further disrupting production. The damage to these fields was substantial and long-lasting. Despite the damage, the subsequent meltdown of the financial sector caused energy and equity prices to fall to levels well below what had been expected.
This year, despite forecasts for a ‘normal’ hurricane season, we have seen very little activity. The peak of hurricane season is September 10th. In the last decade when the first 10 weeks of hurricane season were this quiet the remainder of the season has seen a resumption of ‘normal’ activity.
In June we published a list of 16 books to read during the hurricane season which runs from July 1st to December 1st. Since we have had so few storms to track this season, we found time to read 23 additional books, most of which were worth reading, while we await our first major storm.
We found the following books very interesting and well written, and would rate them as “5 star” on a 5 Star scale:
The Third Man Factor: Surviving the Impossible
by John Geiger
Weinstein Books (September 1, 2009)
The Third Man Factor is an account of how people at the very edge of death experience the sense of an unseen presence beside them who encourage them to make one final effort to survive, offering them a feeling of hope, protection, and guidance. There is a name that has been given to this phenomenon: the ‘Third Man Factor’.
Geiger reviews how over the years the Third Man experience has occurred again and again, and reviews possible explanations - from hallucination to divine intervention. Recent neurological research suggests something else is at work.
Very interesting, well written, great discussion of historical events and the players who experienced difficult times and the Third Man factor. The search for why this phenomenon occurs, and the possible medical explanation, makes for good reading.
by Linda Himelstein
HarperBusiness (May 12, 2009)
Everyone knows the trade name: Smirnoff vodka. Until this book was written few knew the story behind the name, and how the product got to America. A great story of a business entrepreneur, as well as a very good overview of Russian history and life – a Russian history book that does not read like one.
The book walks the reader through the life of former serf-turned vodka entrepreneur, Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov (1831–1898), and that of his kids, and the business that eventually caught on globally. The marketing and manufacturing tactics, struggles, and political issues make for educational and entertaining reading. Who would guess the Smirnoff brand would be worth millions?
by Greg Grandin
Metropolitan Books (June 9, 2009)
In order to assure access to rubber feedstock Henry Ford attempted to establish a massive rubber plantation and town in Brazil’s Amazon River basin in the 1920s. The book examines how mechanization and the production line mentality that worked so well in Michigan had serious flaws when applied to agricultural operations in the Amazon.
Entertaining and interesting. The book also is an interesting overview of Henry Ford’s personality and business philosophy, and the business environment in the 1920’s and the decade thereafter. Building a city in the Amazon was not a simple project, and the discussion of how they approached this goal and shipped equipment from the U.S., and the numerous problems, makes for entertaining reading. In the end nature won the struggle, defeating Ford’s attempt to develop the jungle.
by Abby Sallenger
Public Affairs (June 1, 2009)
In the 1850’s the Isle Derniere – located off the coast of Louisiana - was and emerging exclusive summer resort in the Gulf of Mexico. It attracted the most prominent members of Louisiana society, including hundreds of affluent planters and merchants. Many retreated to the island to escape the scourge of yellow fever epidemics that ravaged cities like New Orleans each summer.
Without warning, on August 10, 1856, a ferocious hurricane swept across the island, killing half of its four hundred inhabitants. The Isle Derniere was left barren, except for a few trees standing in the surf. Very interesting and well written, similar in topic to ‘Issac’s Storm’ written several years ago.
The lack of hurricane forecasting in the 1800’s, and the lack of understanding of how powerful these storms can become, is evident. The discussion of social relations and health concerns 150 years ago is also interesting. The only complaint is the author’s attempt to throw the global warming debate into the mix in the last chapter of the book.
Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia
by Marshall Goldman
Oxford University Press (May 27, 2008)
This book chronicles Russia's dramatic reemergence from the 1998 crash, illuminating the key reason for its rebirth: the use of its ever-expanding energy wealth to reassert its traditional power ambitions. An interesting book on how Russia is using its oil-based power as a lever in world politics, and how Vladimir Putin reigned in the upstart oil oligarchs who had risen to power in the post-Soviet era.
Anyone investing in the energy sector would be interested in the book’s topic. Russia is one of the largest producers and exporters of crude oil. Well written, with interesting discussions of some of the companies involved in the development of Russian energy fields as well as the political environment and strategies under the Putin regime.
Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture
by Larry Samuel
AMACOM; (July 1, 2009)
Americans have always been obsessed with becoming rich, and the creation of wealth has changed over the decades. From real estate to railroad to oil to technology, the means of attaining that wealth has also evolved. The joint stock corporation and shareholders have democratized wealth to a much greater degree in the last century than in previous times. An interesting study of the cycles of wealth, the lifestyle of the rich, and the social interaction between the rich and not-so-rich.
by Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books (April 3, 2007)
We liked Gladwell’s most recent book “Outliers” so well we decided to read another. Not quite as interesting as his more recent book Gladwell attempts to show how better decisions can be made in some cases without analyzing a massive amount of data. In short, the first impression might be a better decision than a week of analysis.
Called the ‘thin slice’ theory, a decision maker can make better choices with a limited set of data than the entire data series – something that might also be true when selecting stocks (he does not mention stock selection, but it is an obvious application of his theory). The only problem with the book is some of his examples seem to break down – intended to illustrate his theory some of the examples seem to make a point counter to the premise of his argument. None-the-less, a thought provoking book that is fun to read.
The following books, many due to their subject (some are almost academic-type topics), are rated as “4 Star” on a 5 Star scale:
Your Brain after Chemo: A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus
By Daniel Silverman
Da Capo Lifelong Books; (February 23, 2009)
ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind
by Ellen Clegg
Prometheus Books (January 8, 2009)
In the debate over health care few mention that most cancers strike those over the age of fifty-five. Treatment involves chemotherapy in many instances. While chemotherapy saves lives, new studies reveal that the agents used to kill cancer cells may also impair normal brain function. Even years after treatment, patients report problems with memory, concentrating, multitasking, and word retrieval.
After a very positive review in the New York Times of both books we decided to research the issue – and the case is well made that brain function might be impaired by standard cancer treatment for many patients. As patients age and have normal problems with brain function, this additional impairment will be costly to address – and apparently this impairment is difficult if not impossible to address with current medical technology. Of the two books we prefer Silverman’s, but both are worth the read on the issue.
by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
Modern Library (Jan 11, 2005)
If you examine the source of modern wealth a majority of it is being generated by corporations for the benefit of shareholders. But few realize that the modern ‘joint stock corporation’ is a relatively new creation – only 150 years old or so in many countries – and their activities were heavily restricted and regulated by governments when they were first allowed.
This book is very readable, and starts with how corporations were first created, why they are such a revolutionary business form, and how they satisfied the needs of growing businesses that increasingly had a global reach. Countries that did not adopt this form of business ownership in general were left well behind in the race for economic development, and their citizens suffered a lower living standard as a result. Unusual topic, but very interesting for anyone interested in business and economic development and the creation of shareholder wealth.
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
By David Kessler
Rodale Books (April 28, 2009)
Having an interest in the agricultural sector and the challenges it faces we thought this would be an interesting book. Quite so, since the author concludes that individuals are conditioned by biologically driven stimulus in prepared foods to ‘hypereat’ – creating a biological challenge, not a character flaw, in the quest to maintain a normal weight. Food has been processed to become like nicotine – or cocaine – very addictive for the consumer.
Over the last two decades obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed, in part due to the fact the food processors have figured out how to short-circuit the body's self-regulating mechanisms leaving many at the mercy of reward-driven eating. The interest in restaurants in satisfying their customer’s demand for certain food products and the public health interest in reducing obesity are in conflict – which will be a policy issue that may never be resolved.
A History of the Global Stock Market: From Ancient Rome to Silicon Valley
by B. Mark Smith
University Of Chicago Press; (October 1, 2004)
This book discusses the history and evolution of markets around the world, including stock markets. The author begins with medieval trading companies and nineteenth-century robber barons to modern theorists and international speculators. What is interesting is how wealth has changed over the generations – from the wealthy essentially owning real estate historically, to today’s concept of owning abstract assets such as a share of stock.
Gold Mining in North Carolina: A Bicentennial History
by Richard F. Knapp
North Carolina Division of Archives & History (August 16, 1999)
Who would guess that the first gold rush in the United States was on a farm in North Carolina in the early 1800’s. The book does a good job documenting the discovery of gold in 1799 at John Reed's farm in Cabarrus County. North Carolina was the preeminent gold mining state in the early 1800’s, and the book does a good job at describing farm life, social issues, and how the mining properties were developed and operated over the next century. An interesting historical book if you have an interest in mining, gold, or North Carolina.
by Robert C. Allen
Cambridge University Press (April 27, 2009)
We read a positive review on this book, which attempts to answer the question of why the industrial revolution took place in eighteenth-century Britain and not elsewhere. The author argues that in Britain wages were high, and capital and energy cheap, in comparison to other countries in Europe and Asia.
As a result, the breakthrough technologies of the industrial revolution - the steam engine, the cotton mill, and the substitution of coal for wood in metal production - were uniquely profitable to invent and use in Britain. An interesting book if you have an interest in topics such as the relationship of cheap energy and economic growth – or the industrialization of the Western world. Well written, easy to read.
The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology)
by Joseph Tainter
Cambridge University Press (March 30, 1990)
The question the author attempts to address is why do extremely successful societies collapse? Using archaeology and interesting analysis of social patterns in historical societies, the author concludes that as a society matures the additional costs it assumes for obligations it undertakes – the ‘marginal cost’ in economic speak – become much larger than the benefits bestowed. As a result the government and the society becomes unstable as the cost of the benefits become too large for the government to bear.
Interesting book in light of the stimulus plans being adopted by many successful governments in the face of the economic crisis, and the fact that many governments are running massive deficits. Some parts are not an easy read, they read more like a textbook, but we found them interesting none-the-less.
$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives
by Christopher Steiner
Grand Central Publishing; (July 15, 2009)
Assuming the price of gasoline continues to increase the author discusses changes that we should expect in the economy and in our lives. More telecommuting, less airlines, more trains, changes in housing density and the like. An interesting forecast, with a much more positive outcome than many ‘doom and gloom’ energy pessimists usually paint.
by Kerry Emanuel
Oxford University Press (Sept. 1, 2005)
An excellent discussion of hurricane formation and dissolution and the uncertainty in predicting a storm's behavior, in easy to understand language. The author discusses historical catastrophes, and the risk inherent in building along tropical coastlines. The reason that atmospheric forces restrict hurricanes to tropical latitudes, popular misconceptions about their frequency, new forecasting techniques, and other issues are discussed. Great photos and illustrations. Due to the fact that hurricanes can have such a major impact on our energy systems in the Gulf, as well as on onshore structures, this book is both educational and entertaining for energy investors.
The End of Energy Obesity: Breaking Today's Energy Addiction
by Peter Tertzakian
Wiley (June 29, 2009)
Historically economic growth and energy consumption correlate very closely (some figures indicate that for most economies economic growth statistically ‘explains’ around 95% of energy use). The author looks at this relationship, and the need to grow the economy, and discusses alternatives to the need for growing energy supplies to grow the economy. Technology, telecommuting, and other interesting alternatives are discussed. Easy to read, and Tertzakian knows the subject matter well.
by Raymond F. Toliver and Trevor J. Constable
(Jan 1, 1986)
In an interview about his book “The Millionaire Next Door” the author mentioned that anyone starting a business should read the Blond Knight of Germany – a biography of Erich Hartmann - the German Ace of all Aces: 352 confirmed ‘kills’. From one of the best fighter pilots in the world to war prisoner in Russia for a decade, the book examines the life of Hartman and his methods of coping with both extreme success and extreme adversity.
We never have figured out exactly how the Blond Knight relates to starting a business – but we suspect the mental toughness and coping mechanisms needed to deal with both success and adversity are traits a business owner would consider a major asset. We generally do not enjoy detailed World War II war biographies, but this book was well done about a remarkable individual.
The following books we would rate a “3 Star” on a 5 Star scale:
by Michael Schuman (Jun 30, 2009)
A detailed discussion of how the Asian economies, with their export-focused, state industrial policies, defy laissez-faire economic orthodoxies. The book also discusses the history of many of these countries and sheds light on their controversial achievements – which gets confusing for a reader not already familiar with some of the leaders and social structures. Globalization and free trade are promoted in the book, but the details and discussion are not as easy to follow as we would expect.
The Power Presenter: Technique, Style, and Strategy from America's Top Speaking Coach
by Jerry Weissman
Wiley (February 3, 2009)
Barron’s had a very positive review of this book, and since we make numerous presentations every year we thought it might be worth reading. The book does have a few worthwhile suggestions, but most people who have given public presentations for more than a couple years will have picked up many of his suggestions already.
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
by David Eagleman
Pantheon (February 10, 2009)
Neuroscientist Eagleman offers 40 fates that may await us in the afterlife. With a positive review in the New York Times you expect a collection of vignettes that explore life after death through philosophy, science, and spiritualism - only to be disappointed. The book has some mildly amusing moments if you have an hour to kill at the airport.
Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness
by Willard Spiegelman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (April 28, 2009)
The author, a fellow SMU professor, discusses his seven picks for happiness: reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming and writing—activities that are free and accessible to anyone with a library card and a pair of comfortable shoes. Again, the book has some mildly amusing moments if you have an hour to kill at the airport - but one would probably get more value watching CNN.