Summer Reading Six new books that are right on the money
(MONEY Magazine) – UGLY AMERICANS by Ben Mezrich Willliam Morrow ($25)
A sort of unthinking man's Liar's Poker, this breezy book tells the ostensibly true story of Ivy League traders living the high life in Japan. While Mezrich skimps on the details of what these guys actually do for a living (don't expect a primer on arbitrage), he paints a vivid picture of American strangers in a very strange land, spiced with appearances by Yakuza mobsters and the occasional transvestite hooker. --DAVID FUTRELLE
A TERM AT THE FED by Laurence H. Meyer HarperBusiness ($27)
In this era of tell-alls, former Fed governor Meyer dishes far less dirt than we've come to expect from the genre. But what you do get is an intriguing personal portrait of Alan Greenspan. Meyer portrays one of the greatest economic minds of our time as a recluse, uncomfortable in one-on-one conversation. Even to friends, Greenspan is as inaccessible as his economic jargon. Meyer grows to understand the Fed chairman's brilliance but little else about him. --STEPHEN GANDEL
THE WISDOM OF CROWDS by James Surowiecki Doubleday ($25)
How is it that the low-stakes gamblers in something called the Iowa Electronic Markets can predict election results much more accurately than the most carefully designed polls? How is it that sports bookies get the point spreads right? The Wisdom of Crowds is a love letter to the power of markets--real and imaginary--to help us make sense of the world. Surowiecki finds genius in everything from flocks of starlings to the flutterings of Nasdaq stocks, explaining how groups of ordinary idiots can sometimes be smarter than Nobel prizewinners. --D.F.
THE BIRTH OF PLENTY by William J. Bernstein McGraw-Hill ($30)
What's so special about the year 1820? The author's fascinating answer to this seemingly arcane query ranges over thousands of years (and hundreds of pages). Sure, there were technological breakthroughs galore in the centuries between the birth of Christ and the building of the Erie Canal, but the lot of the average Joe remained nasty, brutish and short until around 1820, when per capita income really began rising to where it is today. Bernstein, author of The Four Pillars of Investing, gives you more than a summer's worth of questions to ponder in this fat and satisfying book. --D.F.
THE ECONOMICS OF INNOCENT FRAUD by John Kenneth Galbraith Houghton Mifflin ($15)
The famed economist examines the gap between conventional wisdom (a term that Galbraith himself coined) and economic reality. How can we say, for instance, that shareholders control corporations when the real power lies with management? Or that there's a distinction between the public and private sectors when, in fact, it is blurred? A small work--just 62 pages--but one unafraid to take on big ideas. --AMY FELDMAN
THE COMING GENERATIONAL STORM by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns MIT Press ($28)
If the global warming flick The Day After Tomorrow left you underwhelmed, here's a doomsday scenario that really could keep you up nights: a grim financial future for the babies of the baby boomers, trapped in a world of high inflation and higher taxes as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all run dry. In case politicians can't figure out how to combat the anticipated $51 trillion (yikes!) fiscal gap, this sobering book offers tips on how those under 40 might prepare for the worst. --MATTIE BRICKMAN