How We Got Here

2 minutes estimated reading time

Over at R/C Towers we have been a bit quiet being all bookish, reading Al Qaeda by Jason Burke, When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein and a preview PDF of Andy Kessler’s forthcoming book How We Got Here.

Through a former work colleague of mine, I managed to get an invitation to a lecture run by The Policy Exchange, a UK think-tank. The lecture was given by Jason Burke on the subject of Islamic terrorism. I found the lecture enlightening as it highlighted the fragmented, loosely connected, fluid nature of Islamic extremism. The credibility of Mr Burke’s lecture was heightened by the amount of ‘FCO and Home Office’ staffers in attendance. Burke’s book expands on the themes of his lecture and goes into much more detail. He writes in a clear and concise style that gets a lot of information over very quickly. One of the big takeouts is the long term difficulty in achieving victory in the war on terror by hard measures alone.

The collapse of Long-Term Capital Management was something I was only vaguely aware of, as I was too focused on keeping up with the latest technology news starting my PR career representing TMT clients. When Genius Failed documents how arrogance, dogma and market conditions almost tore apart the world’s stock markets. It is a very easy read and tells the story of the hard and soft issues behind the collapse. The collapse affected some of the biggest names in Wall Street economics including Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, both of whom were responsible for the Black-Scholes model used by investors to calculate the ‘true value’ of a share or other financial instrument.

(In a six-degrees of separation sort of way, one of my friends had met Myron Scholes when they went for an interview at Salomon Bros many years ago. The meeting went badly, Scholes was described to me as very arrogant and opinionated. Though in When Genius Fails he comes across as one of the more human characters.)

Finally, How We Got Here tells the story of how the technology sector and the market economy got were it went today. Written by financier, perfect-market advocate and writer Andy Kessler, he traces the technology sector from the steam engine, patents from when they were awarded by royal warrant and stocks and shares from the privateering ways of Sir Francis Drake. Whilst you may not agree with Kessler’s views on economics (he famously riled Wired magazines readership with an op-ed advocating getting rid of the US Postal Service), he writes in an intelligent, accessible and humorous fashion. I would go as far as to put his forthcoming book as essential reading for anybody looking to work with modern technology companies alongside Accidental Empires by Robert X Cringely and Steven Levy’s Hackers.