Sunday, January 30, 2022

Trillions (Robin Wigglesworth)

Many Americans have retirement accounts at Vanguard, BlackRock, or a host of other large mutual and index fund providers. Those organizations transformed the use of the stock market and investing from one where an investor’s monies were actively managed to one run mostly on technology and passive management. This was due to the belief that the best investors in the stock market were not able to beat the performance of indexes such as the S & P or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

Robin Wigglesworth chronicles the transformation in investing in Trillions: How a Band of Wall Street Renegades Invented the Index Fund and Changed Finance Forever. In it, the stories of how “quants”, or individuals who used quantitative analysis and computer formulas in investing, helped develop the index fund (think Vanguard), the exchange-traded fund or ETF (think BlackRock), and other investing products that helped store over $25 trillion of wealth in them, more than the gross domestic product of the United States. The latter stages of the book touch on how this evolution in investing was not popular with all of the actors involved in early stage ETF creation and how the changing landscape of investing is leading to niche funds being established, as well as questions on how involved the investing houses should be in matters of politics and business.

Wigglesworth’s book is enjoyable if you like economics, business, and finance. Trillions takes the concept of investing, which can seem very dry if not written well, and weaves it into a great story. The personalities of Jack Bogle, Larry Fink, and others are brought to the forefront as much as the products their companies brought to the table. 


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Vacation (Jane Green)

I began reading Jane Green's novella Vacation thinking it was going to be a great summer book. Then I saw the reindeer on the cover. So I kept waiting for any mention of Christmas, which doesn't happen for a long time. I think this book suffers from a case of identity confusion. But if it doesn't know what it wants to be then the reader certainly doesn't either. 

Sarah Evans is married to Eddie, and they have two small children. The problem is that Eddie is constantly in front of the TV ignoring her and their kids. Eddie eventually needs to go to Chicago for her job, so Sarah takes the opportunity to ask for a trial separation. Eddie feels blindsided but chooses to think of the separation as a "vacation". 

Eddie and Sarah both choose to "better" themselves during their separation. But Christmas is about to happen, so it's not that difficult to see where this plot is going. This book was just ok for me -- there are much better Christmas books out there, if this book indeed wants to be classified as one.


Monday, January 24, 2022

The Golden Couple (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen)

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the writing team of Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Since then, I've become a big fan and reviewed all of their joint efforts on this blog. The Golden Couple isn't my favorite book of theirs, but it's still a worthwhile read (for the most part).

Avery Chambers is a therapist with unconventional methods, who lost her license because of these methods. But she still takes on "The Golden Couple" of the book, Marissa and Matthew Bishop, as clients. Marissa has been unfaithful to Matthew but desperately wants to save their marriage. Throughout the book, seemingly shady characters are introduced to tell the story of Avery, Marissa, and Matthew. Of course, the reader isn't quite sure if they should trust them. 

I think if The Golden Couple stayed on course with this "triangle", it would have been more successful. But there is an extra, unbelievable plotline revolving a pharmaceutical company that really takes the air out of the book sometimes. Also, I'm all for a great twist, but it has to make sense and come from somewhere. To me, it didn't. However, The Golden Couple still has the great writing that Hendricks and Pekkanen are known for, so it isn't time wasted.


Expected Publication Date: March 8, 2022

Monday, January 17, 2022

Travels with George (Nathaniel Philbrick)

Nathaniel Philbrick recreates the 1789-1791 journeys of George Washington through America’s original 13 states in Travels with George. Washington’s journeys through America were done as part of a discovery tour into learning the different customs and insights of the newly constituted republic but also to help unite the residents of these states into one country. 

Travels with George is a play on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, which was written in the 1960’s about Steinbeck’s travels with his dog. Philbrick brings his wife and dog along for these trips with the intent of seeing what America has become 230 years after Washington’s travels, but he also addresses Washington’s legacy then vs. now.  Philbrick stops at various places Washington slept, dined, or spoke at and discusses the changing interpretations of history over time and how historians and tour guides have changed narratives based on new evidence, views, and perceptions.

I felt at times that some themes were drilled in and beat upon much harder by the author than necessary. Additionally, the one theme I wish Philbrick had spent more time on is the idea of the President as unifier, especially in today’s era when candidates of both parties have disparaged large chunks of the population while campaigning. Many of the divisions that have plagued us throughout our nation’s history were themes in the 1790’s, and whether it be based on race, geography, economic class, or philosophy on government, Washington felt it his obligation as president to bring the country together. Unfortunately, that ship has long sailed.


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Transcendentalists and Their World (Robert A. Gross)

The Massachusetts town of Concord has served as the birthplace of two revolutions in America’s history - the first, its war for independence as the second battle of the war occurred in 1775 on the same day as the battle in nearby Lexington. The second was the revolution of thought and literature that developed in the 19th Century from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Throeau, and later Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Alcotts. Why was Concord the town where America’s literary and philosophical revolutions arose?  Robert Gross’s The Transcendentalists and Their World dives into that very question.

According to Gross, Concord’s role as a hub for thinking and writing comes about due to a few key factors. One was the establishment and support of community institutions within the town. These institutions encouraged debate and community service to better the community and, as emancipation efforts grew, the wider world. The second factor was the religious diversification as a result of the Second Great Awakening and changes at the state level regarding established religion. New denominations sprouted within the town and created choice for its citizens. The third factor was the technological changes (such as the railroad) that helped integrate the town to the wider world, not just nearby Boston. All of these factors created the perfect incubator for a world that sprouted tremendous writing and innovative technologies for the time. 

Gross’s dive into Concord’s 19th Century life is incredibly detailed, thought out, and balanced. Even with the depth and detail, the book reads quickly, and I found myself immersed in it. The Transcendentalists will open a door to understanding how America grew up and changed through the eyes of one town’s role and contributions to those evolutions.