Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: Kõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosist

Kõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosistKõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosist by Sigrid Rausing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Huvitav vaade Eesti elule 1990-te alguses Läänest tulnud antropoloogi poolt, kes elas kohalikega Noarootsis umbes aasta aega. Kõige huvitavam oli minu jaoks eestirootslaste ajalugu läbi sajandite, samuti isiklikud autobiograafilised seigad autori elust (nii-öelda seiklused post-sovjetlikus Eestis).

Samas aga jäi minu arvates osa tema kui antropoloogi tööst tegemata - ta ei mõistnudki lõpuni kohalike inimeste ideaale, rõõme ja unistusi. Ta jäi natuke pinnapealsele tasandile - kirjeldatud ja läbi mõtestatud sai ennekõike see, mis jäi silma ehk materiaalne vaesus, alkoholism, abiorganisatsioonide töö, Lääne kaupade järk-järguline tulek ja muud nähtused, mis olid 1990-ndatel üle Eesti hästi nähtavad.

Raamatu suur voorus on ausus ja kirjelduste täpsus.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Review: Persuasion

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classical novel featuring some aspects of life of the English aristocracy in the beginning of the 1800s. The main character, Anne Elliot, got persuaded that she should not marry a young man called Frederick when she was in her early 20s. Then she persuaded herself that she still should - 8,5 years later.

It is essentially a love story, and a good one. It is especially noteworthy that it was written by a woman - can't think of any other more or less famous (and good / readable) female writer before Jane Austen. The characters are interesting, although, typically for the classical books of that time, archetypal to the degree of a good-guys-and-bad-guys-fairy-tale (one sister beautiful but stupid, another one hyperemotional and egoistical, the third one proper and smart)

I, however, kept on thinking while reading this novel how enormous the society inequality was in the England of the 1800s (like anywhere in the world back then, really). The aristocracy had all the time in the world for having long romantic walks, sporting, hunting, dining, attending concerts and private parties, shopping and visiting each other - while the rest 95% of society was there to labour for the privileged ones. This 95% rest does not exist in the books of Austen - like they did not exist in the mental world of the aristocracy that one reads about.

It was enjoyable to read the book in beautiful English of 200 years ago. And this was one of the most elegant and charming love confessions I have ever read (Frederick to Anne):

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. [...] For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? [...] A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: The Everything Store. Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of AmazonThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Well-researched, well-written, has both interesting business and technology lessons as well as interpersonal drama to spice it up. Brad Stone seems to be a skillful writer and journalist.

The book is both about Jeff Bezos and Amazon - difficult to decide which one is more prominent. What I particularly liked about the book that it leaves you with both admiration for and cautiousness againast the type of the leader as Bezos and the type of the company as Amazon. A focused, extremely smart, visionary leader - yet, as the it was said in the book "You do not work with Bezos, you work for Bezos".

A single-minded, perhaps obsessive focus on customer, delivering maximum value for customer (for minimum money) stands out as one of the reasons for tremendous success of Amazon. On the other hand, Amazon as an employer? - not the company I would like to join.

It was gratifying to read the story behind the numerous innovations which Amazon has disrupted markets with: 1-Click buying, Amazon Prime, Kindle, AWS - several of which I have been direct or indirect customer of.

The book was written in 2013. While reading it in 2018, it felt very much up-to-date. I will only wait for the vol.2 of the book to be written in 5-10-15 years from now, when the story of Amazon and Bezos will evolve further.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Review: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Antifragile: Things That Gain from DisorderAntifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is a book that is probably being either loved or hated - (over)intellectual, controversial, presenting extremely broad view on matters.

Taleb introduces the concept of Antifragile (= adaptive / agile) which, according to him, defines the reason why some societies or companies fail and some win, why some people get successful and rich, while others don't, why some concepts survive for millennia, while others die away after being a hype for a while.

Rigidity, layers of rules, overzealous care - all make organisms, children, economies, corporations, markets and states fragile. "A complex system does not require complicated systems and regulations and intricate policies. The simpler, the better. Complications lead to multiplicative chains of unanticipated effects."

Having been a financial markets trader specializing on financial options, Taleb elegantly introduces theory of optionality into virtually every corner of life. The more options we have, the more antifragile we are. Venture capitalists have utilised this concept for decades: they don't need to pick too many winners - as long as they have many (good) options, they only need one or two winners to get rich.

But there are so many more ideas and concepts that this book discusses.

For example, Black Swans - events of large magnitude that we cannot forecast nor compute. Events that we don't know the potential existence of - until they happen. How to be prepared for such events? Drop corporate planning or risk calculating - says Mr. Taleb - acquire optionality to make you antifragile against such events.

Or undercompensation of stressors - an organism, a company, a team not receiving any stressors for a while - becomes complacent, stops innovating, stops "being hungry, being foolish" in Steve Jobs' famous words. Therefore, Taleb praises market economy and entrepreneurship - many try, most fail, while some succeed and bring humanity forward (an analogy with natural selection and genetics).

Or take a value of procrastination. "It’s much easier to sell “Look what I did for you” than “Look what I avoided for you.".... The doctor who refrains from operating on a back (a very expensive surgery), instead giving it a chance to heal itself, will not be rewarded and judged as favorably as the doctor who makes the surgery look indispensable, then brings relief to the patient while exposing him to operating risks, while accruing great financial rewards to himself... The corporate manager who avoids a loss will not often be rewarded."

On importance of having skin in the game: "It is profoundly unethical to talk without doing, without exposure to harm, without having one’s skin in the game, without having something at risk." Taleb brings examples of what the French call “the caviar left” or what Anglo-Saxons call champagne socialists - people who advocate socialism, sometimes even communism, while overtly leading a lavish lifestyle, often financed by inheritance—not realizing the contradiction that they want others to avoid just such a lifestyle. The same goes for the pension fund managers, not having downside.

Taleb is deliberately provocative, sometimes to the point of being simplistic in his attacks against economists, academia, healthcare professionals - there were too many of those to my taste. The book is also deliberately not structured around clearly focused chapters - like good old philosophical books, it is rather read as an essay with various intervening (and repeating) thoughts - not the easiest read at times.

All in all, I found this a very rewarding read - many ideas that challenge regular way of thinking in areas of leadership, corporate management, parenthood, democracy participation.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book!

An-insider-turned-into-critical-observant Lewis, having worked at the Wall Street before, uncovers the story of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. This crisis originated in the subprime mortgage industry in the US - but has eventually not left untouched any country on Earth.

Lewis tells the story through those few who not only saw the crisis coming, but also actively bet on it. That is, they put their (and their investors') money and reputation on this bet. And this is the beauty of this book - picking some real people actively preparing for the financial Armageddon and by that unfolding the story of the very core of the rotten financial instruments that the Wall Street geniuses have come up with. It is both psychological thriller and socioeconomic analysis at the same time - not many authors have the gift of keeping reader very engaged and providing analysis of complex topics at the same time.

One the book's main messages for me is that the more complex the system becomes and the more chains of command it consists of, the less transparent and more prone to fail it becomes.

And more concretely - for investors - if you are not sure you understand what you invest in, seriously consider not doing that, even though short-term returns feel appealing.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Review: Elu läbi taksopeegli

Elu läbi taksopeegliElu läbi taksopeegli by Alan Adojaan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Võtsin selle raamatu lugeda kuna käisin koos Alaniga koos loengutes Tartu Ülikoolis. Alan kirjutab ladusalt ja lõbusalt. Kuid kokkuvõtvalt on see kogum taksondusega seotud lühilugudest, millel omavahel ei ole mingisugust seost. Kuigi mõned lood on põnevad ja (traagi)koomilised, on need niivõrd lühikesed ja neid on nii palju, et kokkuvõttes jätsid need mind lugejana pigem külmaks.

See on nagu anekdootide raamat - loed läbi, mõnes kohas muigad ja mõnes kohas naeratad, meelde jääb mõni üksik, kuid kuu pärast ei ole enam midagi meeles. Kui aga tahta kerget lugemist, siis ei ole see üldse paha valik.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daniel Kahneman received a Nobel Prize for Economics - and this book summarises what for. This prize is well-deserved.

Kahneman exposes countless studies, surveys and examples of when our irrationality prevails in decision-making. We believe we are more rational than we truly are. But irrationality as such is not bad - we would be quickly mentally overloaded if we were taking rational choices at every step. Intuition is another word for irrationality...

However, it is useful to be aware of our irrationality. In some situations - for example, when an important decision is to be made, when we react to something in the ways that surprise ourselves, or when we seemingly don't understand why other people behave the way they do - it is worth to take a step back and analyse the reasons for that.

Most of our decisions are guided by so-called System 1, a quick and intuitive part of our brains. But sometimes - rather rarely - the so-called System 2 is switched on, an analysing part of our brains. The System 2 is most of the times in a stand-by mode. It is interesting to think how easy it is to turn the System 2 into an active mode.

Kahneman provokes the reader by giving many mental exercises - which often produce "aha!" moments. Illustrations of the principles of this book come from family life, friendships, business, court, financial investment domain, politics, education - so, our lives.

The book itself - although extremely useful - is quite long and at times repetitive. The same concepts are illustrated by different sides of the story, so to say. But once you get the point, the additional examples are not that insightful anymore.

It took me several months to read it through, think, write down some thoughts, read further. Time well spent!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Poliitpäevik

PoliitpäevikPoliitpäevik by Viktoria Ladõnskaja
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aus ja avameelne, samas lühike ja kuidagi kiirustav. Viktoria kirjutamisstiil ei ole ülikooli ühisaegadest õnneks muutunud - sama huvitavad metafoorid ja sõnamängud.