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World Made by Hand: A Novel
World Made by Hand: A Novel
by James Howard Kunstler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.12
159 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is a profoundly discouraging message embedded here.", June 21, 2010
World Made by Hand is a beautifully written novel about a very difficult time, post-Peak Oil. Some books hit you in the gut and force you to think; and this is one of them. You may go where you don't want to go--But it's quite a trip.

The book begins innocently enough. Two men are fishing in a stream near an old railroad bed. They are talking, enjoying each other's company. It is "sometime in the not-too-distant future." And thus does a story unfold over a couple of summer months. The only hint that something is amiss comes when the narrator states that he "couldn't remember a lovelier evening before or after our world changed."

The world changed? Then the two fishermen gather their belongings and walk back to town. They are walking, of course, because there are no motorized vehicles. In this world there is no oil. But the lack of oil is just the beginning of this summer's tale.

Welcome to Union Grove, Where there is No Oil.

No, this is not a story about how the world has "run out" of oil. In the big scheme of things, the world will never run out of oil. The Peak Oil concept means a lot of things to a lot of people.

The key idea of Peak Oil is that output of crude oil will reach some maximum level on a global scale. Then world oil output will decline over time. But in the future there will be oil -- plenty of it, perhaps -- in some parts of the world. And there will be very little oil, or none, in other parts of the world. And that's the problem.

Which gets to the point of James Kunstler's marvelous new book. In the "not-too-distant future" you won't find oil in the small, upstate town of Union Grove, New York. For Union Grove, the Oil Age is over. And in this futuristic setting, Kunstler plays out a prophecy that may be closer than you suspect.

Kunstler's novel falls within a genre called post-apocalyptic literature. The author's premise is that there will be an apocalypse. Bad things will befall mankind. Lots of people will die. And some people will survive. This is the survivors' story.

So in a literary sense, World Made by Hand is similar to some famous Cold War-era novels set in a post-nuclear-war world, such as On the Beach or Level 7. Kunstler is writing fiction about survival and survivors, describing what might happen.

A fictional world creates a new set of boundaries. Some things are not plausible in our "real" world. But good fiction makes possible events and reactions that might not otherwise occur. Within fiction, some events take on a new form of logic or plausibility.

But to be convincing, we have to trust the author or the narrator. With enough trust, we can accept a story based on the narrator's perspective. The narrator becomes our eyes and ears. So the narrator must come across as reliable.

In World Made by Hand, Kunstler's narrator "Robert" -- a former executive at a software company, turned carpenter -- mixes science and technology with well-established economic and political trends.

Overall, Kunstler paints a grim picture of the future. Oil or no, life goes on. It's even sweet. In some scenes this book tells a story that is funny. Yes, you are allowed to laugh as you read this book.

Let's discuss the grim part. What sort of apocalypse occurs? Well, Kunstler never just hits you in the face with it. Like a grand master, he plays his cards subtly. Kunstler offers you only enough information at any point for you to feel the chill winds of a terrible disaster.

Throughout the book, Kunstler tosses out clues. For example, Kunstler spells out how in the past, worldwide demand for oil far outstripped the available supply. So prices for oil began to skyrocket. People became desperate and did desperate things. Sound familiar?

Kunstler makes passing reference to a war in the Middle East. But he never goes into detail. He doesn't have to, really. The details are not critical to this story line. But you learn that during the war, things got out of hand.

On this last point, Kunstler is not just economical in his use of words. Indeed, he's downright parsimonious. But with just a quick bit of dialogue, Kunstler puts a chill into your spine, if not the fear of God in your heart.

Kunstler mentions in passing two horrific acts of terrorism. The bad guys (guess who?) managed to set off two nuclear weapons on U.S. soil, obliterating Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Within a short time national commerce broke down. Communications disintegrated. The economy crashed. The capital city of the U.S. moved to Minneapolis. Any semblance of control by a central government just vanished.

Within Kunstler's deft narrative, things in post-Peak Oil America just fell apart. The center did not hold. Food supplies dwindled. The power grid broke down. Health care stopped functioning. Roads and highways quickly become impassable due to lack of maintenance, as well as marauding bandits. People starved. Population centers contracted, most in a catastrophic fashion.

In World Made by Hand, Kunstler answers the question posed by Rodney King in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots. "Can't we all just get along?" Well, no. Not in an unraveling land of rapidly diminishing resources. It's the same continent, but a different world.

There is a profoundly discouraging message embedded here. For almost everyone in this post-apocalyptic future, life in the U.S. has become, as the saying goes, "a b*tch." And you know what happens next.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2010 3:34 AM PDT


The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What it Means for Business and Society
The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What it Means for Business and Society
by Eric D. Beinhocker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.29
119 used & new from $8.21

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Look at the Unpredictable Nature of Markets., June 21, 2010
In the late 1800s, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was a dazzling display of horsemanship, gunplay and other cowboy skills. One of its acts involved the sharpshooting of the great Annie Oakley. Dubbed "Little Sure Shot," Oakley had an amazing routine - she would shoot out lit candles, for example, and the corks of wine bottles.

For her grand finale, she would shoot out the lit end of a cigarette held in a man's mouth at a certain distance. For this, she would ask for volunteers from the audience. As no one ever volunteered, she had her husband planted among the spectators. He would "volunteer" and they would complete the dangerous trick together.

Well, during one swing through Europe, Oakley was setting up her finale and she asked for volunteers. To her shock - and the surprise of everyone involved with the show - she got a real volunteer.

The proud young Prince (soon to be Kaiser) Wilhelm bravely stepped down from among the spectators, strode into the ring and stuck a lit cigarette in his mouth.

Reportedly out late the night before enjoying the local beer gardens, the unexpected appearance of this famous volunteer unnerved her. But the show must go on.She took aim and fired... putting out the cigarette, much to Wilhelm's amusement. Thus, she also created one of historians' favorite "what if" moments. What if her bullet went through the future kaiser's left ear? Would World War I have happened? Would the lives of 9 million soldiers and 6.6 million civilians have been spared? Would Hitler have risen from the ashes of defeated Germany? All sorts of questions come to mind...

Scientists call these kinds of episodes "frozen accidents" - points in time when small changes would have led to dramatic consequences. Eric Beinhocker relates Oakley's tale in his new book The Origin of Wealth - which is, in part, a look at the unpredictable nature of markets.

The market itself is an accumulation of these frozen accidents. Stock prices don't always move smoothly from one tick to the next. Seemingly imperceptible changes at the margin can lead to outsized changes in stock prices. The classic metaphor for this process is that of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil setting off a chain of events leading to a hurricane in Texas.

One great example of this "butterfly effect" is to look at the crazy ride of Imperial Sugar. What small change caused this stock to more than double in a year's time? Basically, there was a bull market in oil. And few drew the conclusion that people would start burning food for fuel. But the biofuel boom has been good for agricultural products and agricultural producers, including sugar refineries, as the price of Imperial Sugar's stock illustrates.

The conclusion here is this: The market, as with life, is full of surprises. No one can predict these things consistently. The market is too dynamic, too complex. Beinhocker advises an adaptive mind-set, highly pragmatic, which "values tangible facts about today more than guesses about tomorrow."

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World is Turning Away from the West and Rediscovering China
The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World is Turning Away from the West and Rediscovering China
by Ben Simpfendorfer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $48.41
78 used & new from $6.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Covers the Birth of the Modern Silk Road Very Well, June 21, 2010
The old Silk Road stretched across the great landmasses of Asia and linked China with the West. It was along this network that caravans loaded with silk, spices and more rumbled over deserts and through mountain passes. It was the most important trade route in history.

Today's traders are following in the footsteps of their ancestors. The bookends of the new Silk Road are China and the Middle East, especially the Arab world. The Eastern bookend gets all the press, but what many people fail to appreciate about the rise of China is how it also sired the rise of the Arab world.

What does this new Silk Road mean for investors? I believe the New Silk Road gives us a framework for looking at markets and sniffing out opportunities in energy, water, food and more.

Ben Simpfendorfer speaks both Arabic and Mandarin. And he has spent 15 years along the New Silk Road, from Beirut to Beijing. His focus is on individual traders and stories of the actual people involved.

In the process of writing the book, The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World is Turning Away from the West and Rediscovering China, he talks with many people. One memorable meeting is with a wealthy Syrian trader in Damascus. They meet in a ramshackle 500-year-old office. "Wooden barrels filled with spices and sweets spill out into the streets," he writes. "The air is rich with the scent of olive soap and musky perfume." The stalls here have been hawking their wares for centuries - and today more and more of these wares come from China.

He also meets with other businesspeople in Yiwu, Cairo, Beijing and many other cities. The anecdotes he collects are interesting human-level portraits of this New Silk Road. As he likes to emphasize, change is happening at the grassroots level. "Who notices the activities of an Arab trader in Yiwu or a Chinese trader in Damascus?" he writes. "It isn't obvious how their activities have a meaningful impact on life in America and Europe." But this is how major changes begin, with smaller changes at the margin.

Put it all together and the New Silk Road is an example of a working non-U.S.-centric trade relationship that is growing in leaps and bounds, covered well by this book.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


The Little Book That Beats the Market
The Little Book That Beats the Market
by Joel Greenblatt
Edition: Hardcover
303 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Formulaic Approach to Investing, June 21, 2010
In some ways, the average investor is like a man looking for the right combination to get at the riches in a vault. Unlocking the market's treasures - knowing which stocks to buy and sell - is a difficult mystery seemingly beyond his powers.

Joel Greenblatt is the founder and managing partner of a private investment firm called Gotham Capital. Since its inception in 1985, Gotham, with Greenblatt at the helm, has compiled one of the most astounding track records in the history of investing. He's earned annualized returns of 40% since 1985.

That's a truly ridiculous track record. Basically, a $10,000 investment in 1985 comes back as nearly $12 million by the end of 2004!

Greenblatt is one of the all-time greats, even though, strangely, he is not all that well known among casual investors. Certainly, his fame is nowhere near Warren Buffett's or Peter Lynch's. Yet his record speaks for itself. Clearly, here is a man worth listening to.

He's already written a good book on investing titled You Can Be a Stock Market Genius. Despite its clownish title, this was an important contribution to the investment literature, as it dealt with special situations - such as spinoffs - and showed how and why such investments often worked out. It fleshed out, and brought to a wider audience, a set of strategic options previously known only to Wall Street insiders and certain enthusiasts.

Well, Greenblatt has done it again. In The Little Book That Beats the Market, Greenblatt divulges his own magic formula - a strategy that has, over the last 17 years, returned 30.8%, versus 12.4% for the S&P 500.

The basic goal of Greenblatt's screen is to find good companies at bargain prices. To do that, Greenblatt relies on two basic ideas - both concepts used by value- minded investors for decades. Greenblatt puts his screen to the thousands of stocks on the market today and ranks them, highest to lowest.

As Greenblatt writes, "If you stick to buying good companies (ones that have a high return on capital) and to buying those companies only at bargain prices (at prices that give you a high earnings yield), you can end up systematically buying many of the good companies that crazy Mr. Market has decided to literally give away." This is a remarkable result. Greenblatt has added yet another tool to the investor's tool kit.

It requires patience to stick with Greenblatt's idea, something else the average investor doesn't have a lot of - and that's being charitable. As Greenblatt readily noted, the magic formula doesn't work every year. There are times when it will lag the market. But this is a good thing, in a way, because such underperformance will tax most investors' patience and they will abandon the formula before it really has a chance to work its magic.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


The Little Book of Value Investing
The Little Book of Value Investing
by Christopher H. Browne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.45
162 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Basic Thoughts and Ideas for Big Results, June 21, 2010
Christopher Browne of Tweedy, Browne fame just published a book called The Little Book of Value Investing. In it, he lays out some basic thoughts and ideas on how the aspiring investor may add to his financial breadbasket.

The book is in the Graham and Dodd tradition - espousing simple verities about the virtues of buying cheap stocks. It's like a little country store. But instead of polished apples and sweet corn, the shelves hold bags of polished wisdom and sweet dollops of moneymaking advice.

But what struck me, buried among the homespun maxims, was his emphasis on global investing.

Browne gleefully tells readers of his exploits kicking around in faraway markets. Like an eager traveler returning from his first look at the pyramids of Egypt or gazing up at the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, Browne talks about the glories of picking up cheap stocks in Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.

In the late 1990s, free-spirited investors could find Japanese homebuilders, media companies and textile mills selling for less than the cash on their books. In 2003, Browne uncovered a Swiss conglomerate loaded with valuable assets - real estate, a sheet metal business, a sporting goods division and more. The stock traded for only one-half of an understated book value. In two years, the stock doubled. He writes about Dae Han Flour Mills of South Korea, which he picked up for one-third of book value.

This is merely a small sample of Browne's profit-laden travelogue. A globe-trotting treasure hunter, Browne spends considerable ink on the rationale behind global investing, understanding foreign accounting, what to make of foreign currencies and more.

But for all the convoluted reasons others often offer up for investing in foreign stocks, Browne offers one that's crystal clear: "If you expand your horizons to all the developed countries of the world," he writes, "you can double your chances of finding cheap stocks."

To dispel any fears of putting one's hard-earned dough in some flighty company glued together with matchsticks, Browne offers another basic, yet compelling, observation.

When you rank the top 20 companies in the world by sales, you find 12 of them maintain headquarters in Europe or Asia. "The world's largest oil company is based in the United Kingdom [BP]," Browne writes. "And three of the five largest auto manufacturers are found in Germany and Japan."

Browne is a man who follows his own recipes. Today, his firm, Tweedy, Browne, is finding bargains overseas. Of the $14 billion in assets it manages, about 70% of the pile is in international stocks. And about a third of that is in small companies with market caps of $5 billion or less. Among his current favorite spots are South Korea, Japan and Mexico.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future
The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future
by T. Boone Pickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
78 used & new from $1.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Better Than I Thought It Would Be", June 21, 2010
"I've been drunk, but never two nights in a row."
- T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens' memoir, The First Billion is the Hardest, is better than I thought it would be. Based on reviews I've read, I thought it would spend a lot of time on Pickens' plan to reduce U.S. oil dependency. I always find such discussions a bore. But that part of the book was only 10 of 250 pages.

Mostly, it's a memoir material, with some peeks into the future as T. Boone sees it evolving. The most interesting parts, to me, were some nuggets from his career, his views on natural gas and his large investment in water.

Pickens is in his eighties now, and he's accomplished an awful lot in his career. He started Mesa Petroleum with $2,500. Five years later, he took it public, and Mesa earned $435,000 in profits on revenues of $1.5 million. Not a bad start at all. After only eight years as a public company, Mesa generated $92 million in sales and $15 million in profits. It helped make him a rich man.

Along the way in the book, Pickens offers various "Booneisms" such as: "Chief executives who themselves own few shares of their companies have no more feeling for the average stockholder than they do for baboons in Africa." (That's one reason why the "O" - owner-operators - in CODE is important.) Or this: "As my father used to say, `There are three reasons we can't do it. First, we don't have the money, and the other two reasons don't make a damn.'"

He complains about the bureaucratic nature of Big Oil and its track record for dumb deals. "I've said that giving the good old boys of Big Oil excess cash flow," Pickens writes, "is like handing a rabbit a head of lettuce for safekeeping." Pickens points to Mobil buying Montgomery Ward as part of its plans to diversify. What a bust! In 1984, Fortune focused on the seven worst mergers of the decade. Four of them involved oil companies. I think big oil companies have gotten smarter since - or maybe just less dumb.

He also talks about his career in deal making, finding deep values in the oil patch and making millions taking them over. He eventually gets out of the oil business and starts BP Capital in June 1997. What follows is an incredible ride. By May 1998, the fund lost $24 million and had only $13 million left. By January 1999, it was down to $2.7 million - down 90%.

It was practically out of business. No one would've blamed Pickens for changing things or giving up. Some investors left him, but most stuck with him. It paid off big for those who stuck to their guns. In 2000, he rung up one of the best years anybody has ever had anywhere - up $252 million, a 9,095% gain! I love Pickens' grit and determination in all this, sticking it out and coming back.

Plus, Pickens offers peeks into the future.

Pickens is talking his book, as they say. He owns Clean Energy, which runs fueling stations for natural gas and builds more every year. Even so, he makes a good case. I was not aware, for example, that there are already 8 million natural gas vehicles on the road worldwide already. He also points out that 25% of all transit buses burn natural gas - a use that's growing 25% annually.

In addition to his stance on natural gas, Pickens writes that he is a large owner of permitted groundwater in the U.S. His investment here follows the same key principle he's used throughout his career: There is profit in scarcity.

Pickens owns land in Roberts County, Texas, a place so rich in water, he jokes it's the only place he couldn't drill a dry hole. It's not difficult to pump 1,000 gallons per minute. This land lies above the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the U.S., covering over 174,000 square miles across eight states.

Pickens plans to sell water to parched regions in Texas, like Dallas or San Antonio, where water supply is becoming an issue. "We can deliver water faster and more cheaply than any other option on the table," he writes. "It's not a matter of if, but when, and I'm betting it's soon."

I'm thinking along the same lines as Pickens on water, too. This all ties back to the agriculture theme, as well. In fact, The Economist recently ran a story called "Running Dry: The World Has a Water Shortage, Not a Food Shortage." It's a simple idea. As world populations and incomes rise, expect to see meat consumption also rise. Meat takes more grain and water to produce - exponentially more.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business, 1914-1992, 3rd Edition (Contributions in Economics & Economic History)
The Age of Giant Corporations: A Microeconomic History of American Business, 1914-1992, 3rd Edition (Contributions in Economics & Economic History)
by Robert Sobel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.95
35 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It Was The Larger Companies That Did The Best", June 21, 2010
"Although most Americans think of the 1930s as a decade of economic stagnation, the period was far from being one of unalloyed decline."
- Robert Sobel, The Age of Giant Corporations

Robert Sobel's book is our chief guide for the second leg of the Great Depression Survival Guide. It reinforces some very important points. But Sobel adds new wrinkles to the discussion. As his book's title lets on, it was the larger companies that did the best.

The survivors often had large-scale operations and were leaders in their industries. Smaller companies had a harder time dealing with the Great Depression, as Sobel shows in his book. But the sales and profits of the largest companies increased during the 1930s.

Sobel finds other examples in other industries, everything from American Can in the tin industry to the New York Yankees in baseball. "Good leadership and finances could expand and dominate in the 1930s," Sloan concludes. Hence, we reaffirm once again the value of a good operator, a point I stress in these pages.

Industries that were hard to get into did best. Another other important point here is that Sobel finds industries with high capital costs that kept competitors out did better than those with low barriers to entry.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


Shark's fins and millet
Shark's fins and millet
by Ilona Ralf Sues
Edition: Hardcover
6 used & new from $9.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Historical Approach to China's Market History, June 21, 2010
I recently picked up a copy of Shark's Fins and Millet, written by Ilona Ralf Sues, a journalist who traveled to China in the late 1930s. She published the book in 1944.

Sues' book is a boots-on-the-ground look at China as Sues traveled it - Canton (now Guangzhou), Shanghai, Nanjing, Hankou, Shanxi and Yan'an. In her words, the book: is neither a study, nor a travelogue, nor a political treatise. It is a medley of everything, as unorthodox as life itself - an unconventional set of stories and anecdotes - a series of big and small events, of great and little people observed, not through a high-powered microscope, but with the imperfect, naked, sympathetic, twinkling human eye.

Sues had quite a trip. She met with a wide range of characters. One of them was Tu Yueh-Sen, also known as "Big-Eared Du," a powerful crime boss in Shanghai who financed opium production in China. She plied all the trades of the gangster - prostitution, gambling, blackmail, smuggling and more. Her interview with Tu is a historically important part of the book and a rare look at one of Shanghai's most important figures. Her descriptions of him - of his "bony hand with 2-inches-long, brown, opium-stained claws" - are also memorable.

Tu's may have been an early prototype of later Asian fortunes. When Shanghai got too hot, Tu legged it to Hong Kong.

(Joe Studwell explores the unsavory roots of some of Asia's tycoons in his new book, Asian Godfathers. Many such fortunes arose from the smuggling and corruption that thrived after World War II. "Much of this activity focused on Singapore and Hong Kong," he writes.)

Sues also met with Madame Chiang Kai-shek, as Sues calls her. The West was still enamored with Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang - which eventually fled to Taiwan. Sues even met with Mao Zedong when he was only a rebel leader. She found Mao quite charming, and her opinion was, of course, without the knowledge of what was to come. Still, her portrait gives us a peek at the young Mao.

In addition to encounters with people, she witnessed some harrowing events. Remember, this was the late 1930s and China was at war with Japan. In Nanjing, she witnessed Japanese fighters raiding an airfield from the vantage point of a foothill of the Purple Mountain:

The valley below and the soft contours of the surrounding hills in their rich green, which autumn slowly splashing with flaming dabs of yellow, red and orange made a superbly serene setting for the airfield before us and the southern wall of the city to our right.

The fighters swept in, dropping bombs. Sues and her companions watched through field glasses. They commented on the color of the smoke, trying to gauge whether oil drums were hit. After the raid was over, Sues writes:

When the effects of the sudden brutal human interference cleared up, the pale blue sky was just as radiant as before, the velvety hills just as colorful, the whole atmosphere a single great serene beauty. One could not believe that murder had passed there a few minutes before.

Sues, writing of her first impressions upon landing in Canton, notes the "prolific spitting." She writes: "I mention this first impression because the habit was so characteristic and widespread, and one of the very few to which I could not get accustomed to during my stay in China."

It is observations like this that really give you a glimpse into the everyday life of China in the late '30s. Or when she describes a stroll through the streets:

"Here, a gigantic delicatessen store with legions of pressed salt ducks hanging from the ceiling... Walls covered with Cantonese hams... Heaps of sugar-cured bacon... Mountains of ruddy, red-legged crabs; pink shrimps, ready to eat, spicy, appetizing... Preserved ginger and candied fruit that make one's mouth water..."

And on and on. I don't know about you, but that passage makes me hungry. It's like food porn. She also talks about the street vendors and peddlers and what they were selling - "feather dusters, paper dragons, peanuts, ear swabs, performing humming birds, sliced melon, straw sandals, branches of fresh litchi nuts..."

With Sues' book, you get a firsthand sense of the sights, sounds and smells that no historian - going on and on about the great sweep of events - will ever give you. This firsthand history is the kind that interests me the most.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


Shadow of the Silk Road (P.S.)
Shadow of the Silk Road (P.S.)
by Colin Thubron
Edition: Paperback
74 used & new from $1.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Parallel Between Silk Road: Past & Present, June 21, 2010
"To follow the Silk Road is to follow a ghost. It flows through the heart of Asia, but it has officially vanished..."
- Colin Thubron, Shadow of the Silk Road

In importance and influence, the new Silk Road may stand to rival its namesake. As with the old Silk Road, the new one will make some investors rich.

The old Silk Road was not even a road in the normal sense of that term. It was, as travel writer Colin Thubron describes it, "a shifting fretwork of arteries and veins, laid to the Mediterranean." Thubron recently covered 7,000 miles in eight months following the old trails of this fabled trade route.

The Silk Road ended, or began, in Antioch, Turkey. It stretched all the way to old Changan, or what is today known as Xian, in China. For a long time, it had no name. A German geographer coined the term "Silk Road" only in the 19th century.

Yet traffic along the Silk Road goes way back into the slipstream of humanity's past. Thubron writes: "Chinese silk from 1500 B.C. has turned up in tombs in north Afghanistan, and strands were discovered twisted into the hair of a 10th-century B.C. Egyptian mummy." Archeologists found silk dating from 1100 B.C. lying in the grave of a prince in Germany. The stuff got around.

The Silk Road carried much more than just silk across its rugged landscape. Back and forth went vegetables, fruits, furniture, artifacts of all kinds, musical instruments - even slaves. Even weapons. The crossbow, a Chinese invention, made its way across the old Silk Road to arm the Norman and Capetian kings in their battle with the dreaded English longbow at Crecy (in which they were famously defeated).

The old Silk Road seemed to embrace almost every national and ethnic group from Arabia to Japan - Persians, Turks, Sogdians, Syrians, Indians and many others. (Often called the greatest traders of the Silk Road, the Sogdians were an Iranian people. The Chinese believed them born traders. Myth held that "their mothers fed them sugar to honey their voices, and their baby palms were daubed with paste to attract profitable things," writes Thubron.)

There is a Silk Road revival, though, at least metaphorically. The old trading posts worked in storied cities such as Samarkand, Kashgar and Meshed. The new Silk Road weaves through Dubai, Riyadh, through Mumbai and Chennai in India, to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong - even as far as Tokyo.

Between 1995 and 2005 trade between these the Middle East and Asia increased fourfold, $59 billion to $300-500 billion by 2020. In his book, Thubron masterfully notes on his trip how the influence of the old Silk Road flowed into even remote hamlets. "The nervous system of the Silk Road radiated into the poorest extremities," he writes. "It traversed minor ecological divides, as well as empires." Likewise, this new surging trade between these regions will have ripple effects in the patterns of world trade and in financial markets everywhere.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


Running Money: Hedge Fund Honchos, Monster Markets and My Hunt for the Big Score
Running Money: Hedge Fund Honchos, Monster Markets and My Hunt for the Big Score
by Andy Kessler
Edition: Paperback
71 used & new from $1.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Looking Back in order to Look Ahead for Opportunity, June 21, 2010
I recently finished reading a good book by Andy Kessler called Running Money. Kessler writes about his experience managing money for a hedge fund that he and a partner started. It is a fun and interesting read, with fascinating stories and little nuggets of investment insights.

In one chapter, Kessler talks about a meeting he had with money manager William Kaye in Kowloon, Hong Kong, in early 1996. Kaye specializes in finding opportunities in the Far East. Kaye uses the analogy of the Industrial Revolution to explain to Kessler how investing in the Far East is so different from investing in America. What he says about it is applicable to emerging market investing all over the world:

Investing in the United States is so advanced. There's technology and biotech and all this highly valued stuff. Around here, they are still building roads and putting in telephone wires and putting up office buildings and chemical plants and factories. It's like living in 18th- and 19th-century England and knowing ahead of time how the whole Industrial Revolution ends up.

He tells Kessler, a tech investor in Silicon Valley, "You guys have to sit in Silicon Valley and try to figure out what the world is going to look like in 20 years. Good luck. Around here, I've seen this movie already. I get to cheat. I know how it ends."

Investing in emerging markets is like watching the Industrial Revolution movie all over again. Really, it's more like watching a remake with a familiar plot and familiar characters, but still unexpected twists in the story and the timing of events. But essentially, what Kaye is saying is to look to the past and see what today's developed economies went through, and then invest accordingly. Kessler writes that it's about anticipating what tomorrow's headlines will say.

Review by a writer for Agora Financial, publisher of economic and financial analysis including Financial Reckoning Day Fallout: Surviving Today's Global Depression, The New Empire of Debt: The Rise and Fall of an Epic Financial Bubble, and I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.


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