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See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
by Robert Baer
Edition: Paperback
59 used & new from $0.45

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Right Diagnosis Wrong Prescription, October 10, 2007
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Bauer gives a compelling account of his exploits as a CIA agent. For the "ripping good yarn" three stars.

He also offers his take on the reasons for serious deficiencies by our intelligence services. No argument that there are shortcomings, but no stars for his analysis of the causes.

Why? Some major thematic defects with the book on this score.

First, the underlying genre is a familiar one: the single honest and courageous protagonist fighting against apathy, stupidity and venality. Perhaps, understandable given Mr. Bauer's experience with the Agency's appreciation of his service. But a plot line more suited to fiction than serious analysis.

Is there bureaucracy, stupidity and even venality in the CIA? No argument here. But equally there should be no argument that this condition exists in any human institution. So then the right question becomes one of degree rather than kind. Were these factors so pervasive as to compromise the mission of the Agency? Was Bauer the only dedicated, selfless intelligent operative in the Agency? Or, if not the only one, one of a mere handful of such individuals? All in all this seems a bit far fetched.

The book does shed some light on why our intelligence services may be working at a suboptimal level, particularly in the Middle East, though perhaps not in the way the author intended.

Bauer's career is in some ways a "poster child" for suboptimal behavior.

Intelligence work is a not a particularly glamorous craft. At its heart it's rather mundane meticulous analysis and the routine work of running agents rather than flamboyant action. The heroes of fiction - James Bonds or "Jack" Bauers - are not particularly useful. Grey anonymity - an absence of footprints - is the most desirable operational trait.

Intelligence work requires a cold discipline. Actions in the field are undertaken for concrete objectives. Many of Bauer's missions seem to have been highly visible personal adventures with little apparent (intelligence) utility. They exposed a valuable asset to capture or compromise. No doubt the trips to the Beka'a, the Pamirs or the Yaghob Valley were ripping good fun as was driving T-72s and parachuting with Russian troops. How these advanced US intelligence interests is questionable.

Intelligence is also a team sport, contrary to popular fiction. In this critical game, it's very important that the players let the coach call the plays. Policy is set in Washington not in the field. Bauer's disingenuous actions in Northern Iraq - his attempt to make his own foreign policy - were not appropriate and really didn't serve our national interests well.

Intelligence requires careful discretion. Agents associate with a variety of people, many of whom are rather unsavory. The trick is to use the contact rather than be used. How our national interest benefited from contact with Mr. Tamraz isn't immediately clear to me. There is another danger here: the contact spinning such association as an American imprimatur.

Bauer does highlight some structural and political problems which affect the Agency's performance. That the national interest of the USA is often conflated with business interests, particularly oil, is distressing but not surprising.

However, all these points are at the margin of the central issue.

A more fundamental failure needs to be addressed. It is the same one which dogs the crafting of our foreign policy - a failure to think coldly and rationally about issues.

When we analyze domestic policies, by and large we accept that our government is influenced by popular perceptions with results shaped by the interplay between competing groups. However, when we venture to lands foreign, we abandon this nuanced view for one much more simplistic and simple minded.

We see our own interests as the only legitimate ones. Competitors must then be evildoers. Or, if we are in a charitable mood, suffering from some other serious moral or intellectual defect. The impulse for discovering grand conspiracies follows in train. Often we fail to recognize groups of our antagonists for what they are - temporary tactical alliances of convenience among groups with disparate constituencies and often competing ideologies rather than unitary blocs controlled by some grandmaster of evil who can compel his subordinates to take actions against their own very real interests. Imagine ascribing master/servant relationships and unanimity on all points among the Allies in WWII - the USA the master, or if your politics differ, the servant of the USSR and you'll understand this fallacy.

We also fall prey to the "great man" theory. If only we can remove the wrong man or install the right one, we can engineer a change in policy even if it is contrary to the wishes of the majority of that country. To use a domestic analogy, this is equivalent to believing that Al Franken or Fred Thompson could persuade the NRA to embrace gun control. Or NOW to abandon Roe v. Wade. In some extreme cases we believe we can manufacture leaders and parachute them into power. Delusions of this sort doom our actions and also reflect the poverty of our strategic thinking. As a result, we often associate with leaders who do our cause no good. The choice of the former head of the INC - a man with no discernible political support in Iraq as well as with certain other considerable negatives - as that country's putative Thomas Jefferson is an example of this pathology. No surprise that we fail and wind up being used.

And sadly often we also fail to marry our long term strategic interests to appropriate foreign policy. Foreign policy or intelligence "quick" fixes result in unwelcome blowback as history demonstrates time and time again.

Finally, perhaps an obvious point: a rational foreign policy in the long term interests of the US will promote the work and thus the success of our intelligence services. Rowing against the tides of history while perhaps heroic is at the end of the day rather foolish and so destined for failure. This is really the issue for reflection.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2010 11:33 AM PDT

The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate
The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate
by Wilferd Madelung
Edition: Paperback
Price: $41.99
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meticulous Important Work - Profoundly Disturbing, October 8, 2005
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The struggle over the succession to the spiritual and temporal authority of the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) disclosed deep fault lines in the Muslim community and eventually led to a fracture which persists to the present. This contest was both bitter and bloody. As a result, objectivity is in short supply among the partisans of either side. Primary and secondary historical sources suffer from profound biases. Sadly the atmosphere remains highly charged today.

Professor Madelung is a meticulous historian. He carefully examines the various and often differing historical reports as he leads step by step to his interpretation He focuses on the primary sources themselves rather than merely repackaging and repeating what other historians - both Western and Muslim - have said . Where he differs from prior interpretations, he sets forth his argument in detail.

Most of the historical records from this time were orally transmitted over an extended period and only written down much later. This raises the possibility of honest error in the chain of transmission as well as the opportunity for manipulation or fabrication. And, as is well known, sometimes several people present at the same event come up quite honestly with different accounts.

Attempting to sort out what is true from what is not is a difficult process. It consists of evaluating the reliability or biases of each of the reporters in the chain of transmission (the isn'd). Then comparing different reports on the same event to discover areas of agreement as well as logical inconsistencies. However, rarely does this process settle the issue beyond doubt. The historian must then draw upon his own resources to decide among conflicting versions.

At its heart, history is a matter of interpretation. While it's usually taken as a given that the "facts" are known, this is often not the case, as shown in this book in several places (e.g. the date of the Battle of al-Naharawan. But once the events are assumed as facts, the historian has to use his own critical judgment to ascribe causes to events and motives to the participants in those events.

As humans, historians bring their beliefs, preferences and aversions to this task both consciously and unconsciously. A lack of objectivity can arise in several ways.

It can arise from being a partisan on one side in an event.

It can arise because a historian's first encounter in his field of study was with partisans of one side or another who framed the debate on a topic in a particular way which later influenced his own approach to the topic. Sometimes this may be a direct transmission of a bias. Sometimes it may be indirect: the historian uncritically absorbs the common belief in that country as the correct version of events.

It can also come from getting too sympathetic to the subject of study - becoming an advocate - "localitis" in US Foreign Service jargon.

As well, bias in writing can come from deeply held worldviews. One would expect quite different analyses of the same events from Marxist and capitalist historians. Often this is not a case of conscious bias, but rather results from the contents of the historian's tool kit.

Just as the historian must understand the potential biases in his sources in order to properly pursue his craft, so too must the critical reader of history understand the background and potential biases of the historian he reads. And understand that complete objectivity is an ideal and not realistic condition.

That shouldn't be troubling to the sophisticated student: there can well be several reasonable different interpretations to the same event. The truth is more likely to be found in balancing several different views - in order to achieve the widest perspective.

According to his biography, Professor Madelung began his Islamic studies at the University of Cairo. I understand but do not know for a fact that his studies there focused on the Fatimid Dynasty, which was founded by Ismai'lis. one of the several branches of Shi'ism Currently, in addition to his faculty position at Oxford, he is a Senior Research Fellow at the Isma'ili institute in London. Professor Madelung has written widely on medieval Islamic communities, including Twelver Shi'ism, Zaydism, and Ismai'lism.

Does this necessarily mean that he is biased? Or that I am accusing him of bias? No. I have no reason to make that judgment.

However, I mention this because there may be a tendency to ascribe complete objectivity to Professor Madelung because he is an "outsider" and thus presumed not to be partial to one side or another. Especially by those in whose favor he may seem to have decided. A note of caution is therefore warranted.

Like any historical work, we should read this book with a very critical eye, paying particular attention to places where the author draws conclusions on critical issues to see whether there is a reasonable alternative conclusion that might have been drawn. If so, then we should carefully examine his argument to see if it rings true for us. We should also ask if the author has asked all the relevant questions. Like political polling sometimes the way the question is posed affects the answer received.

This book is a truly a very important work because of the light it sheds on a very critical period for the Muslim community, one which still has relevance today. It also discloses that the fissures in the community on this issue existed from the very beginning. It is also a foundation work which will provide a platform for other scholars to build upon and to explore this and related questions. Finally, it is also significant because it is a master work which gives an insight into the historical method and how the historian should undertake his craft.

Is it the final word on this topic? Probably not. While it is a powerful interpretation well argued and well documented, it is an interpretation, not revelation. As such, it is subject to challenge and re-interpretation. Another approach might come up with a different conclusion. For example, assuming the precedence of the direct descendants of the Prophet (SAAWS) to the succession as a given, could there be justified reasons other than tribal politics why this right might be deferred? The special needs of the community at the moment? Or the relative state of the individuals involved: maturity, experience, judgment, etc? A regency does not deny the principle of succession. In this vein, what were the events in the Yemen which gave rise to Ghad'r Khumm? Why did the Prophet (SAAWS) not designate a successor? Was he unaware of the fissures in the community? Professor Madelung tantalizing hints at this line of inquiry on page 18.

Because of the detailed nature of this work, it is not an easy read. There is an abundance - at some times what appears to be an over abundance of detail, though this will be especially useful for scholars.

There are two additional points I found interesting.

First, in evaluating the right of the Imam Ali (AS/KAW) to the succession, Professor Madelung argues chiefly from the Qur'anic precedence in inheritance accorded to members of a prophet's family and not from the assertion of any special hereditary spiritual knowledge or quality in (the) ahl al bayt.

Second, this is profoundly disturbing read. Rather than disputes over fundamental principles, much of the conflict is ascribed to tribal and clan politics as well as assorted petty and not so petty grievances. None of the protagonists - most of whom are distinguished names in the history of the faith - emerges unscathed from having serious shortcomings exposed. All this is immensely sad and disappointing. That Islam has withstood these frailties in its community is perhaps a testimony to its strength and origin. And perhaps a call to its adherents to heed the admonition in Sura 3:103.

The Niche of Lights (Brigham Young University - Islamic Translation Series)
The Niche of Lights (Brigham Young University - Islamic Translation Series)
by Ghazzali
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.95
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, September 9, 2003
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What could a man who died almost 900 years ago have to say of any interest to people of our advanced age? A man for whom common aspects of our everyday lives would appear as miracles and might even be incomprehensible?

One reason might be antiquarian interest - to learn about how people were in the past. Another could be historical - to learn how we got where we are now since the past has shaped our present.

But as we turn to authors from "distant" times another benefit appears. Whether it is this author or others, we find that the basic issues of life and attitudes toward them haven't changed that much. In some cases, where the reader has access to the original language of composition, he will find expressions and thoughts strikingly "modern" or, perhaps, more correctly strikingly human. Technologically we may be far advanced, but on the fundamental human level we are much closer than the gap in years would suggest.

There are two key benefits to this discovery. First, earlier ages have wrestled with the same issues of life as we do. Their perspectives can broaden our own thinking. Second, such an endeavor teaches a salutary lesson, one particularly pertinent to our own age. It is common to look back and down upon earlier times and peoples. Much of this arises from confusion of the intrinsic worth of a civilization or a person with the possession of material goods. Such a misconception is reflected not only in attitudes to those from the past but also to our less advantaged contemporaries. At its crudest level the logic is that if I own a Mercedes and you a Chevrolet, that somehow I am better person than you are, more developed, and in some pathological manifestations of this attitude more favored by the Divinity. When we discover our closeness to these earlier ages on the fundamental issues of life, we may well recognize that we are less advanced than our stock of material toys might lead us to believe and that intrinsic worth should be measured in reference to values and not things.

But why read this particular book?

At its core the book deals with man's relationship to the Divine, in other words, the purpose of life, the most fundamental issue we all confront.

While the topic justifies a look, what are the reasons we should look to this particular author?

Man's relationship with God can take place on various levels: legal, rational, and spiritual. On the first level, there are various "do's and don'ts" codified in sacred law and the rituals of the cult. At the second level, man attempts to know God (or whatever he can comprehend about God) through reasoning. This is the realm of the philosophers. At the third level, the knowledge sought is direct - an experience of God. Islamic mystics ("Sufis") use the term "taste" to distinguish between physical seeing, rational understanding, and this deeper knowledge.

AlGhazali was a prodigious writer on faith and is one of Islam?s most respected teachers. He is a master of all three of the aspects of man's relationship to God: a recognized expert in Islamic law, a distinguished philosopher, and a practicing Sufi (mystic). Despite attaining mystical insights, he did not abandon the law or philosophy. This holistic approach to faith is evident in and greatly advances the task that he undertakes in this work: to describe the indescribable.

This short book, which is in three parts, uses the "Light Verse" (Verse #35) from the Sura an-Nur (Light) and the Seventy Veils Hadith as the basis for exploring man's relationship to God.

The Light Verse is: "God is the light of the heavens and the earth, the similitude of His light is like a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, the glass is as if it were a brilliant shimmering star kindled from a blessed tree, an olive (tree) neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil illuminates even if fire does not touch it; light upon light, God leads to His light whom He wills. And God gives parables to men (for their understanding). And God has knowledge of everything." (SAA)

The Veils Hadith is: "God has seventy veils of light and darkness. Were He to lift them, the majestic glories of His face would burn completely anyone whose eyesight perceived Him." (SRA)

In the first part of the book, AlGhazali uses light as a metaphor to make several points. As the uncaused absolute existent, God is the fundamental and only reality. All that we see about us flows from and is dependent on that reality. We and the world in which we live are contingent beings. This does not mean that we do not exist, nor does it imply pantheism. He then moves on to use light to discuss how man knows God. In the second section, he discusses the meanings embodied in the allegorical descriptions in the Light Verse and the implications for man in his relationship with God. In the third section, he explores the meaning of the Veils Hadith - the various stages and types of knowledge of God, including what it means to return to God. These are difficult topics given the limitations of the human mind and human language in the face of the Divine. AlGhazali succeeds in lifting the veil a bit and giving the reader much to think further on.

The book includes a very detailed and scholarly (though not necessarily inaccessible to the general reader) introduction. The Arabic text is clear and appears opposite the English. This feature makes the book very useful for one following the translation from the Arabic to see how the translator had dealt with certain words and phrases.

BYU is to be commended for making this text and others in the Islamic Translation Series available. David Buchman for spending the time he did to produce this splendid translation.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2008 7:17 PM PDT

Financial Risk Manager Handbook, Second Edition
Financial Risk Manager Handbook, Second Edition
by Philippe Jorion
Edition: Paperback
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, July 31, 2003
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This book is billed as the "official reference book for GARP's FRM certification program" and "ideal for self instruction and in-house training".

Unfortunately, it falls short on both scores. It is definitely not a book for someone with a basic level of knowledge. Nor does it really seem to be written for the intermediate risk manager/practitioner.

Dr. Jorion undertook a rather ambitious and perhaps thankless task with this book. The subject is quite extensive. There is probably no one person with all the required in-depth knowledge to write the entire book. So there were bound to be areas of weakness. It also appears that he had scant assistance with the book, which placed an enormous burden on him.

As well, the book lacks a consistent pedagogical focus. It is not pitched to the basic student or to the intermediate level practitioner but seems to wander between the two. And therefore is probably not an ideal text for either audience.

If it is intended as a textbook for in-house training or preparation for the FRM exam, then it should be written at a much more basic level with careful ordering of the presentation of the material and fuller explanations rather than the text's at times elliptical and terse ones. For an example of a shortcoming in presentation, in the section on option pricing, the book discusses the Merton derivation (for income generating "underlyings") of the Black Scholes model and then presents a detailed example of the Black Scholes model. It would be more helpful to reverse the order and go from the simpler to the more complex.

Other areas for improvement are the section on statistics, probability, etc. These are at the heart of modern risk management. Sometimes the descriptions seem too terse to convey the material. The tables on the "moments" could be improved by including the denominator to show the exact formula for their calculation.

Notwithstanding the above, there is some very good material in the book - thematic comments on risk management and interactions between various risks and instruments. This "big picture" analysis is good. The discussion of "moments" is well organized though there is a shortcoming in the tables - the denominators are missing and so the student doesn't see the exact formula for each. However, as outlined above, without more detail and more structured presentation, the book's utility for the basic level student is diminished.

One would expect to see more evidence of a strong editor's hand from a book published under Wiley Finance imprint. It is a little acknowledged fact that most authors rely on an editor to catch mistakes and to ensure that the book stays on message. The author's task is even more daunting when preparing such a technical book. And the editor's role then even more critical.

There are some obvious errors in the book. For example, missing information in the sample question 11.4 on page 254. Poor spacing in the answer key to that question on page 260- where the square root of time and the 99% standard deviation factors are conflated. As well, the explanation of the solution could have been expanded to explain exactly what these factors represented and why they were used. This is very important in a basic training book. Also there are several extraneous words between two sentences on the top of page 291. These and others not mentioned here seem to be obvious catches.
Since the subject matter is so extensive and since this is a GARP official publication,

GARP should consider enlisting several authors, each of whom could address areas of his/her expertise. Dr. Jorion then could serve as the senior author - providing the logical architecture to link sections together and highlight critical dependencies and linkages. That would improve the book materially.

The Meaning of the Holy Quran
The Meaning of the Holy Quran
by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
Edition: Hardcover
49 used & new from $3.42

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Work, February 11, 2003
If you are looking for a translation of the Holy Qur'an, then Abdullah Yusuf Ali's work is the right choice.

First, each translator faces a daunting task. He must convey the content of the message along with a sense of the majesty of the original language - if you will the sound and spirit. A simple word for word translation generally does not accomplish this: the translator has to put a bit of himself and his talents into the translation.

Mr. Ali has grounded himself in sacred commentary on the Qur'an - both that focused on the religious content as well as that based on philological/grammatical studies. The latter is very important to pick up the nuances of meaning embedded in grammatical constructions and individual words.

Mr. Ali supplements his own choice of translation in the main text through footnotes which discuss the nuances/wider meanings of words. For example, he notes that the Arabic word "sabr" which is generally translated as "patient" means as well "steadfast", "unwilling to be defeated" etc. In different verses then he will translate the same Arabic word in different ways to convey the required meaning. In other cases where there are variant readings resulting from the way a sentence may be split he provides an explanatory footnote which provides both his version, the alternative reading and his rationale for his choice.

Second, the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAAWS) over the course of years. Often in relation to specific events which took place. Some verses of the Qur'an were therefore later superceded by others. Mr. Ali provides a guide to this as well as highlighting the context in which a particular verse or verses were revealed.

As well, he begins each Surah with a commentary to explain the theological key points/issues discussed within. This is extremely valuable as an aid to the reader's understanding. In this same vein, he provides religious commentary on particular verses through the deft use of footnotes. This provision of a context is what distinguishes this work from other translations which provide only a translation.

Of course, as the translator takes this additional step, it is important for the reader to understand what predispositions the translator brought with him to his work. Mr. Ali outlines his approach to the translation, his methodology and sources. By some accounts he had a strong mystic ("Sufi") strain. There are glimmers here and there in the text of such an orientation, though I believe that his commentary (which apparently has been edited) is sufficiently mainstream at least in the Sunni tradition of Islam.

The Amana edition, which is well made and the version I would recommend, also contains a detailed comprehensive index so the reader can easily browse through the Qur'an on a particular topic.

The Qur'an has much wisdom for all of us - non-Muslims and Muslims. Mr. Ali's work helps open the door to this message of mercy and peace.

Orgullo De Los Soneros
Orgullo De Los Soneros
Price: $17.02
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much to Be Proud Of, October 17, 2002
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This review is from: Orgullo De Los Soneros (Audio CD)
Brilliant, haunting, driving.

Latin music is as varied as its native countries.

If like me you first dipped your toes into this genre through merenque and cumbia, son is a new rich experience. And this CD is pure son, not Buena Vista Social Club which was spoiled for me by some foreign musician's twanging electric guitar.

The CD also seems to be better sound quality than the copies of La Epoca de Oro and El Son lo mas Sublime.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2008 3:10 AM PDT

The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam
The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam
by Marshall G. S. Hodgson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.92
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80 of 80 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Scope and Insight - A Magisterial Work, October 1, 2001
This review pertains to all three volumes in the Venture of Islam series.

Hogdson set himself a rather bold and difficult task: (1) to tell the story of Islam from its foundation until the mid 20th Century (2) to deal with all the lands of Islam and not just the Arabs, the Turks or the Persians (so his account does not suffer from specious generalization from one geographic area or major ethnic group to the whole) and (3) to write a comprehensive history - political, social, intellectual (to give a complete account of Islam).

By and large, Hodgson achieved his vision. The scope of his scholarship and range of his intellect is truly impressive. The work provides a very thought provoking account of the development of the Islamic world.

There are four particularly noteworthy aspects to his work:
(1) The book (like McNeill's "Rise of the West") does not address its topic in isolation, but rather shows how the major citied civilizations of the world influenced one another. This is one of the strengths of the book - placing Islam squarely within the currents of world history.
(2) This is an original, not derivative, work. It is based on an analysis of primary sources (accounts from the period he is studying) rather than a repetition of the conclusions of later Muslim or Western scholars. This results in several refreshing challenges to common "wisdom" on Islamic history.
(3) His analysis of the nature of agrarianate civilization is useful not only for understanding the development of Islam but of other civilizations as well. His discussion in Book 3 about the rise of the West and the fundamental shift from agrarian to modern technical society is particularly thought provoking.
(4) His discussion about how various groups in the Islamic world reacted to the challenge posed by overwhelming western superiority is very illuminating not only about some of the contemporary problems we face in the Middle East but in a larger sense about the reaction of other non western peoples to the West.

The book does have some drawbacks. First, its sheer bulk and discussion in detail of the various strands of civilization can be daunting and perhaps cause the reader to lose his way or interest. Second, Hodgson has a "social science" approach to writing history.

What this means is that he insists on defining terms very carefully in the first 69 pages
of Book I to ensure precision of meaning in their later usage. Personally, this was the most difficult part of the book for me.

As I view Amazon ratings as guides to the general non-specialist reader, I have assigned his work four stars.

For a historian of the Middle East or a university level student, this book probably would rate five stars for the sheer intellectual breadth and Hodgson's theories - which even if not accepted in whole cloth will at least spark some very serious thinking.

The non-specialist reader needs to make a real commitment in terms of attention. This is not an easy book, but if you make the effort, you will find not only your mind but also your perspective stretched.

As you consider whether to buy this book, one further thought. Hodgson died before the work was in final form. A colleague of his Reuben W. Smith, III, took time from his own scholarly pursuits to finish Hodgson's work. If you understand anything about the academic world, you will understand the sacrifice that Smith made in that "publish or perish" world. The book does not carry his name but that of Hodgson. He believed that Hodgson's ideas were worthy of transmission to the larger public. That may be reason enough to buy this magnificent work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2010 10:27 AM PDT

Damodaran on Valuation: Security Analysis for Investment and Corporate Finance
Damodaran on Valuation: Security Analysis for Investment and Corporate Finance
by Aswath Damodaran
Edition: Hardcover
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate, March 16, 2001
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This is an excellent book. It serves as both a course in valuation as well as a useful reference tool.

The book is heavily weighted to discounted cash flow analysis, though it also discusses relative valuation (like P/E multipliers) and contingent claims.

Clearly written the book presents in detail simple to complex DCF based models (dividend discount model, free cashflow to equity and free cashflow to the firm). This range of models deal with the complex valuation problem of variable growth. After presenting a model, its limitations and best uses are explained.

He then shows how these models can be used to derive P/E, P/S, and P/BV ratios from fundamentals.

Abundant examples are used to make the material clear.

The book also discusses special situations, e.g., cyclical firms, and distressed firms to mention just a few.

At first glance this book might be mistaken for a "cook book". Lots of formulas and detailed examples of how to work them.

But there is more. And this is where the real "meat" of the book is - underpinning the seeming forest of details and examples - is a valuation logic and philosophy.

If you read this book carefully, you will develop an appreciation for the impact certain fundamentals have on valuation and how they interact with one another. This is much more important than memorizing the formulae in the book.

Also there is some very useful and frank discussion of shortcomings in some of the tools used, including the CAPM and a warning about being seduced into believing that the DCF approach results in certainty.

Valuation involves estimates and formulas (or multiples) are simplifications of very complex real world dynamics. In the businss world, valuation is typically a process of estimating ranges of values for each of several methods chosen (e.g., DCF, market comparables, precedent transacions, replacement value, etc). The resulting matrix of values is then compared (in effect cross checked) to come up with a range of possible values. And here the differences between buyer and seller affect the outcome - different assumptions re the DCF or the cashflow and synergies that can be achieved - come into play to create two different matrices of values - from which the two parties then negotiate the actual price.

The book and its author are well regarded. This particular volume is used in AIMR's CFA study program - which is a measure of its worth.

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.87
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction - A Bit Dated, February 15, 2001
This small book consists of two parts: a 20 page introduction by Carl Jung and the text by Suzuki-sensei.

Jung's introduction is a bit ponderous in part - carrying as it does the full weight of the scholarly apparatus of German metaphysics and psychology. Jung's analysis is interesting in several respects, the most important being seeing Zen as a way to integrate the spiritual and rational aspects of man.

Suzuki-sensei outlines Zen in a series of chapters, compiled from articles he wrote for a Japanese magazine. The writing is simple and direct. That being said, the key concept of Zen - as conveyed in the koan -- is not easily reduced to familiar thought patterns. That
being the very point of Zen - to break down our "logical" way of thinking.

The introduction and book contain some interesting generalizations about "European man" and "Japanese nature" (Zen being particularly suited to the Japanese), which presumably reflect common wisdom at the time. These are minor stones in the path and easily stepped around for the serious reader.

Mother of the Buddhas: Meditations on the Prajnaparamita Sutra
Mother of the Buddhas: Meditations on the Prajnaparamita Sutra
by Lex Hixon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.45
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Requires Work - But Work It, February 15, 2001
The Prajnaparamita sutra is a central text in Mahayana Buddhism and considered by some to be the foundation text.

Lex Hixon has compiled a series of selections based on the 8,000 line version of the Sutra, drawing upon his background as an academic (Ph.D. in Comparative Religions, Columbia) and as a practicing mystic (Shaikh in the Havleti-Jerrahi Sufi order).

The root message of the Sutra is non-duality - that is, there is no "me" and "you", no "object" and "observer", no "known" and no "knower".

This fundamental unity of all being leads to a universal approach to enlightenment - working for the enlightenment of all beings not just one's own.

Understanding this fundamental truth is in effect what enlightenment is about. And thus, the sobriquet, "Mother of the Buddhas" is well deserved.

The text and arguments are dense in parts. This is not a quick read, nor a book for those looking for the sixty-second guide to enlightenment.

It requires work and probably more than one reading.

Is it worth it? Yes.

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