The week in books

January 22, 2009

The Long and the Short of It: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay, fellow, St John's College, University of Oxford. Erasmus Press, £11.99, ISBN 9780954809324

"(Kay's) point is not that we need to be 'intelligent' ... Just that we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking we are being clever, or cautious, when we pay someone to manage our money for us. Nine times out of ten the decision will cost us money, not just in fees but by leaving our portfolio less diversified and more vulnerable than it could be, because our investment manager is even less willing to go it alone than we are. Put that way, it sounds like a no-brainer. Now, if only we had any money left to invest."

Stephanie Flanders, Financial Times

The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers, associate professor of environmental and geomorphological sciences, University of Nottingham. Granta Books, £18.99, ISBN 9781847080622

"With commendable monomania, Lavers ignores great swathes of history when unicorn scholarship was in abeyance ... The reality Lavers finds himself exploring today is humankind's relationship with other species, a relationship from which we do not emerge well. By the end of this wise and entertaining book, his unicorn has ceased to be the quaint motif of nursery rhyme and heraldry, and has become instead a symbol of the vulnerability and co-dependence of species, including our own. As the Looking-Glass unicorn said to Alice in Lewis Carroll's book, 'If you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.'"

Rosemary Hill, The Sunday Times

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumour, and Privacy on the Internet by Daniel J. Solove, associate professor of law, George Washington University. Yale University Press, £9.99, ISBN 9780300144222

"Solove persuasively identifies the law's current 'binary' notion of privacy as problematic; and argues for an enforceable system that lets us limit the flow of information to our various social networks. His nuanced and anecdote-rich text can conjure winces of vicarious embarrassment. Would you be happy for your private emails, or even your Facebook updates, to be posted on a blog and crop up whenever someone googles you? Reader, I shuddered."

Steven Poole, The Guardian

Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East by Gilles Kepel, professor of politics, Institute of Political Studies, Paris. Belknap Press, £18.95, ISBN 9780674031388

"Kepel dismisses the pretence that the US would, through its invasion of Iraq, usher in a democratic era in other Arab states ... As the new President has promised and, as Kepel writes, what the world can expect from Washington is continuity - the same policies, the impossibly squared circles and possibly the same cant about democracy. Of course, in the real world of the Pax (sic) Americana of the Middle East, democracy will not be allowed. The jihadists will like that."

Charles Glass, New Statesman.

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