Best Of Books Bits 2020: Part I

As 2020, annus horribilus, crawls to a close, let’s look back on one of the bright corners of the year – book publishing. In matters economic and finance, the last 12 months delivered an extraordinary run of fascinating new titles. As usual in this year-end review, we’ll highlight ten that appeared in The Capital Spectator’s weekly Book Bits column over the course of 2020. Choosing only ten is difficult, and more than slightly subjective, but let’s give a whirl. As usual, the short list will be carved into two equally digestible servings, starting with five today, followed with the balance next week. Happy reading!

● The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread–And Why They Stop
Adam Kucharski
Review via Wired
Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is a mathematician by training. He uses data and models to predict how disease outbreaks will progress. His new book, The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread—and Why They Stop, lays out those tools and how they can be applied to other parts of life. Think methods to predict how panic might course through the global financial system, or how bad information is transmitted on Facebook. But most important, Kucharski says, is what he calls “epidemiological thinking.” That’s a mindset for dealing with incomplete information, as infectious-disease researchers must when they encounter a novel, fast-moving pathogen. Sometimes you might make bad assumptions, and your models might make predictions that never come to pass. But in a crisis, coming up with a hypothesis, even if it’s a rough one, is often the only way to get people to act.

 

● Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers
By John Kay and Mervyn King
Review via The Telegraph
That ripping sound you may have heard lately is the noise of economists around the world tearing up carefully-honed forecasts, thanks to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
   For former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and the senior economist John Kay, the all-too-rapid redundancy of the investment banks’ glossy brochures merely underline the folly of such prognostications in the first place.
   In their new book, Radical Uncertainty, the pair turn a critical gaze on their own economics profession and find it badly wanting. They paint an unsparing picture of a discipline enslaved by its models, pretending to knowledge it cannot possibly have, and losing public trust as a consequence.

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