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Archive for September, 2015

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp

Beyond Individualism

“Rupp writes with great clarity and wisdom, and also with unmistakable moral conviction about issues with which he has direct personal engagement. Beyond Individualism is a book of passionate advocacy.” — David N. Hempton, dean, Harvard Divinity School

This week, our featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Beyond Individualism. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, October 2nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Periodization and Globalization — Jacques Le Goff

In the following conclusion to Must We Divide History Into Periods?, Jacques Le Goff examines the relationship between globalization and the way we understand history:

By now it will be plain that I dissent from the view of most modern historians in seeing the Renaissance, not as a separate period, but only as the last subperiod of a long Middle Ages.

Periodization in the Western tradition goes back to the earli­est Greek thinking about history (Herodotus, fifth century BCE) and, still further, to the Hebrew Bible (Daniel, sixth century BCE). Even so, it did not become a matter of broad agreement among historians until quite recently, the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, when the writing of history itself underwent a transfor­mation: what had been a purely literary genre was now considered a branch of knowledge worthy of being taught to the young. As a subject of instruction it responded to a desire, as well as a need, to make sense of the great spans of time over which human soci­eties have developed. Calendars made it possible to organize the moments of daily life. Periodization satisfied the same purpose, but over a longer term. The question arises whether this human invention, if it is to have lasting value, has to correspond to some objective reality. It seems to me that it must. In saying this, I do not refer to the world as a physical system. By “reality,” I mean human reality—the lives actually lived by people, particularly in the West. The history of these people’s lives, so far as we are able to reconstruct them on the basis of the various materials available to us, constitutes a distinguishable chapter of human experience having its own characteristic features. One of these is a distinctive rhythm of events that causes the history of people in the West to coincide with a particular succession of periods.

The act of periodizing is justified by all those things that make history a science—not an exact science, of course, but neverthe­less a social science that rests on an objective foundation built up from documentary and other sources. Now, the events that these sources describe unavoidably follow a certain course: as Marc Bloch used to say, the history of societies unfolds over time. Since history, by its very nature, evolves, it is inseparable from time. Historians have no choice but to try to bend chronology to their own will. At the same time, they cannot help but find themselves under its sway. To the extent that the conditions of life undergo change, all the more indispensable does periodization become for the historian.

The idea of a longue durée, a term due to Fernand Braudel and widely used by historians since, has been objected to on the ground that it has the effect of blurring periods, if not actually erasing them. To my mind there is no contradiction. Not only is there room for periods in the long term, they are a necessity—for the attempt to explain events that have both a mental and a physical dimen­sion, as historical events inescapably do, requires a combination of continuity and discontinuity. It is just this advantage that the idea of a longue durée offers the historian when it is supplemented by the freedom to divide the course of history into periods.

The question of the rate of historical change—or, to put it another way, how quickly one period gives way to another—I have left to one side because it seems not to have really interested any­one until the modern era. People during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, unlike historians of the recent past and the present day, were more impressed by how slowly history changes. There have been few, if any, genuine revolutions. François Furet was fond of saying that the French Revolution lasted for almost the whole of the nineteenth century. This, by the way, is why many histori­ans, including ones who subscribe to the notion of a specific period called the Renaissance, have resorted to the expression “Middle Ages and Renaissance.” If one century falls under this head more naturally than any of its neighbors (and for just this reason displays unrivaled richness and creativity), it is surely the fifteenth.

My own view is that we will come nearer to the truth, and with greater hope of thinking about periodization in a way that stands to make the study of history both feasible and rewarding, if we consider that periods are typically long and typically marked by phases of significant, though not epochal, change. In the case of the Middle Ages these subperiods are usefully called renaissances, a term that joins a sense of novelty (naissance) to the idea of a return to a golden age (the prefix re- pointing backward in time while sug­gesting a resemblance between past and present).

There is another reason to suppose that dividing history into periods is not only possible but necessary. Of the two perspec­tives that arouse the greatest enthusiasm among historians today, the long term and world history (the latter a consequence of the largely American interest in developing the idea of a global past), neither one seems to me incompatible with periodization; quite the contrary. I repeat: unmeasured and measured time coex­ist. Periodization, however, can apply only to limited domains, or areas, of human civilization. The task of a world history is to discover the relations among these domains. Periodization and globalization are therefore complementary, not contradictory.

But historians must be careful not to confuse, as they have too often done until now, it seems to me, the idea of globalization with that of standardization (or homogenization, as it is sometimes called). There are two stages in globalization: the first consists in communication, the coming into direct contact of regions and civilizations that previously were unfamiliar with one another; the second is a phenomenon of absorption, a fusing of cultures. Until now humanity has passed through only the first of these stages.
Periodization presents historians today with splendid oppor­tunities for fresh research and analysis. Thanks to periodiza­tion, both the manner in which human history is organized and the manner in which it changes over time, over the long term, is becoming clearer.

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Jacques Le Goff’s Preface to “Must We Divide History Into Periods?”

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“I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?”—Jacques Le Goff

The following is the preface to Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff:

This essay is neither thesis nor synthesis. It is the culmination of many years of research and reflection about the periods of history, particularly Western history. The Middle Ages in Europe have been my companion since 1950, the year I obtained my teaching license. Fernand Braudel chaired the examination committee, alongside the medievalist Maurice Lombard.

I have carried this work inside me for a long time, then. It has been nourished and sustained by ideas that are dear to my heart and that I have tried to express in various ways in the years since.

History, like its subject, time, appears to be continuous. But it consists of changes as well. Historians have long been accustomed to identifying and defining these changes by dividing the continu­ous stream of events into segments that initially were called “ages” and then “periods.”

I wrote this book in 2013. The pace of globalization, as it is called, has now become so rapid that its effects are felt more directly with every passing day. I have looked back over more than six decades, the period of my career as a historian, but also, tak­ing a longer view, over more than six centuries, in order to recon­sider the various ways in which historians before me have thought about periodization, whether in terms of continuity or disconti­nuity, and the various ways in which they have interpreted his­torical memory.

Studying these different types of periodization makes it pos­sible, I believe, to detect the existence of what may be called a “long” Middle Ages—and this all the more if we take a fresh look at the various ways in which historians have tried since the nine­teenth century to make sense of the Renaissance and what they imagine to be its pivotal position in the history of the past thou­sand years.

In treating the general problem of how history passes from one period to another, in other words, I examine a particular case: the alleged novelty of the Renaissance in relation to the Middle Ages. The present work seeks to establish the major characteristics of a long Middle Ages in the Christian West that extends from late antiquity (between the third and the seventh century) to the mid­dle of the eighteenth century.

But I do not therefore overlook the fact that the history of the Christian West is part of a global narrative. No one writing history today, or in the future, will be able to avoid the problems that arise in trying to carve up the past, only now on a larger scale. I have written this book in the hope, too, that it may make some prelimi­nary contribution, however modest, to this necessary task.

If the “centrality” of the Renaissance is at the heart of my con­cerns, together with the obligation to reexamine a widely held conception of the Middle Ages that a lifetime devoted to scholar­ship has convinced me is too narrow to be useful, I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

New Book Tuesday! The China Boom, Marx After Marx, and More New Titles!

The China Boom

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World
Ho-fung Hung

Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism
Harry Harootunian

The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman’s Life
Ann Burack-Weiss

A Political Economy of the Senses: Neoliberalism, Reification, Critique
Anita Chari

Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry (Now available in paper)
Margaret Chin

For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond
Edited by Lisa Funnell
(Wallflower Press)

The Road Movie: In Search of Meaning
Neil Archer
(Wallflower Press)

Realism as Protest: Kluge, Schlingensief, Haneke
Tara Forrest
(Transcript-Verlag)

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Book Giveaway! “Must We Divide History Into Periods?” by Jacques Le Goff

For the first half of this week our featured book is Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Must We Divide History Into Periods? to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Thursday, October 1 at 1:00 pm.

“Le Goff was one of the truly great historians of our time, and his final reflections on the nature and responsibilities of our craft are lucid, profound, and humane.” — R. I. Moore, Newcastle University

For more on the book you can read the chapter Prelude: Periodization and the Past:

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

The Self-Critique of a Pope

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Bergoglio’s leadership of the diocese of Buenos Aires and then the presidency of the Argentine Episcopal Conference from 2005 to 2011 were formative: they taught him that governing is not just issuing orders but listening, building consensus, and resolving problems by taking the time to assess them in depth.’” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. Today, we have an excerpt which focuses on Francis’s history in South America during a time of political turmoil.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

The Face of a Parish Priest

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Francis has proclaimed a church that does not ‘lock itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,’ does not transform religion into ideology but concentrates on the essential message: ‘Jesus Christ has saved you.’” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. In our second post, Politi describes some of the central characteristics that have defined Francis’s papacy so far, with a special focus on the Pope’s interaction with the Catholic people.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Announcing the winner of the first annual Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award

Columbia University Press, in conjunction with the Office of the Provost of Columbia University, is pleased to announce that Wael B. Hallaq is the winner of the first annual Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award for his book The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament.

Wael B. Hallaq is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University.

Ellen Lukens, Sylvia D. & Mose J. Firestone Centennial Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia School of Social Work and Co-Chair of the Columbia University Press faculty publication committee says Hallaq’s exceptional work was chosen because “in this powerful critical reflection on our times, Hallaq draws on historical and religious narratives to examine the limits of both Islamic and Western concepts of the modern state in light of the often misunderstood moral demands of Shari’ah. His writing illuminates the need for dialogue between Islamic and Western thought in an effort to confront the forces that threaten ecological sustainability and moral and communal prosperity in a global setting.”

The Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award is given to the Columbia University faculty member with a book published by the Press in the two years prior that brings the highest distinction to Columbia University and Columbia University Press for its outstanding contribution to academic and public discourse. The winner is selected by a jury composed of the current members of the Press’s faculty publication committee.

A ceremony to honor the winner will be held on September 24, 2015, at the Casa Italiana at Columbia University. The author of the winning book receives a certificate and a cash award of $10,000.

You can find more information about the award here.

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Francis’s Fear

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Now, on 13 March 2013, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, president of the conclave, was asking him if he accepted his election. Bergoglio answered yes without hesitation, and he added in Latin: ‘Vocabor Franciscus in memoriam sancti Francisci de Assisi’ (I will be called Francis in memory of Saint Francis of Assisi).” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Francis’s Fear,” the second chapter of Politi’s book, in which he tells the story of how Francis was chosen as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

New Book Tuesday! Wall Streeters, Green Capitalism, Beyond Biofatalism, Sebald & More!

Wall Streeters

Our weekly listing of new titles:

Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance
Edward Morris

Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth
Christian de Perthuis and Pierre-André Jouvet. Translated by Michael Westlake

Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World
Gillian Barker

Sebald’s Vision
Carol Jacobs

Gleisdreieck: Parklife Berlin
Edited by Andra Lichtenstein and Flavia Alice Mameli
Transcript-Verlag

Imagineering Cultural Vienna: On the Semiotic Regulation of Vienna’s Culture-led Urban Transformation
Johannes Suitner
Transcript-Verlag

Video Theory: Online Video Aesthetics or the Afterlife of Video
Andreas Treske
Transcript-Verlag

Partisans in Yugoslavia: Literature, Film, and Visual Culture
Edited by Miranda Jakisa
(Transcript-Verlag)

European Visions: Small Cinemas in Transition
Edited by Janelle Blankenship and Tobias Nagl
(Transcript-Verlag)

Germany 1916-23: A Revolution in Context
Edited by Klaus Weinhauer, Anthony McElligott, and Kirsten Heinsohn
Transcript-Verlag

The Transcription of Identities: A Study of V. S. Naipaul’s Postcolonial Writings
Min Zhou
Transcript-Verlag

After the Storm: The Cultural Politics of Hurricane Katrina
Edited by Simon Dickel and Evangelia Kindinger
(Transcript-Verlag)

Zeitschrift für interkulturelle Germanistik (Journal of Intercultural German Studies)
Vol. 6, 2015, Issue 1
Edited by Dieter Heimböckel, Ernest W.B. Hess-Lüttich, Georg Mein, and Heinz Sieburg
Transcript-Verlag

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Book Giveaway! Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Marco Politi is a writer for our times, with his insight, access, and wisdom about an intriguing pontiff. Few people can dig up the nuggets and jewels about such important papal matters, and what Politi knows and serves up to his readers cannot be missed. Pope Francis Among the Wolves is surely another of Politi’s ‘must-reads.’” — Christiane Amanpour

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Pope Francis Among the Wolves. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, September 25th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, September 18th, 2015

University Press Roundup

Welcome back to our (sometimes) weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post (nearly) every Friday.)

This month on the University Of California Press blog, Susan Sered, co-author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility, opens up an ongoing dialogue about our current notions of education and power, and the underlying systems of poverty, racism and gendered violence that surround them. In this article, Sered calls us to examine the ways in which our ideas of knowledge and education are used to simultaneously disempower those individuals belonging to marginalized groups, and to point responsibility for systematic disenfranchisement back onto its victims.

James C. Kaufman, a frequent contributor to Cambridge University Press, writes on their blog this month about the phenomenon of creativity and the mechanisms and motivations behind creative people. Having backgrounds in both cognitive psychology and playwriting, Kaufman offers a unique perspective on the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of creative people, as well as anecdotes about his own experiences in both the scholarly and productive arenas regarding creative work.

This month the University of Chicago Press blog features an excerpt from an interview with Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project, a memoir about a thirty-something-year-old female expatriate and her experiences walking the line between a lifestyle that fits neither the category of full detachment nor traditional stability. In a voice that is at once unmistakably recognizable and immediately intimate, Crispin speaks about loneliness, place, and the ex-pat experience.

On the Georgetown University Press blog this month comes a two-part post about renewing the Catholic understanding of the sexual person by Todd A. Salman and Michael G. Lawler, authors of Sexual Ethics. Salzman and Lawler put forward a fascinating proposition for a new understanding of the sexual individual within the context of Catholicism, urging a conception of sexual personhood as one that is both wholly holistic and subjective, facilitating a less fragmented and more intimate relationship with one’s body, partner, and God.

From Harvard University Press comes a dialogue between noted atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, former Islamist and chairman of global thinktank Quilliam, an international project focused on facilitating discussion on religious freedom, extremism, and citizenship. Sparked from an inauspicious comment made by Harris towards Nawaz following the 2010 Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, Islam and the Future of Tolerance nevertheless turns out an engaging, nuanced, and generous exchange of ideas surrounding Islam, extremism, and the role of scripture and history in the modern political landscape.

In a recent post on the Stanford University Press blog, Cedric de Leon and Manali Desai take on the almost humorously bewildering recent phenomenon of Donald Trump’s rocketing ascent to prominence in the upcoming election, conjecturing that the cause of such a confounding occurrence lies not so much in any particular competence or brilliance of the man himself, but rather a festering detachment and alienation that has been growing steadily in many Americans these past few years, resulting in the almost paradoxically understandable attraction to this strange image of the outsider spouting extreme and even nonsensical views that Trump has embodied in such a timely way.

Finally, to close this weeks roundup, here’s a short piece from the Princeton University Press blog sporting the charming title Kierkegaard in Space. We will leave the reader of this blog with the image of the first Danish astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, upon being obliged to select a ten-minute selection from a Danish work to read to his fellow astronauts on board the first Danish spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, reading a selection from the melancholy Dane’s The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air to his rapt and choice audience, floating noiselessly above a tiny blue earth.

Thanks for reading! As always, we hope that you enjoyed the links. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Friday, September 18th, 2015

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Risk, Part 2

Charlie Munger

“When any person offers you a chance to earn lots of money without risk, don’t listen to the rest of their sentence. Follow this and you’ll save yourself a lot of misery.” — Charlie Munger

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. For our final two posts (read the first here), we are happy to present a post from Tren Griffin explaining Charlie Munger’s take on the importance of understanding and being aware of risk in investing. The post was originally featured on Griffin’s blog, 25iq.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Risk, Part 2
By Tren Griffin

7.
“[With] a lot of judgment, a lot of discipline and an absence of hyperactivity… I think most intelligent people can take a lot of risk out of life.”
The three best ways to reduce risk are diversification, hedging and buying with a margin of safety argues Seth Klarman. Making life less risky is also assisted greatly if you make fewer decisions in domains where you do not know what you are doing after doing a significant amount of thinking about the domain involved and the decision. Doing this requires discipline since we all make psychological and emotional mistakes. One technique for avoiding risk is to place decisions that fall in the domain of “I don’t know” into a “too hard” pile if you can. Sometimes a decision is unavoidable and judgment will be required. Munger puts the investor’s objective simply: “What you have to learn is to fold early when the odds are against you, or if you have a big edge, back it heavily because you don’t get a big edge often.”

8.
“Each person has to play the game given his own marginal utility considerations and in a way that takes into account his own psychology. If losses are going to make you miserable – and some losses are inevitable – you might be wise to utilize a very conservative patterns of investment and saving all your life. So you have to adapt your strategy to your own nature and your own talents. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all investment strategy that I can give you.” “If we’d used the leverage that some others did, Berkshire would have been much bigger… But we would have been sweating at night. It’s crazy to sweat at night.”
There is no recipe or formula for investing or dealing with risk. Everyone has a unique tolerance for risk since we are all more or less comfortable with various factors that create it. Some people find it useful to have heuristics (rules of thumb) to guide them in assessing whether a comfortable level of risk tolerance exists. Whether you can sleep soundly at night is a one heuristic. If your investments are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep it may be wise to adjust your portfolio so that it is consistent with a comfortable sleep. Seth Klarman agrees with Charlie Munger on this point: “Investors should always keep in mind that the most important metric is not the returns achieved but the returns weighed against the risks incurred. Ultimately, nothing should be more important to investors than the ability to sleep soundly at night.”

9.
“This is an amazingly sound place. We are more disaster-resistant than most other places. We haven’t pushed it as hard as other people would have pushed it. I don’t want to go back to Go. I’ve been to Go. A lot of our shareholders have a majority of their net worth in Berkshire, and they don’t want to go back to Go either.” “I wanted to get rich so I could be independent, and so I could do other things like give talks on the intersection of psychology and economics.”
The factors which determine the level of risk that is appropriate for any given person include life goals, age and wealth. For example, Charlie Munger left the practice of law to become an investor since he had a fierce desire to acquire wealth so he could be independent. He did not want to have other people dictate what he did in life. The value of that freedom once acquired can be so high that a person can become unwilling to put at risk the amount of money require to ensure that this independence continues. Playing the game of life with house money (money that you don’t really need to be happy) is underrated. At the point where you are playing with house money the game substantially changes since your basic financially driven level of happiness is not at stake. Of course, you can still be rich and miserable, but that comes from other problems, attitudes and mistakes.

10.
“There is a lot to be said that when the world is going crazy, to put yourself in a position where you take risk off the table.” “Here’s one truth that perhaps your typical investment counselor would disagree with: if you’re comfortably rich and someone else is getting richer faster than you by, for example, investing in risky stocks, so what? Someone will always be getting richer faster than you. This is not a tragedy.”
There are times in life when the world will not make much sense, at least to you. As an example, the Intent bubble of 1999-2001 was a time like that. In my book on Charlie Munger I describe a decision I made to sell half of my telecom and Internet portfolio near the height of the bubble. The sale ensured that I would not be a burden to anyone in my retirement and that my children would be able to go to college with my financial assistance. Taking a little risk off the table if you plan to double down on some new risky investments is wise.

11.
“A lot of our major capitalistic institutions that parade as really respectable, they’re just casinos in drag. What do you think a derivative trading desk is? It’s a casino in drag. People feeling they’re contributing to the economy, and they’re managing risk. They make the witch doctors look good.” “I knew a guy who had $5 million and owned his house free and clear. But he wanted to make a bit more money to support his spending, so at the peak of the internet bubble he was selling puts on internet stocks. He lost all of his money and his house and now works in a restaurant. It’s not a smart thing for the country to legalize gambling [in the stock market] and make it very accessible.” “Gambling does not become wonderful just because it pertains to commerce. It’s a casino.”
One definition of gambling is: an activity involving chance that has a negative net present value after fees. Some people find gambling entertaining, since it produces brain chemicals that can be pleasurable. I don’t personally see the point of doing something that could potentially turn into a destructive addiction and potentially wipe you out financially. In my view there are many other non-addictive things that one can do to get a dopamine buzz that are not addictive and are potentially profitable. Munger says: “intelligent people make decisions based on opportunity costs — in other words, it’s your alternatives that matter. That’s how we make all of our decisions…. Opportunity cost is a huge filter in life. If you’ve got two suitors who are really eager to have you and one is way the hell better than the other, you do not have to spend much time with the other.” Gambling fails the opportunity cost test for me. The other point Munger is making is that gambling is not a productive activity. You are not building anything valuable when you gamble. The societal contribution of the activity is negative.

12.
“When any person offers you a chance to earn lots of money without risk, don’t listen to the rest of their sentence. Follow this and you’ll save yourself a lot of misery.”
When it comes to investing it is wise to follow the advice of Howard Marks and think of the future as a probability distribution rather than some fixed outcome that is knowable or predictable in advance. Almost nothing about the future is certain except death and taxes. No one says it better than Howard Marks when it comes to risk: “not being able to know the future doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it. It’s one thing to know what’s going to happen and something very different to have a feeling for the range of possible outcomes and the likelihood of each one happening. Saying we can’t do the former doesn’t mean we can’t do the latter.”

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Risk, Part 1

Charlie Munger

“This great emphasis on volatility in corporate finance we regard as nonsense. Let me put it this way; as long as the odds are in our favor and we’re not risking the whole company on one throw of the dice or anything close to it, we don’t mind volatility in results. What we want are favorable odds.” — Charlie Munger

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. For our final two posts, we are happy to present a post from Tren Griffin explaining Charlie Munger’s take on the importance of understanding and being aware of risk in investing. The post was originally featured on Griffin’s blog, 25iq.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Risk, Part 1
By Tren Griffin

1.
“Risk to us is 1) the risk of permanent loss of capital, or 2) the risk of inadequate return.”
Risk has many different dimensions that must be considered including sources, magnitude, outcomes and decision making inputs. In terms of a definition, Seth Klarman writes that risk is: “described by both the probability and the potential amount of loss.” Charlie Munger emphasizes an important point in his quotation since it is the permanent loss which should be the focus of investors since temporary drops can actually represent an opportunity for an investor if they can purchase more of an asset at the lower price and ride out the drop in price. The focus of this definition of risk is on potential “outcomes.” In terms of “sources” of risk, Warren Buffett believes that “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing” and that “the best way to minimize risk is to think.” This is why Charlie Munger spends so much time thinking about thinking. The magnitude of risk assumed by a given investor on any investment depends on the nature of the asset, but also the price paid for the asset. In addition to not knowing what you are doing, one way to increase risk to pay such a high price for an asset that there is no margin for error. Seth Klarman makes the important point that “risk and return must be assessed independently or every investment…. risk does not create incremental return only price can do that.” Howard Marks makes the insightful point that risk itself cannot be counted on to generate higher financial returns, since if this was the case the assets would not actually be riskier. Richard Zeckhauser has his own definition of risk focused on the “inputs” a person has in the decision-making process rather that the “outcome” based definition of Buffett and Klarman. Zeckhauser believes that “risk” is limited to situations where all potential future states and their probabilities are known. Roulette in his view involves risk since you know all future states and probabilities in playing the game. When the probabilities of potential future states are not known, Zeckhauser calls that situation “uncertainty” and when you don’t know all potential future states he refers to that as “ignorance.” Most of life is uncertain rather than risky. True risk, as Zeckhauser defines it, is actually not that common in real life. For the rest of this blog post when I refer to “risk” I will be referring to the Klarman/Buffett/Marks definition of risk as an outcome (‘the possibility of loss or injury”) because that is what I believe Charlie Munger is referring to in each quotation. (more…)

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Ky Trang Ho talks to Tren Griffin about Charlie Munger

Charlie Munger

“There are many great investments that Munger has made, but arguably none was more important than the purchase of See’s Candies. It was the first investment made by Munger and Buffett for which they paid a purchase price reflecting a bargain based on qualitative factors.” — Tren Griffin

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from an interview with Tren Griffin, conducted by Ky Trang Ho and originally posted at Forbes. In the interview, Griffin and Ho discuss the inspiration behind the book, some of Charlie Munger’s greatest investment hits, Munger’s greatest investment failures, and much more!

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

Berkshire’s Charlie Munger: The Legendary Investor’s Strategy And Best ETF, Mutual Fund Picks
Ky Trang Ho and Tren Griffin

Ho: What inspired you to write a book about Charlie Munger?

Griffin: During the peak of the Internet bubble I began to search for an explanation of what was happening in the world since it made little sense to me at that time. Far too much paper wealth was being created far too quickly for what was happening during this bubble to be real. I had for many years been aware of the work and writing of Warren Buffett but decided at that time to re-read his work and think about it much more deeply.

I took off a full week from work to re-read everything he had ever written and think about it. As part of that process I was attracted more and more to the ideas and methods of Charlie Munger who was mentioned and talked about in this material written by and about Buffett. To understand Munger better I decided to compile his work from various sources into a private book written just for me. Writing about anything helps you understand the topic better. It forces you to think everything through from start to finish.

Warren Buffett has said that if you can’t write it down, you have not thought it through. As I compiled the material and wrote about Munger I began to understand his methods better and that they are applicable far beyond investing. (more…)

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Read the Introduction to Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor

Charlie Munger

“Much of what is interesting about Munger is explained by this simple sentence: ‘I observe what works and what doesn’t and why.’ Life happens to Munger as it does to everyone, but unlike many people, he thinks deeply about why things happen and works hard to learn from the experience.” — Tren Griffin

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. In this post, we are happy to present an excerpt from Tren Griffin’s Introduction, in which Griffin introduces his readers to Charlie Munger, the man and the investor, and explains why Munger is such a fascinating and successful character.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Making Rational Decisions, Part 2

Charlie Munger

“Rationality … requires developing systems of thought that improve your batting average over time.” “Luckily, I have selected very easy problems all my life, and I have a reasonable batting average.” “You don’t have to have perfect wisdom to get very rich – just a bit better than average over a long period of time.” — Charlie Munger

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. In today’s post, we are happy to present the second half of a post from Tren Griffin explaining Charlie Munger’s take on rationality, and why being rational is crucial for both investing and for life (view the first part here). The post was originally featured on Griffin’s blog, 25iq.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger about Making Rational Decisions, Part 2
By Tren Griffin

6.
“Second, what are the subconscious influences where the brain at a subconscious level is automatically doing these things-which by and large are useful, but which often malfunctions.” “Ordinary people [are] subconsciously affected by their inborn tendencies.”
After an expected value process is completed and you believe your decisions is rational, Charlie Munger suggests that the decision be cross-checked for possible errors. The reality is that no one has a fully rational mindset. It would not be possible to get out of bed in the morning if every human decision had to be made based on careful expected value calculations. Heuristics have been developed by humans to get through a day which sometimes cause decisions to become irrational, especially in a modern world which is very unlike most of history. In other words, no human is perfectly rational because everyone is impacted by emotional and psychological tendencies when making decisions. As a result, thinking rationally is a trained response. To be as rational in your daily life as Richard Zeckhauser is in playing bridge a person must overcome errors based on emotional or psychological mistakes. Rationality is in practical terms relative. Charlie Munger believes staying rational is hard work and requires constant practice and lifelong effort. Making mistakes is inevitable and will never stop, but you can learn to make less than your statistical share of mistakes. (more…)

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger About Making Rational Decisions, Part 1

Charlie Munger

“Rationality … requires developing systems of thought that improve your batting average over time.” “Luckily, I have selected very easy problems all my life, and I have a reasonable batting average.” “You don’t have to have perfect wisdom to get very rich – just a bit better than average over a long period of time.” — Charlie Munger

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. In today’s second post (check out the first for Charlie Munger’s take on the importance of reading for the investor!), we are happy to present the first half of a post from Tren Griffin explaining Charlie Munger’s take on rationality, and why being rational is crucial for both investing and for life. The post was originally featured on Griffin’s blog, 25iq.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Charlie Munger about Making Rational Decisions, Part 1
By Tren Griffin

The subtitle of my recently published book is “The Complete Investor.” While the book is written in the context of investing, understanding what Charlie Muunger teaches will help readers make rational decisions about anything in their life. Everyone must make decisions in life and by understanding how Charlie Munger thinks, you can improve your decision making skills. Learning to make better decisions requires that you spend some time thinking about thinking. The good news is that this learning process is fun. Charlie Munger puts it this way: “Learning has never been work for me. It’s play.” Life gets better if you adopt this approach to learning.

1.
“‘Charlie,’ she said, ‘What one word accounts for your remarkable success in life?’ I told her I was rational.”
If the actor in the television commercials for the famous beer is “the most interesting man in the world,” then perhaps Charlie Munger is “the most rational investor in the world.” His rationality and honesty in no small part explain why he is so popular. What Charlie Munger says is often so funny because he is perfectly willing to speak the truth in a completely unrestrained and direct manner. In other words, he appeals to so many people because of his honest insight about life, in much the same way as great comics like Louis C.K., Amy Schumer, or Chris Rock are so appealing. Individuals who speak the truth openly are often interesting, insightful and funny. To understand Charlie Munger’s appeal it is useful to think about the nature of rationality. Michael Mauboussin explains that there are different forms of rationality: “Cognitive scientists and philosophers talk about ‘instrumental’ and ‘epistemic’ rationality. Instrumental rationality is behaving in such a way that you get what you want the most, subject to constraints. Expected utility theory, which is based on a series of axioms, provides a normative framework for how to do this. You’ll be instrumentally rational if you follow the axioms. Epistemic rationality describes how well a person’s beliefs map onto the world. If you believe in the tooth fairy, for instance, you are showing a lack of epistemic rationality. Here’s a catchier way to remember the two terms: instrumental rationality is ‘what to do’ and epistemic rationality is ‘what is true.’” Charlie Munger understands and is focused on being both epistemically and instrumentally rational. (more…)

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

A Dozen Things Charlie Munger Has Said About Reading

Charlie Munger

“I don’t think you can get to be a really good investor over a broad range without doing a massive amount of reading. I don’t think any one book will do it for you.” — Charlie Munger

This week our featured book is Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor, by Tren Griffin. In order to get the feature started on the right note, we are happy to present a collection of quotes from Charlie Munger himself on the importance of reading for the investor, collected by Tren Griffin.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor!

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

New Book Tuesday! Stiglitz, Greenwald, Negri, Dying, and More New Books!

Creating a Learning Society

Our weekly list of new titles now available:

Creating a Learning Society, Reader’s Edition: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress
Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald

Dying: A Transition
Monika Renz; Translated by Mark Kyburz and John Peck

Factory of Strategy: Thirty-Three Lessons on Lenin (Now available in paper)
Antonio Negri; Translated by Arianna Bove

Setting Signs for Europe: Why Diacritics Matter for European Integration
Bernd Kappenberg. Foreword by Peter Schlobinski
(ibidem Press)