Monday, May 18, 2009

What I've been reading

1. Robert Kaplan's Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts - enjoyable. I agree that these are dedicated men and women who are doing a tremendous job with what they have. There was a nagging feeling however that Kaplan was holding back on some of his feelings. There was a scene where he described the triumphant scene at a base he was at when Bush beat Kerry - he felt lonely. He also describes why the grunts tend to lean Republican or at least share some the outlook of Bush especially with regards to the war on terror. Along the way, he notes the role of contractors and how they leave a smaller footprint than a regular military deployment. Also interesting was the military outlook with regard to China and how they are preparing for it. All in all it was an insightful read.

2. Anthony Holden's Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player was fairly entertaining although it tended to drag a bit in parts. I was quickly lost in the poker jargon right away but it reminded that the best analogy to sunk costs and marginal costs was perhaps the pot (sunk) and the bids (marginal). Yes, we do have to spend money to make money.

3. Edward Scharff's Worldly Power: The Making of The Wall Street Journal (out of print, unfortunately) was an extremley enjoyable book which documents the rise of the Wall Street Journal from a trade sheet that was always viewed as being a little shady to its rise as a newspaper with over 2 million subscribers in the late 1980s. He describes well, the origins of WSJ's conservative outlook - not Ivy League types but Midwestern DePauw graduates who were suspicious of the East coast elites and tended to hire from the midwest.

Most enjoyable were the quotes of various writings from the early editors and writers of the WSJ such as Barney Kilgore who fills at least half of the book and his successor Warren Phillips. He also describes the irony of the 70s when its conservative outlook (support of the Vietnam War and Nixon) was at odds with those of most of its liberal writers. For most of its existence (in the book) WSJ repoters were paid much lower than those at other newspapers such as the NYT and continued to lose talent because of this.

The tension between the Dow Jones wire service and the newspaper itself as well as its desire to become a general newspaper versus a business newspaper were the underlying currents in the WSJ which I imagine continues today. Given the current state of the WSJ and print newspapers in general, this book should be updated and would probably be popular.

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