State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III by Bob Woodward (2006)

This history of events leading to the War in Iraq offers a view into the Byzantine political power struggles in the White House. The "king making" process of trying to find candidates to fill various posts in the administration, is based on already prepared lists, speaks volumes on the favoritism of these processes. Readers beware, this is not a pretty picture.

The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden (2006)

If you hoped that admittance into US higher education is based on merit, think again. This book spends little time on public higher education, and its preference for affirmative action (which one can easily understand as racial preferences and discrimination) and other various social engineering approaches, but it exposes preferences of private collages towards "legacies" and children of donors (which in many cases happen to be the same, encouraging a caste system in the society). "Legacies" (children of graduates of a college) make up 40% of admissions for certain colleges, although the number seems to be "only" 10%+ for many of the Ivy league colleges, where many even on faculty seem to argue that this is to be the way of life ensuring financial future for their institutions (and just simply a way for a "subjective" selection process creating a "balanced" student population). The book is richly illustrating these briberies with actual real life examples. There are only three private institutions, which seem to be immune, offering admissions strictly based on merit, Caltech (less than 1% "legacies" admitted), Cooper Union in NYC and Berea College in Kentucky (this school basically requires the student to be poor to be eligible for admission, and requires students to work 10 hours a week for the school). But do not get desperate, even if you have not get the 1 million dollars plus to spend bribing an Ivy League institution for admission, you may only have to spend a few thousand or few ten thousands dollars to buy an admission into a second tier college. Or if all fails, start training your offsprings in screw, fencing, squash, golf, horse riding, skiing or polo, as these "white" upper-class sports also could be your ticket into the American Brahmin class. And no, studying harder is not your ticket to admission anymore.


No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)

Another morality tail from this known author. Set in 1980 in Texas, Moss, the Vietnam veteran, picks up the cash from a drug deal went wrong, and things are going downhill from there for him. The sheriff of this quiet Texas county, who has sympathy for Moss and his young wife, tries to help him (and save his life). But these are different days now (partially because of the imprint of the Vietnam war on the society), even the problems of the schools are facing changed for the worse. The violence escalates, as both sides of the drug deal hunt for Moss and each other, only one in person involved in the deal survives at the end, a psychopath contract killer. This is not the good old days, and considering the amount of cash changing hands in these deals, there is no way going back to them.

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield (2006)

A great plot, subplots, with secrets, half-truths and lies. A fine ghost mystery, and in particular the audio book is masterfully presented.


The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance by Suze Orman (1999)

This fat book has lots of psychobabble and offers little content otherwise (although some details around marriage legalities, as related to money and property, annuities, (Roth) IRA, one may find useful). I kinda feel sad for the American public, who after finished reading this book might feel more confused about their finances than before, may decide that they do need to hire a financial advisor, like Suze herself. Considering her original background as a stock broker (one wonders what was her track record ...), her views of the investment world are surprisingly limited, by almost narrowing "investments" down to one's own house and to buying US Treasury securities. Hopefully this is just a reflection of honesty and integrity, as there are quite a few brokers, who do keep their own funds in US Treasury securities, while pitching much riskier investment to their own clients ...


Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (2006)

This posthumous masterpiece of Irène Némirovsky, the Russian born writer (who became well known French writer in spite of not being a "native" speaker) will spellbound you. It is in the best tradition of the big novels in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Reading the first two pages will place you into Paris during the air raids with the German troops rapidly approaching. And the rest of the pages will paint a bleak (but still with glimmers of hope) picture of mostly the worst, but sometimes the best coming out of people as the society's fabric unravels. We ought to be thankful to not living through those times and needing to make those choices. Planned to be a set of five books (only two of the books completed in handwriting before she was hauled away into Auschwitz to die, and those notebooks were transcribed by her by luck surviving daughter to be published as this book), the "Storm in June" and "Dolce" are indeed the first two parts of an unfinished symphony.

The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! by Tim Harford (2005)

The author applies David Ricardo's theory around "marginal" value to various aspects of our life, explaining why the coffee sold to commuters in the morning is so expensive (and how little of that money really goes to the growers, even when you are buying "Fair Trade" coffee), how high rent (real-estate or other kind) is caused by legislative or other scarcities, how the behaviour of consumers is used for price targeting (and here we are not only talking about Amazon.com's strategies) and why supermarket prices flip-flop between "full" price and a 30-50% sale for certain items (instead of lowering the price by 5% across the board, this is a tool to lure bargain shoppers into the store), how globalization and "sweatshops" are benefiting both trading sites (as "sweatshops" are still offering better wages and working conditions than other local enterprises), how P/E is still the king in the markets (and it will not work for you to buy the hype), showing a great number of examples why non-market principles fail (like the very expensive and underdelivering US healthcare system, and the confused price targeting of the pharmaceutical companies), and how market principles succeed (like externalizing London traffic congestion costs directly to the vehicles causing them, and the health and retirement system of Singapore, and China's recent economical rise). This book is a good read for a general readership, exploring some new issues in addition to the ones already presented in earlier books, in particular an interesting description of the failed US and New Zealand and successful UK auctions of cell phone spectrums, and great details on why Cameroon is slipping into into deeper poverty (despite the various foreign help given, and suggest that maybe better management could help?? and indeed I would argue that stopping all foreign help could bring positive changes to this and many other countries). It is always interesting to see how quickly questions arise on established under a rational light.