What I’ve Been Reading: September 2020

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Late August and September has brought a reading binge thanks to our local library reopening.   Thanks to some good recommendations and the benefits of early retirement, I’ve run through five books in the last thirty plus days.

Half Time by Bob Buford: I ran across a copy of this book at a thrift store, it was not available in my library and both Fritz Gilbert recommended it in his book, Keys to a Successful Retirement as well as a former professional acquaintance when I declared early retirement.   The book had a religious undertone, which isn’t necessarily my preference, but asks important questions about what the second half of life will look like.  Ideally this is something I should have read before leaving my career and getting to the point of burnout I felt, but it is still applicable.  

What does it mean to follow your passions?  What impact do you want to leave on the world?  What happens after you stop pursuing titles and material possessions?  Since not everyone has the ability to just quit work like I did, I appreciated the perspective Mr Buford shared about the transition for people who aren’t yet financially independent.   I’ll probably share the results of some of the exercises in the book in the next reflections post now that I’m coming up on eighteen months out of work.

Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich:  This was a fascinating story about how the Winklevoss twins became the first billionaires thanks to Bitcoin.  I do not know a lot about Bitcoin, but thought the author did a great job helping me understand it and wrapping it around the story of the Winklevoss twins discovering bitcoin while being locked out of Silicon Valley.  It was a great story for someone like me that really didn’t understand digital currency – I still don’t really understand it.  But a worldwide means of exchange is fantastically efficient compared to our existing system to make international payments.

Dark Towers by David Enrich:  This was really two stories, the fascinating rise and fall of Deutsche Bank thanks to their aggressive foray into investment banking, then the attempts to loosely implicate them as an enabler of Donald Trump.   As a former banker, the first story was fascinating to me.  DB has a clear lack of institutional control and slowly moved away from the most important rule of financial services:  Do no harm to your customer.  It is amazing to me how long DB got away with their poor risk management systems from 2010 – 2015 based on what was disclosed.  Their Russian subsidiary was especially bad on enabling bad actors to get around international sanctions.

Deutsche Bank was loose on risk management and it should be no surprise that they became the lead lender to a previously bankrupt developer named Donald Trump.  The book attempts to imply that DB was the only lender who would do business with Trump and without DB’s funding Trump may not have the personal funds to campaign.  I found that to be a loose conclusion, in my professional experience, as there always seems to be another lender of last resort to step in and earn some money on a real estate project.  Some banks just hold their nose at character issues in the name of profit, that is not an issue exclusive to Duetsche.   These projects were at such a size they would have been syndicated, meaning other lenders are participating.   I’m no fan of DJT, but to me it read like a journalist already had a conclusion made up, then attempted to weave that conclusion into the story.  Personally it was a better story absent those attempts, but I get the author’s attempt to draw in readers  that aren’t just Bank nerds like me.

Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich: Thanks to reading Bitcoin Billionaires, I realized Ben Mer also authored the story about the MIT students who took in Vegas in Blackjack.  I realize the author took some liberties in the story, but it’s still a great non-fiction story.  I enjoy business leaning non-fiction and this was beyond fascinating to learn how these math nerds beat the house, the lengths that the team went through to implement card counting and the countermeasures the casinos took to identify and ban the players.  I can’t remember if I saw the movie or not a decade ago, but I’ll probably watch that and a couple of the documentaries.  My inner finance nerd was fascinated.

Billion Dollar Whale by Bradley Hope & Tom Wright:  I don’t know where to begin on this story, but it is a must read.  1MDB was the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that had upwards of $3.5 billion dollars siphoned off, led by a thirty something year old Wharton grad who’s now holed up in China, and toppled the Prime Minister.  This is also a massive black eye for Goldman Sachs.  All prior financial crimes pale in comparison to the size of this heist.  Who knew the Wolf of Wall Street was made with embezzled funds?  Just how much of Las Vegas was propped up from 2009 to 2012 thanks to this fraud?   How was Goldman Sachs and three of the four big audit firms blind to this for so long?  

What’s Up Next?

I’m waiting on The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel, which has been backordered by a month due to high demand.  I’ve also picked up a few suggestions from the local library thanks to followers and will be working through those over the next month.  I’m always up for new recommendations, feel free to send them on.

2 Replies to “What I’ve Been Reading: September 2020”

  1. Thanks for the book reviews & suggestions!

    If you liked Buford’s book, you may also want to check out “Trade Up” by Dean Niewolny.

  2. Ooh – thanks for the book recommendations! I’ll definitely pick up Billion Dollar Whale. I’ve seen it at a bookstore once but I’ve completely forgotten about it until now.

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