Free by Chris Anderson

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: I bought this book hoping it would help me understand a little better the economics of the internet world. There’s no doubt that the internet was built around the concept of Free, but like with every other topic I’m interested in, I missed reading a systematic study about what (if anything) had changed, and how. This book does a decent job at it, but it wasn’t perfect.

It gives a historical account of Free, the different meanings it can have, and how people react to it. It goes into the web world and those that have benefited from it, and those who have not, and why. It starts off well, but after a while, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. It gets better again towards the end, but I struggled to keep going in the middle since not much was being added to the discussion.

Also, this felt very much like a one-sided account. Of course Free is good for many things and there is no way you can compete with it, but that doesn’t mean everyone benefits from it. The author gives as an example the singer Sheryl Crow, who according to him, should be thankful more people are listening to her songs for free, because they can afterward buy tickets to her concerts and merchandise. But he never talks about movies (and other industries, but I’m using this as an example). What should the movie industry do, if everyone expects to always see movies for free? The short answer throughout the book is “find another way to make money”, but that’s easier said than done.

Speaking from experience with friends and the like, it’s obvious people stop valuing things they get for free. A lot of people don’t care about the work that goes into making a movie, or a song, or a book. Granted, a lot of people do, but what I’m getting at is, you can’t just focus on the good things. Nowadays, lots of people expect others to work for free (internships, anyone?) while they themselves expect to be paid. Free isn’t all that simple.

Anyway, back to the book. I expected to see bit more from the other side of the discussion, and it was repetitive, but still, a decent book on the topic.

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Fundamentos de Gestão by Various Authors

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: This book (only available in Portuguese) provides a decent introduction to general management, as well as touching on the most important points of more specialized topics. Even though the blurb claims that this is good for those just starting to study this subject, I found that many times – specially in financial management – explanations weren’t very clear, and would require some background to be fully understood.

Also, I didn’t appreciate the sarcastic comments about state companies. Despite the obvious problems they might have, they’re not all bad, and not everyone who works in them is a brainless old drone (they don’t exactly say this, this was just the general tone whenever the state was mentioned).

Still, it has a lot of useful information, and I learned quite a bit from it.

Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay by John Lanchester

Raing: ***** (5 out of 5)

Review: Like a lot of people in the world today, I’ve been struggling for a while to truly understand just how things got to be the way they are right now. Even with everyone and their uncle talking about the crisis, most of what is said concentrates on throwing accusations to one another, and I’ve missed seeing a systematic, organized account of what went on.

I admit, I’m not the most economically savvy person – my education has been focused primarily in the natural sciences and art. But I like to have basic knowledge of pretty much everything (not the healthiest of habits, I know) and not understanding the economic principles behind the crisis upset me, which is why I read this.

This book might just be the most important book I’ve read so far, this year. It’s a great introduction for those who, like me, don’t necessarily understand derivatives, credit default swaps, securitization, or how bail outs work. Beware though, this is not for the faint of heart – it’s not easy to wrap your head around the sheer craziness of the financial systems, and the unfairness of it all is even harder to accept.

My country is now in the middle of this whole economic shenanigan. A lot of the things in this book, being mostly US and UK-centric, don’t apply to us, and our situation can’t be explained only by the financial system (our political systems played a big part too), but it’s not hard to see that most of what went on globally is a direct consequence of the financial system’s irresponsibility. It’s not hard to see that, after the housing and personal credit bubbles burst and financial institutions no longer had that source of high-risk, high-interest rates income, they had to find something else to milk for money. That something, it turns out, is entire countries. And the infamous rating agencies, the central banks, the IMF, they’re all part of a broken system that results solely in putting money in the hands of the people who need it the least.

I only wish that more people would read things like this to truly understand what went on. After all, a big part of the problem is that most people had no idea of what was going in. Instead, I suspect most people just won’t find the attention span needed, and will just keep on looking for someone else to blame, not to mention keep on being more concerned with money than with value. That’s human nature for you.

As it says on the book:

Public rage is like lightning, and tends to discharge its energies at anyone who has the bad luck to be prominent in the wrong way at the wrong time. As for where the anger would go if it were properly directed, that’s easy to answer: at the banks, and at the governments which let the banks do what they did.

Highly recommended for everyone.