Thursday, June 30, 2022

Books Read - Q2 2022

[Previously: Q1 2022, our 2021 Book Review Compendium, 2020 Book Review Compendium, 2019 book compendium, 2018 book compendium, and pre-2018 book compendium.]

  • The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (2.5/5) Dan Yergin is the author of celebrated petroleum history book The Prize and also The Quest. Here's the problem: how do you write a book about Ukraine as a hydrocarbon transportation flashpoint without mentioning the phrase, "ten percent for the big guy"? This was written in 2020: "there is a risk that the commanding position of the United States - derived from its capital markets and the dollar - could be eroded over time by the overreliance on financial sanctions, because nations will find alternatives. Two years after the United States imposed financial sanctions on Russia, Obama treasury secretary Lew himself warned, 'The more we condition the use of the dollar and our financial system on adherence to U.S. foreign policy, the more risk of migration to other currencies and other financial systems in the medium term grows. Such outcomes would not be in the best interests of the United States.'" "The lithium-ion battery was first invented in an Exxon laboratory in the mid-1970s, during a time when it was thought that the world would run out of oil and Exxon would need to find another way to stay in the mobility business. Then oil prices collapsed in a glutted market, and the incentive disappeared. Over the next decade the battery was improved, and in the early 1990s, Sony commercialized the batteries, which became the power source for laptop computers and cell phones." "In 2019, EVs were less than 3 percent of new car sales in the United States. Some 189 zip codes - 0.2 percent of the 43,000 in the country - represent 25 percent of EV sales, and all are in California."
  • Numbers Don't Lie: 71 Stories to Help Us Understand the Modern World (4/5) We posted a full review earlier in the quarter. Key question: "Why would someone who is so concerned about rising carbon dioxide levels (and who knows that there is no way to having rising standards of living without rising carbon dioxide levels) also be so concerned with research into pandemics and biological warfare?"
  • Exit Strategy: A Robert Fairchild Novel (5/5) Another great Matthew McCleery novel, the third in The Shipping Man series that started with a hedge fund manager buying a dry bulk carrier. (See previously: 1, 2, 3.) This novel centers on Norwegian VLCC owner Coco Jacobsen and his struggle with the new ESG investing trend. "The World Economic Forum? You mean that lovefest in Davos where the rich guys fly in on private jets and promise that they will reduce carbon emissions and wealth disparity?" Coco habitually converts all figures of money into their daily time charter equivalent, net of brokerage commissions: "even the biggest shipowners boiled down the largest numbers to the lowest common denominator: the daily cash breakeven." In this novel, he's living on a yacht: "Kon Tiki, figuring that if the world went haywire, like if there was a pandemic of a social revolution or a nuclear war or a universal wealth tax or if all the glaciers melted, he could hunker down aboard a heavily armed and generously provisioned vessel and spend the rest of his life roaming the world like his Viking forebears had done." Dopamine: "On the way out of the room, Robert scooped his Pinot Noir off the dining table so he could bring it with him - to enhance the imminent pleasure of checking his iPhone. After all, the only thing more satisfying than cruising his screen was doing it while simultaneously doing something else that required his attention, like watching a movie or talking on the phone - maybe even two other things." Funny quote that reminds us of Bugbee: "You leveraged your shipping shares to buy more leveraged shipping shares in a highly leveraged shipping company?" Also: "He might not be able to live in a stucco mansion on Ocean Avenue in Palm Beach, but unless the Scrubber Ships investment was a total disaster, he would still have enough dough to buy a place on the Intercoastal Waterway in Delray with a swimming pool and a dock deep enough for the Donzi." "Robert has promised that Vinny and his investors could name fifteen of the ships if they invested the money in the scrubbers. Vessel naming was a temptation few newbie investors could resist."
  • Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder (4/5) This is by Samuel Fussell, son of Paul Fussell, author of the to-be-reviewed, 5/5 book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, and of Betty Fussell, whose memoir My Kitchen Wars we have previously reviewed. His mother's book was only a 2/5, although she did memorably write, "to cook French, eat French, drink French (California wines didn't yet count, and couldn't be mentioned in polite conversation unaccompanied by the word 'varietal') was to become versant in the civilized tongues of Europe as opposed to America's barbaric yawp." Sam Fussell's story is that he was a lanky 6'4" young guy working in Manhattan in the early 80s when it was beset with violent crime. Wanting to armor himself against this, he started bodybuilding to pack on muscle. Starting with circuit training machines at the YMCA, he graduates to free weights, and then after a physical altercation at work, quits his job and moves to Pasadena to be a full-time bodybuilder, living on savings and a small inheritance from his grandfather. The altercation happened because his "physical metamorphosis had brought with it a completely different way of perceiving the world and [his] place in it." Some parts are amusingly Fussellian: "I had been raised in the 'thin is in' neighborhood of Princeton, where madras-clad men starved themselves to impersonate Arrow shirt models." He was "clean" when he began, but in California he ends up doing serious amounts of steroids. He goes to a powerlifting competition where he doesn't do very well, because bodybuilders are not as strong as they look. He wins a bodybuilding competition (i.e. posing), and then immediately retires from lifting altogether. He did an interview in 2014, about 25 years after the book was published, that is in some ways more interesting than the book.
  • Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas--Not Less (3/5) See full review. It's an autistically-detailed manifesto against "Patagonia catalog environmentalism."

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