Ready Player One is a must read for gamers and fans of the 80s!

Ready Player One takes place in the mid-21st century. The world has essentially gone to hell and most of humanity spends its time working, playing and essentially living in OASIS which is an immersive massively multiplayer game.

On his death, James Halliday, the founder of the video game and the wealthiest man in the world, organizes a virtual treasure hunt giving away his fortune to the first individual lucky enough to find the “egg” he hid somewhere in OASIS. The catch is that each devilishly complex clue is rooted in an intimate knowledge of 1980s pop culture.

We follow Wade Watts (known by his handle Parzival) on an epic adventure where he faces powerful villains, has to overcome insurmountable obstacles and find his destiny.

As I was a teenager in the 1980s and played most of the games and saw most of the movies referenced in the book, Ready Player One was an amazing trip down memory lane wrapped in an epic quest.

If video games and 1980s pop culture speak to you in any way you owe it to yourself to check out this book!

Drive was disappointing

Despite the 93% on rottentomatoes, I should have seen the telltale sign. Whenever an audience likes a movie less than the critics do it’s typically the sign that a movie is stylistically interesting but not necessarily entertaining.

I did not like the silent Steve McQueen-type character played by Ryan Gosling. His silence just made the movie unbearably slow and boring. Moreover, for a hyper violent thriller, it was lacking in thrills. I also felt the movie was trying to do too much and lacked courage, best illustrated by its underwhelming ending.

I should have watched Moneyball instead!

Contagion is gripping yet unfulfilling

Contagion makes great points about how civil order would fall apart in supposedly “civilized” societies like our own should a virulent deadly disease spread. The movie makes a compelling case that its depiction of both the public and government reactions is realistic. However, as this is a Hollywood movie with a stellar cast, I was expecting much more. There are so many undeveloped characters that you don’t really care about any of them when they die. Moreover, the movie lacks entertainment value. In other words, it’s interesting but that’s about it…

Introducing New York’s First Padel Court!

Padel is a racquet sport played extensively in Spain and Argentina. I have been obsessed with the sport ever since I was first exposed to it as a kid. It’s easier to pick up than tennis and the points are spectacular. In many ways over the past few years the main reason I would go home to Nice on vacation was just to play with my family and friends.

As I mentioned a few years ago, I always wanted to play in New York, and knew there were enough Argentine, Spanish and French practitioners to organize games, but there were no courts. I am happy to report that New York is now complete! I decided to take matters in my own hand and built a padel court at my house in Bedford just outside of the city.

Reach out to me if you want to play whether you are an old hand at padel or a good tennis or squash player looking for something new!

As you can see below, the court is ready for some action!

In the meantime enjoy this video of some great padel points.

Eat People makes great points but ultimately falls short

I loved How We Got Here, Andy Kessler’s last book. That book was essentially the entrepreneurship and capitalist equivalent of Bill Bryson’s A Short Story of Nearly Everything. I was really looking forward to reading Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs.

The book is essentially a cross between my 9 business selection criteria and an entrepreneurship and capitalist manifesto. Unfortunately the book is too preachy and angry to make the point that wealth creation comes from entrepreneurship and innovation very effectively. In many ways it falls prey to the same errors the zero sum anti-growth camp it tries to criticize.

It’s all the more sad as it is a topic that has to be covered and a book that has to be written. I am looking forward to someone writing the definite capitalist wealth creation manifesto!

The Fall of the Roman Empire is a must read for Roman history buffs!

Peter Heather has managed the inconceivable: to displace Gibbons (for me at least) as the reference when it comes to explaining the fall of the Western Roman Empire. He very convincingly argues that the rise of the Huns and Goths brought down the Roman Empire rather than internal conflicts and moral decline. He disputes that the Christianization of the Empire had a real impact on the running of the Empire. It brought about a cultural revolution, but did not impact the running of the Empire: “only the nomenclature was different.” Likewise, he argues that splitting the Empire in Western and Eastern parts was necessary to spread patronage throughout a very large population and avoid usurpation.

After thoroughly rejecting the internal causes of collapse, Heather argues that exogenous shocks weakened then led to the fall of the Empire. First the rise of Persia in the East as a competing super power required a mobilization of large troop numbers which left the frontier poorly defended. Then the arrival of the Huns to the borders of the Empire displaced huge numbers of “Barbarians” into the Empire. They became unified in the process. Even when the Romans temporarily contained them, the continuing Western advance of the Huns pressed new waves of invaders into its borders. The more these invaders occupied land and decreased the Empire’s ability to raise taxes to field an army, the weaker it became and the more attractive a target it became.

The loss of Africa to the Vandals was probably the coup de grace as it was the bread basket of the Western Empire and was the source of much of its wealth. Had the Romans succeeded in recapturing it in 468, the outcome might have been different. Their inability to recapture their most productive regions explains why even the collapse of the Hunnic Empire after the death of Attila did not benefit the Western Empire much.

The book is not perfect. The pacing varies dramatically and the book can be a bit tedious at times when it is too detailed or repetitive. Fortunately those parts are far and few between and the book more than makes up for it with its compelling narrative and rich description of its engaging cast of historical characters.

If you have an interest in the Roman Empire, you owe it to yourself to read this book!

The Upside of Irrationality is a must read!

Given my blog post on How to minimize human misery in recessions or the macroeconomic implications to hedonic adaptation, this review should not come as too much of a surprise. I had loved Dan Ariely’s original book Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality is a worthy successor.

In this book Dan analyzes a wide range of counter-intuitive results in diverse subject matters ranging from our innate desire to revenge to the market failure in online dating to why bonuses can be counterproductive. As usual in behavioral economics books the anecdotes make the story. In this book many of them were very personal as Dan covers the personal impact of a youthful accident which left him badly scarred and required him to accept temporary pain for long-term benefit, trade-offs which we are particularly bad at dealing with.

My one quibble might be with the title as the book does not really cover the upside of irrationality as much as the fact that we are irrational, but that there are ways of dealing with it when we are aware of our limitations. Regardless, read the book!