Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Briefly Noted

The Wisdom of Finance, by Mihir A. Desai (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This accessible book attempts to show that economic theories can illuminate other areas of our lives. Probabilistic thinking may help us to deal with life's risks and randomness, and diversification can improve our relationship portfolios. Some analogies are labored, but Desai, a Harvard economist, is an omnivorous reader, referring to Trollope and Hammett amid explanations of such concepts as leverage and options theory. The book's final question may be its most important: "If the ideas of finance are so life-affirming, why does everyone hate it?" But Desai, who avoids topics like the 2008 financial crash and rising income inequality, offers no convincing answer.

The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel (Knopf). Seeking an anonymity so extreme that it was nearly an erasure, Christopher Knight lived in the woods of Maine as a hermit for twenty-seven years. His isolation lasted nearly as long as Robinson Crusoe's, and Finkel delights in revealing the ingenuity involved: water-resistant flooring made from old magazines and electrical tape; "churchlike" walls of tarp and garbage bags. Knight's independence was both romantic and banal. Never more than three minutes from civilization, he lived off Devil Dogs poached from nearby cabins. While the story invites comparisons with "Walden," Knight himself dismisses Thoreau as "a dilettante," telling Finkel, "I will admit to feeling a little contempt for those who can't keep quiet. …

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