My Books of 2015

I think I did much better with reading this year. I read some good things which really educated me and expanded my mind. To continue the ‘tradition’ that is now in its 3rd year (see 2013 and 2014), here are the best things I read in 2015

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World

daniel-yergin-the-quest

Hands down the best book I read this year. For me, this is the definition of what a good book should be – you come away from knowing so much more than you knew before you opened it. Every page contains a revelation and is written in such a breezy style that is accessible to anyone.

The book also really made me sad for 2 reasons in particular. The first one is that I entered ‘Nigeria’ in the search function on my Kindle and all the references were either of militancy or something embarrassing. In terms of the development of the oil industry or contribution to technology, Nigeria is never anywhere to be found in those conversations. Yet, the country continues to depend so much on a commodity for which it has less than  a zero say in how the market works.

The second sad thing was Chapter 9 which illustrates how China discovered oil and then parlayed this into broader national development. The scale of the opportunities Nigeria has lost really hit me here and nearly made me cry.

I thank Bobby E for recommending this book to me.

Wealth, Poverty and Politics: An International Perspective

WPP

I always say that Thomas Sowell is the man who taught me how to think. Now 85 years old, the man continues to fire on all cylinders.

This book is a deep dive into history that explains patterns of wealth and poverty that continue to manifest till this day. The hand of history is strong indeed.

But it’s also hopeful. He documents numerous examples of people who have overcome often impossible challenges to move from the natural state of poverty to wealth. As he says – there is no mystery about poverty, it is wealth that needs explaining.

Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security

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I wrote about this book earlier in the year here. It’s a survey of the effects of corruption around the world and the sheer damage it does to people and how it makes it practically impossible to implement useful policies.

Of course, Nigeria features in it but what is interesting is looking at our corruption compared to others.

The book doesn’t distinguish between the types of corruption as I tried to do in my post about Lunatic Liu, but it’s worth a read still.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Ghettoside

America is blessed with some really good journalists and Jill Leovy is one. This year has been full of stories of (white) policemen in America killing unarmed black men. Each story gets a lot of publicity as it should. But there is a deeper problem that goes largely unreported – an epidemic of black men killing other black men.

What the author brings to the story is an attempt to answer why it continues to happen. And it is the most convincing answer I have seen on the subject so far.

It also made me think about the Middle Belt in Nigeria and the vicious cycle of killing there. Without justice, there is no hope for a solution to such problems.

One of the best books I have read in a long time.

The Fishermen

Chigozie Obioma-The Fisherman

I read one fiction book every year and I am glad I picked this one. I suspect that much of it is autobiographical but it’s still a great read.

There are various ways you can read it but the one I chose the CIA ‘prophecy’ about Nigeria breaking up in 2015. Someone makes a prophecy and then you are so terrified by it that you then unwittingly do everything in your power to make it come true.

Because the book is layered onto the political events of the time it was set in, it is hard to escape the fact that this is really a story about Nigeria’s determination to ruin itself.

The Looting Machine

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I also reviewed an excerpt of this book earlier year here. The title of this book really should have been ‘Africa Is a Country’. From Angola to Nigeria to Guinea to wherever else; the pattern of looting is the same. Brain dead leadership who have no clue how to move a country forward simply help themselves to resources to pass the time. It’s all they know how to do.

The author is white so there’s a limit to what he can say. The question as to why Africa continues to produce such people as leaders is what is really interesting. Until that question is debated frankly without it turning into ‘racism’, things might continue this way for a while.

China’s Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaomi, Tencent, and Other Companies are Changing the Rules of Business

China's Disruptors

I also try to read one China book each year and this was a really fun one. The best thing about it is not so much the optimistic story the author paints (debatable) but the cast of characters he names.

So many Chinese entrepreneurs I had never even heard of made a showing in this book. And they are doing amazing things in China. The country has truly come a long way since Mao.

Read this one for some inspiration about what is possible for people who are determined.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Warmth of Other Suns

Sometimes the best way to escape a hopeless situation is to just get up and go where there are better opportunities. Because this great migration – of blacks leaving the south for the north – happened inside America, it’s probably not as well told as, say, the migration of Jews and Scandinavians to America in the late 19th Century.

The real achievement of the author was her ability to tell such a deeply emotional story while doing her best to stay even-handed.

And with the way the world is eternally interesting, blacks are now migrating down south from the north in large numbers these days. Again, the lure is opportunity.

Who Gets What – And Why: The Hidden World of Matchmaking and Market Design

Who Gets What

One of the most annoying things I hear people say is that economists only do ‘theory’ and don’t know the ‘real world’. It sounds good especially if you find the arguments hard to take. But it is nowhere near true.

Fortunately, Professor Roth is here to correct that with this joyful book about how market design can improve lives in very practical ways. if you have ever used eBay, it might interest you to know that the feedback and rating system was designed by 3 PhD students of Prof Roth’s. What about the commodity exchange in Ethiopia? Prof Roth himself designed that one.

I’m told that Sanusi Lamido, as Central Bank Governor, invited Prof Roth to Nigeria to advise on designing a commodity exchange or something. Of course, his recommendations were put in a file somewhere and have been ignored ever since. Nigeria is too big to be taking advice from a Nobel Prize winner I guess.

The best thing about this book for me is that you come away thinking that the author is a very decent man and a fine gentleman who is passionate about using economic tools to improve lives.

Hive Mind

Hive Mind

I’ve only just started reading this one and I’m not finished yet. But it is fascinating enough for me to include in this list.

The author makes a very interesting case that individual intelligence in a nation does not matter so much. What really matters is the average IQ of the nation. Believe it or not, average IQ correlates with so many interesting things including infrastructural development.

But don’t panic! Low IQ does not mean things have to stay that way. The Flynn Effect tells us that IQ can be increased over time (Thomas Sowell’s book above also documented how IQ of blacks in America significantly increased over a relatively few number of years which then embarrassed all the people who thought low IQs were permanent).

So if higher IQs are a very good thing and IQs can be increased, this obviously has policy implications as to what kind of things can be done to increase the average IQ of a nation.

I will be doing a fuller review of this book later in 2016.

What I Will Be Reading In 2016

My Kindle is already full of books to read next year. As I have now spent 12 years living in Britain, I plan to immerse myself in the history of the country next year. It does seem like an impossible task as every inch of soil you stand on in Britain carries thousands of years of documented history.

I’m starting with Professor Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History. I’ve read a couple of chapters and it is quite fascinating. Professor Tombs and his wife Professor Isabelle also wrote a book about the history of the relationship between France and England – That Sweet Enemy. It’s also on my to-read list.

I’ve bought Frank McLynn’s Genghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered The World. The reason I bought this book is purely down to the excerpt below

The harshness of the Mongolian habitat and the complexities of nomadic pastoralism help to explain the many potentialities of Mongol society eventually actualised by Genghis Khan.  Care of massive and variegated herds and flocks produced a number of consequences: adaptability and ingenuity of response and initiative; mobility and the capacity for rapid mobilisation; low levels of wealth and of economic inequality; almost total absence of a division of labour; political instability.  Migration meant constant alertness and readiness to fight, since wealth in livestock is almost by definition highly vulnerable to raiding, reiving and rustling. Managing large animals was inherently more strenuous and dangerous than tending crops, so the very nature of pastoral life produced a hardier breed than would be generated by the peasantry.  Migration in peacetime also produced martial qualities via the surplus energy available for fighting, since in a pacific context warriors could leave the minutae of herding and droving to women and children.  when the fighting came, it was less destructive than for sedentary societies that had to defend fields of crops, cities, temples and other fixed points.

I read that and I was like woah! This will definitely will teach me something about the herdsmen situation in Nigeria.

I’ve also got 2 books on economic development lined up – The Public Wealth of Nations and The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.

One book which I think will be interesting is coming out in February – Made in Africa: Learning to Compete In Industry. I will definitely be reading this one as the authors have first-hand experience and most likely know what they are talking about.

Finally, for fiction, I will be reading Elnathan John’s Born On A Tuesday. It has come highly recommended by a few friends who have read it.

I wish you a prosperous 2016 full of good reading.

FF

P.S I didn’t include the articles I read this year because it is impossible to list them – I read too many good articles. Way too many. But to pick one random one, try this one about goats in Somalia. 

 

A Foolish Consistency…

…is the hobgoblin of small minds.

It costs something like $30 to extract a barrel of crude oil in Nigeria. So when oil was trading at $110 Nigeria had a margin of around $80 to play with. But when oil drops to $45 as it has now, that $80 margin turns to $15 as the cost of getting the oil out of the ground still has to be incurred.

To put the above numbers another way — while oil prices have dropped by 60%, the revenues available to Nigeria have dropped by 81%. That is, revenues have dropped much more than oil prices have dropped. Nigeria is earning almost nothing these days and you can imagine how disastrous it will be if oil prices drop further to $40 or even less

That’s a small slice of a piece I’ve written on the history of how Nigeria’s foreign exchange rate became such a political matter.

You can read it here. It even has pictures

FF