11th June 2013: Picks & Pans

Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks by Oliver James (New York: Vermillion, 2013). (TS-3). A winner-takes-all environment, flawed incentives design, and ‘tournaments’ for managerial roles means that proficiency in office politics is often necessary for career prosperity. James first examines four toxic types in professions and organisations: Psychopaths, Machiavels, Narcissists, and Imposters. In-depth advice is given on a range of skills including: acting, astuteness, virtuosity, and handling dirty tricks. Authenticity, insight, mindfulness, playfulness, and fluid, two-way communication are suggested as ways to reframe office politics in a more productive, and perhaps even initiatory, manner. Office Politics is useful reading if you aspire to climb the corporate ladder, and want to avoid the White Magic of organisations, and the of co-workers.


The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi by William Scott Wilson (Boston and London: Shambhala, 2013). (TS-3). Miyamoto Musashi’s influential Book of Five Rings (Gorin No Sho) discusses sword-fighting skills as one path to self-mastery. Wilson combines a biography of Musashi; an analysis of the development and life circumstances of Musashi’s philosophy; and a consideration of Musashi’s influence on Japanese martial arts, and on global popular culture, such as film portrayals and Wall Street traders. Kenji Tokitsu’s book Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings (Boston and London: Weatherhill, 2012) (TS-4) provides a parallel history of Musashi’s life, documents his pre-Gorin No Sho writings, and examines his School (Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu), and its relationship to Budo.


Balancing the Mind: A Tibetan Buddhist Approach to Refining Attention by B. Allan Wallace (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2005). (TS-4). Wallace was a monk in Buddhist monasteries in India, and Switzerland, and has translated for H.H., the Dalai Lama. Balancing the Mind is a commentary on ‘Small Exposition of the Stages of Path to Enlightenment’ by the Buddhist Vajrayana monk Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), which outlines an Indo-Tibetan methodology for using introspection (samprajnya) and mindfulness (smrti) to cultivate meditative quiescence (samatha). Wallace discusses parallels with William James’ study of religious experience, Theravada Buddhism, and contemporary neuroscience research. A helpful glossary translates specialist terms in English, Sanskrit, and Tibetan, and an extensive bibliography is included for further research. Gareth Sparham has also translated Tsongkhapa’s ‘An Explanation of Tantric Morality Called “Fruit Clusters of Siddhis”’ available with commentary in Tantric Ethics: An Explanation of the Precepts for Buddhist Vajrayana Practice (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2005) (TS-3). Tsongkhapa’s perspective on Root and Gross Downfalls in the Kalacakra System has insights for the periodic crises and shocks that have occurred in initiatory wisdom schools.


Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason: Santaraksita and Kamalasila on Rationality, Argumentation, & Religious Authority by Sara L. McClintock (Somerville, MA Wisdom Publications, 2010). (TS-4). McClintock is an Assistant Professor of religion at Emory University. She examines in detail the discussion of the Buddha’s omniscience (a “state of infinite, all-encompassing knowledge”) in the Tattvasamgraha (written by the Buddhist monk Santaraksita in the 8th century) and the Panjika commentary (by Santaraksita’s direct disciple, the monk Kamalsila), and its influence on “the metaphysics, epistemology, soteriology, and practical rationality” of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Santaraksita and Kamalasila’s analysis highlights the pivotal role of a Buddhist “rhetoric of reason” in order to eliminate human ignorance (avidya) that is a barrier to potential omniscience (sarvajna). McClintock provides a glimpse of argumentation in the Indo-Tibetan religious tradition.


Secrets of the Blue Cliff Record: Zen Comments by Hakuin and Tenkei translated by Thomas Cleary (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2000). (TS-3). The Blue Cliff Record is an influential collection of Zen Buddhist teaching stories and koans. Cleary has translated commentaries by Hakuin Ekaku (1685—1768) and Tenkei Denson (1648—1735), reflecting the Rinzai and Soto sects, respectively. For Cleary, the commentaries illuminate how the Blue Cliff Record text is “specially designed to assist in the activation of dormant human potential . . . [that] are intended to foster specific perceptions and insights whose absorption in experience enable the mind to work in a more coherent and comprehensive manner than conventional education can produce.”


Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science by Peter Godfrey-Smith (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). (TS-3). Godfrey-Smith developed this primer on the philosophy of science from his lectures at Stanford University. He clarifies the foundations of scientific theory-building; the role of logical empiricism and the different types of explanatory inference; the Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-Feyerabend debates of the 1960s and 1970s; and recent challenges from the sociology of science (Bruno Latour), feminism, natural philosophy, scientific realism, and Bayesian-influenced probability. Godfrey-Smith will help you to understand the difference between deductive and inductive logic; the influence of Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions; and the recent work in causal explanations and mechanisms. This is a general book if you have a general interest in logic and the scientific method; and perhaps an introductory book if you are going to work regularly with the natural approach to the objective and subjective universes.


Machine Learning: The Art and Science of Algorithms That Make Sense of Data by Peter Flach (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). (TS-3). (MAM-3). Flach defines machine learning as “concerned with using the right features to build the right models that achieve the right tasks.” Machine learning uses descriptive, predictive, and probabilistic models to build learning and rules-based analysis of computer data, from your email’s spam filter to search engine algorithms. This book is an introduction to how computer science is using machine learning: it is an accessible introduction to the machine learning field (when compared with other relevant literature); but might be a more specialist text if you are unfamiliar with probability, tree and rule models, and concept learning. Machine learning informs complex decision-making and knowledge discovery in computer science, e-commerce choice selection, search engine optimisation, quantitative hedge funds, and pharmaceuticals research.


Relational Knowledge Discovery by M.E. Muller (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). (TS-4). (MAM-4). Muller is a Professor of computer science at the University of Applied Sciences, Bonn-Rhein-Sieg. Formal methods for knowledge discovery are the basis for algorithms, rules, and pattern recognition capabilities in artificial intelligence, data mining, and machine learning. Muller defines learning as “acquiring the ability to discriminate between different things.” This book provides a graduate level introduction to data-driven hypothesis testing; set theory; inductive logic; ensemble learning; knowledge representation, and other techniques that underpin algorithms in data mining and machine learning. A primer on how creating/limiting decision pathways might be modelled using information theory.


Knowledge Automation: How to Implement Decision Management in Business Processes by Alan N. Fish (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3). (MAM-3). Knowledge automation lies at the intersection of decision management (using predictive analytics and business rules for decisions); business process management systems (activity sequences); and service-oriented architecture (loosely-coupled reusable software as a service). These areas provide C-level managers with the capabilities to automate many business functions, and to change the staff and skills profile in contemporary organisations (which can lead to office politics, change management, and restructuring). Fish provides a guide for senior managers, information architects, and business analysts to model business processes; identify and redesign process decisions; and to develop decision services using business rules, algorithms, and predictive analytics. It remains to be seen whether Fish’s vision of decision management will occur, perhaps aided by knowledge discovery and machine learning, or whether it will suffer the fate of early expert systems from the late 1980s and early 1990s.


Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life by John H. Miller and Scott E. Page (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007). (TS-3). (MAM-3). This primer on complex adaptive systems (CAS) draws on the research expertise of the Santa Fe Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Michgan. CAS can emerge from the interaction of individual actors or agents. This book discusses major features and dynamics of CAS including: modelling, emergence, automata, and CAS insights on complex social dynamics such as cities, economies, financial markets, and societal evolution. An accessible introduction to what computational models reveal about collective and mass social dynamics.


Investing: The Last Liberal Art (2nd ed.) by Robert G. Hagstrom (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013). (TS-3). (MAM-1). Hagstrom is a value-based investor who is deeply influenced by Charlie Munger (vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway); Benjamin Franklin; Edward Thorndike (a student of William James); James Burke (Connections); and John Holland (the Santa Fe Institute). In this book Hagstrom attempts to understand how Munger thinks about investment and acquires ‘worldly wisdom’ via Thorndike’s ‘connectionionist’ model of learning, and the ‘latticework’ of discipline-specific ‘mental models’. Hagstrom examines lessons from eight fields of knowledge: physics, biology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literature, mathematics, and decision-making. He also includes the St. John’s College reading list of philosophy classics: “How does one achieve worldly wisdom? To state the matter concisely, it is an ongoing process of, first, acquiring significant concepts—the models—from many areas of knowledge and then, second, learning to recognize patterns of similarity among them. The first is a matter of educating yourself; the second is a matter of learning to think and see differently.”


The Asylum: Inside The Rise and Ruin of the Global Oil Market by Leah McGrath Goodman (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). (TS-3). (MAM-3). In late 2012 and early 2013 new scandals swept Wall Street and global financial markets. The new scandals involved the manipulation of the London Interbank Overnight Rate for inter-bank lending, and a probable European Union (EU) investigation into the global oil market. Goodman’s reportage provides some historical context for the EU investigation if it proceeds; the founding and evolution of the Nymex oil markets; the transition of pit traders from ‘open outcry’ to computer-driven, high-frequency trading markets; and the battles within the enforcement division of the US-based Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Asylum also includes pit trader, market-maker, and enforcement division reactions to the high-profile collapses of Enron and Amaranth Advisors which traded the global oil, gas, electricity, and commodities markets with disastrous results. “These scandals don’t surprise me at all,” one trader told me, “of course financial markets are manipulated!”


The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2011). (TS-5). In May 2013, the US-based Internal Revenue Service was engulfed in scandal when media outlets revealed that the IRS had targeted right-wing political groups for taxation audits. The IRS scandal would not have surprised readers of David Foster Wallace’s final, unfinished novel, about the initiation of trainee David Foster Wallace in the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois. Wallace spent nearly a decade researching accounting and taxation audit systems whilst working on the novel, which explores themes of individuality, mindfulness practice as a method to train attention, and the search for human happiness amidst contemporary boredom. The University of Texas’s Harry Ransom Center is expected to house the original drafts and supporting material from The Pale King.


An Introduction to Systematic Reviews by David Gough, Sandy Oliver, and James Thomas (London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2012). (TS-3). A systematic review is a structured, analytic process, undertaken as part of a research literature review or project, in order to understand or to evaluate a knowledge domain. The results from a systematic review may identify gaps in current knowledge, biases or errors to be addressed, or may be the first step in the synthesis of new knowledge, such as theory-building. This book discusses how to do a systematic review, and the methodological issues that arise during the process, from information management and the selection criteria for relevant studies, to specialist techniques like database analysis and statistical meta-analysis. The authors are affiliated with the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre, in the Social Science Research Unit at London’s Institute of Education. The Cochrane Collaboration, an international network involved in the systematic reviews of healthcare, also shaped this book.