Thursday, July 19, 2012

Frank Partnoy

Frank Partnoy is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and is the director of the Center on Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego. He is one of the world's leading experts on the complexities of modern finance and financial market regulation. He is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street; Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets; and The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.

His new book is Wait: The Art and Science of Delay.

Partnoy's reply to my recent query about what he's been reading:
I tend to have several books going at a time, not because I necessarily like having several interesting stories in my mind at once, but because all too often I have the attention span of a pigeon. I recently finished the first half of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, his time-travel alternate-reality novel about the assassination of JFK. I’m a big Stephen King fan, and I was really enjoying this one. But then I had a conversation with a friend I trust who has read most of King’s books and told me he was disappointed in the second half of the book, particularly the ending. So I stopped reading. I’ve been thinking about what to do. Should I just preserve my memory and enjoyment from the first half, or should I run the risk of reading the rest? Maybe my friend is wrong: not every time travel book devolves into a contradictory mess. Also, if I decide not to finish the book, should I find out whether JFK lives? Do I deserve to know? I’m not sure I’ve earned that privilege.

While I struggled with that quandary, I picked up Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life. Wow. I knew some of Cleopatra’s story, but this re-telling is eye-opening. I’m definitely not a scholar of the period, but the book feels definitive. The history is detailed and compelling. It really does, as reviewers said, “sizzle with passion.” I’ve written one biography and have done some financial history, so I understand how hard it is to pull this off. It’s truly a pleasure to read a sentence or paragraph and know there’s no way you could have written it. No way; no chance. I especially respect the intricate portraits Schiff paints, as well as the scholarly references. It drives me crazy when historians don’t include citations, or make it clear when something might or might not be true. Schiff is meticulous, which makes me so much more confident that she’s gotten Cleopatra’s story right. I’ll definitely finish this one, even though I already know how it ends.

When I’m hunting for a new book topic, as I am now, I often will read several non-fiction books in an area I’m circling and then go back through them in detail, marking them up. (Although I like reading e-books, I always do this with paper copies – electronic annotating doesn’t work for me, at least not yet.) Lately, I’ve been interested in the nature of knowledge: what can we really say with certainty that we know? Has technology made knowledge more or less certain? Or are we more easily fooled or prone to believe something implausible? David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know addresses some of these ideas in the context of the Internet; he’s a real web guru. Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong is about how and why we change our minds, and is a book I think all of my students should read. (By the time I get them, as law students, they tend to be pretty set in their ways and could use her jolt.) I just finished John Kay’s Obliquity, a fascinating take on why so many successes have been achieved indirectly. I’m not so much reading these books for enjoyment – though I am enjoying them – as I am trying to get a sense of whether I might have something to say about their turf. They’re all great, so I’m not sure exactly what I might contribute. But I’m circling. Now that my latest book is out, I have the empty feeling many authors have when they are searching for the next topic – and I’m looking to fill it. Maybe I should just forget about the next book for a while, and take the leap to finish 11/22/63?
Visit Frank Partnoy's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Match King.

The Page 99 Test: Wait: The Art and Science of Delay.

--Marshal Zeringue