Jon Doesn't Dabble

Guilin Hills, China Photograph by Helminadia/Getty Images

Love your style Tom and would love to get your top three reads. You’re always such a gent to guests, you say every book is great.
— By Direct Message. Jon, smartest guy at not losing money. Just after the Chicago Bears season ended.

There is a lot going on here. First, not every book is great. In fact, most aren’t. We get in 30-plus books a week. The very few jump out at you, several warrant a glance. Most raise the question: What were they thinking?

Second, note the indirect double negative. (See, Hobbes, Leviathan, and the difference between I want a Bloomberg and I cannot not have a Bloomberg.)

There’s “not” and following it, “losing,” which implies a negative. Jon is better than good, not at making money, but rather at not losing his capital.

Finally, there is the reality that Jon is in the game. He deserves the adult reading list, different than the list for the just graduated or the dabbler.

Jon doesn’t dabble.

Hang long enough, and you will discover that my No. 1 book is Peter Bernstein’s Against the Gods. This is not the place to say why; just stay with me. It is brilliant and a required read to understand Jon’s world.

Jon is an outdoorsy guy, so to ruin his weekend he should step up to Alpha Chiang’s classic Fundamentals of Mathematical Economics. Read not cover to cover but a chapter here, a chapter there, the Chiang is graduate-level math but written in perfect and understandable sequence. It is a miracle.

Paragraph by sentence by word by syllable, FoME is just brilliant. Every home should own a copy.

One of my recent raves is Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light. It is the last of three volumes on Europe and World War II. What sneaks up on you is the leadership observations, the lessons Atkinson finds among fractious and warring generals as Marshall and Eisenhower cage their egos and corral them, and themselves, toward Berlin and victory.

As deceptive is the definitive Marx’s Revenge by Meghnad Desai. Lord Desai writes a sprawling history of the Marx of myth and crushing reality. What sneaks up on you is the near-century it took for the good to triumph over the singular evil. Jon deserves an adult read on the scope and scale of the 20th century.

Finally, my book of the moment is By All Means Necessary, a widely anticipated quick read on China. (There are 47 new books on China. Steve Roach provides a balanced Unbalanced, but Elisabeth Economy and Michael Levi pen the shut-up-and-read-it book of the moment on Asia.)

This is great. Jon will read Economy & Levi. But Jon is not a dabbler.

To understand China, to not dabble, the required adult read is Jonathan Spence, The Chan’s Great Continent. It is a profoundly emotional treatment of the Western soul and mind lost on the far side of the world.


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