After another week of pandemic and economic whiplash — these books can help you get comfortable with unpredictability

A businessman reading on his digital tablet while standing near a window, next to his filled bookshelves.
A businessman reading on his digital tablet while standing near a window, next to his filled bookshelves.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision/Getty Images

In the current climate of uncertainty, mainlining Twitter while trying to forecast impossible economic (and health) scenarios is not going to lift you from the morass of anxiety. Nor is it particularly useful. In fact, it’s a constant reinforcement of “negativity bias,” the hardwiring of our brains to seek out information that scares us. Bibliotherapy, however, uses reading to facilitate psychological healing, a growing field of research that actually dates back more than a century.

Whether you’re contemplating how to save your startup, raise money during a financial crisis, or what your “Covid-19 war room” should look like, this collection of books will shift how you think about and tackle uncertainty head-on. …


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Illustrations: Eduardo Palma

Inside the surreal and lucrative two-sided marketplace of mediocre famous people

“Who’s the most famous person on the planet?” asks Steven Galanis. “Someone we would want to book?”

It’s a bitterly cold January evening in Chicago, and we’re huddled at a whiteboard inside the nearly empty headquarters of Galanis’ company, Cameo, a fast-growing startup that peddles personalized celebrity videos.

“Uh, Leonardo DiCaprio?” I throw out.

Sure, says Galanis — a beefy, broad-shouldered, thick-bearded, energetic sports junkie who grew up in the suburban Greek neighborhood of Glenview. By conventional celebrity wisdom, Leo is up there with LeBron, The Rock, Ronaldo, and others who have one-name global recognition — and of course, he’d love to have all of them on Cameo — but Galanis has a decidedly unconventional take on what it means to be famous and the formulas to back it up. …


An aging population, a trade war, and now a pandemic have left the Chinese working class reeling

A woman worker assembles earphones for export in a factory in Suining in southwest China’s Sichuan province on Dec. 17, 2019.
A woman worker assembles earphones for export in a factory in Suining in southwest China’s Sichuan province on Dec. 17, 2019.
Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

On March 2, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report entitled “Coronavirus: The World Economy at Risk.” The report is heavily focused on China and how the country’s projected slow growth of under 5%, due to stagnating industrial production and consumer demand — and the outbreak of the new coronavirus — will have a ripple effect on the rest of the world. Thanks to these factors and the ongoing tariff war, U.S. …


Black customers and business owners have long loved the franchise, but does it love them back?

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Photo: Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images

In 1979, McDonald’s ran a print ad aimed squarely at the African American marketplace. The headline read “Do Your Dinnertimin’ at McDonald’s” and let black customers know “you don’t have to get dressed up” and “there’s no tipping.” The ad resurfaced a few years ago and took a proper fisking in the Atlantic and NPR’s Code Switch for its then-stereotypical, now-racist portrayal of black vernacular, attire, and eating and spending habits. It’s as the internet kids say, “problematic” at best when seen through 21st-century eyes.

Georgetown Professor of History and African American studies Marcia Chatelain agrees that modern analysis of the ad “offers valid concern about racial affectation in advertising,” but in her stellar, deeply researched new book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, she also makes the case that there is more to the story, like the violent, racist intimidation at restaurants throughout the civil rights movement and the basic “historical anxieties” of “the black consumer and private-establishment dining.” …


A new book by a pair of academics explains how banks undermined post-WWII regulatory safeguards to sabotage the functioning of the free market

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Photo: picture alliance/Getty Images

In January 1933, Ferdinand Pecora, a “soft-spoken son of Italian immigrants,” assembled a committee to investigate what in the hell led to the 1929 stock market crash. There were, of course, many fathers of the Great Depression, but a 2011 Smithsonian article lays out one of the basic underpinnings of the longest and deepest financial calamity in American history:

“The ‘Pecora commission’ [made] front-page news when he called Charles Mitchell, the head of the largest bank in America, National City Bank (now Citibank), as his first witness. ‘Sunshine Charley’ strode into the hearings with a good deal of contempt for both Pecora and his commission. Though shareholders had taken staggering losses on bank stocks, Mitchell admitted that he and his top officers had set aside millions of dollars from the bank in interest-free loans to themselves. Mitchell also revealed that despite making more than $1 million in bonuses in 1929, he had paid no taxes due to losses incurred from the sale of diminished National City stock — to his wife. Pecora revealed that National City had hidden bad loans by packaging them into securities and pawning them off to unwitting investors. By the time Mitchell’s testimony made the newspapers, he had been disgraced, his career had been ruined, and he would soon be forced into a million-dollar settlement of civil charges of tax evasion. …


The Nobel-winning economist and New York Times opinion columnist talks to Marker about tax cuts, trade wars, his new book, and more

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Image: William_Potter/Getty Images

In 2011, the Department of Defense released “CONPLAN 8888–11,” a lengthy detailed 31-page plan for battling the impending zombie apocalypse that was “not actually designed as a joke.” An article at History.com explained it was a training exercise with three goals in mind. “First, create and uphold a defensive plan to protect humankind from mind-munching predators. Second, establish procedures to eradicate any threat of zombies. Third, restore law and order to a war-ridden economy.”

If the walking dead ever do have their day, it’s going to take big brains to get the American economy up and running again. Fortunately, Paul Krugman is already on the case. His latest book, entitled Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future, is a collection of columns, blogs, essays, and articles, some going back nearly 30 years, but most culled from his years at the New York Times, which began in 2000. To be clear, Krugman isn’t fighting actual zombies, but he is combatting apocalyptic economic thinking, the “misunderstandings that just won’t die” like say how whopping tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down and benefit the rest of us or the “crucible” of climate change deniers in the Republican Party. …


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The Big Apple Circus is in its 42nd season at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, its home since 1981. Photographs: Andrew White

In 2016, New York City’s biggest circus went bankrupt. Here’s how the new owners are bringing it back.

As the lights flashed and the music pulsated, I took a swig of Irish whiskey from my plastic balloon-animal dog tumbler and said to my wife, “There is nooooooooo way Doogie Howser is going to take a run at the Wheel of Death.”

I was wrong. Neil Patrick Harris himself banged out a couple spins before daredevil Jayson Dominguez got inside and performed breathtaking feats like rope-jumping on top of the ever-spinning-while-also-rotating human hamster cage above a packed tent of wide-eyed audience members.

It’s just another day at the Big Apple Circus, now in its 42nd season at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, its home since 1981. Well, that evening wasn’t just any other. It was opening night, hence Harris’ guest-hosting gig, attended by other Gotham celebrities such as Jane Krakowski, Mariska Hargitay, and, as my nine-year-old daughter rushed to tell me before she and her mom went to pay their Hamilton-ian respects, Lin. Manuel. …


And why Walt Disney’s dream project was a smash hit anyway

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Walt Disney in front of the Fantasyland castle on Disneyland’s opening day. Credit: Allan Grant/Getty Images

In the spring of 1955, my father, the good Dr. J. Patrick Sauer, turned thirteen. A few months later, on July 18, he got the gift of every Los Angeles kid’s dream. Disneyland opened to the public. Nearly 65 years on, he can still conjure remembrances of his Magic Kingdom past.

“The race track in Tomorrowland started out as two lanes, which encouraged racing but also accidents and spinouts, so the track was changed to a single lane and lost a lot of its charm,” he says. His recollection of Autopia is spot on. So many kids were getting banged up, including an unlucky young soul who left most of his teeth with Mickey Mouse, that the ride was tamped down. …


Founder Stories

Marc Randolph shares lessons from his time with Reed Hastings and company in a new memoir

Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix.
Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix.
Photo: George Pimentel/Getty

Last Wednesday, Netflix broke with precedent and released viewership statistics for a year’s worth of its homemade movies and television shows. A movie view is defined as 70% watched within four weeks of its premiere (for a TV series, 70% of a single episode counts.) The numbers are striking, even with the healthy caveat that these are self-reported figures. Stranger Things is the top television show with 64-million plays (from a subscriber base of 158-million.) …


The author of a new book about Tesla wonders whether Elon Musk can deliver on his promises to investors, car nuts, futurists, and himself

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Credit: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Last spring, I was bicycling through Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood when I came around a major intersection and was dumbfounded by what I saw, or rather didn’t see. The Tesla showroom was gone, an empty shell of what seemed to be a permanent lodestar of our gilded age. As someone who doesn’t follow the auto industry or Silicon Valley all that closely — and who abhors cults of CEO personality — I found this development shocking. …

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Patrick J. Sauer

Writer of stuff

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