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  • The Power of Nothing to Lose

  • The Hail Mary Effect in Politics, War, and Business
  • Written by: William L. Silber
  • Narrated by: Fred Sanders
  • Length: 5 hrs and 30 mins

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The Power of Nothing to Lose

Written by: William L. Silber
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
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Publisher's Summary

Following books by Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Ariely, noted economics professor William L. Silber explores the Hail Mary effect, from its origins in sports to its applications to history, nature, politics, and business.

A quarterback like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers gambles with a Hail Mary pass at the end of a football game when he has nothing to lose - the risky throw might turn defeat into victory, or end in a meaningless interception. Rodgers may not realize it, but he has much in common with figures such as George Washington, Rosa Parks, Woodrow Wilson, and Adolph Hitler, all of whom changed the modern world with their risk-loving decisions.

In The Power of Nothing to Lose, award-winning economist William Silber explores the phenomenon in politics, war, and business, where situations with a big upside and limited downside trigger gambling behavior like with a Hail Mary. Silber describes in colorful detail how the American Revolution turned on such a gamble. The famous scene of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas night to attack the enemy may not look like a Hail Mary, but it was. Washington said days before his risky decision, “If this fails I think the game will be pretty well up.” Rosa Parks remained seated in the white section of an Alabama bus, defying local segregation laws, an act that sparked the modern civil rights movement in America. It was a life-threatening decision for her, but she said, “I was not frightened. I just made up my mind that as long as we accepted that kind of treatment it would continue, so I had nothing to lose.”

 The risky exploits of George Washington and Rosa Parks made the world a better place, but demagogues have inflicted great damage with Hail Marys. Towards the end of World War II, Adolph Hitler ordered a desperate counterattack, the Battle of the Bulge, to stem the Allied advance into Germany. He said, “The outcome of the battle would spell either life or death for the German nation.” Hitler failed to change the war’s outcome, but his desperate gamble inflicted great collateral damage, including the worst wartime atrocity on American troops in Europe.

Silber shares these illuminating insights on these figures and more, from Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump, asylum seekers to terrorists and rogue traders. Collectively they illustrate that downside protection fosters risky undertakings, that it changes the world in ways we least expect.

©2021 William L. Silber (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2021-09-12

This book should have been a podcast

I must reluctantly describe this book as an overwhelming disappointment. The prevailing feeling is that the author took an interesting concept that naturally covered about 45 minutes, and stretched it to fill a book. The premise--that people make different decisions when they perceive they have nothing to lose--is a fascinating one. And the examples of this--such as outgoing presidents issuing ill-advised pardons and rouge traders making ruinous bets--make the book interesting. But in each topical chapter, the author includes far, far too much extraneous detail that seemingly serves only to bolster the page count. Rosa Parks' decision to refuse vacating her seat, when viewed and told through this lens, is an excellent story that the author tells well. But the extraneous detail concerning how many ministers it took to organize the Montgomery bus boycott, which church they met at, how many people showed up, and similar details--though worthwhile information for historical analysis--didn't factor in the author's assessment of decision making with nothing/little to lose. Ditto the assessment of President Bill Clinton's dubious decion to pardon Marc Rich: the author easily concludes that having 'nothing to lose' made Clinton pardon the unpardonable Rich for dubious, ulterior motives. But the lengthy recitation of detail presented but never analyzed makes the chapter a drudge.

In a variation on the theme, the author also includes superfluous information that both bolsters the page count and undercuts his premise. An interesting chapter dealing with how to make inmates serving life sentences have 'something to lose' is inexplicably headlined by instances of life-sentence inmates perpetuating grisly violence, which, for reasons of his own, the author recouts in blood-curdling detail. This strange miscalculation gives the instances the author considers outliers overly-comprehdnsive treatment. An inmate brutally killing another does nothing to support the claim (made only after delay) that life-sentence inmates are often model prisoners, and the graphic details, notes to prison psychiatrists, letters the attacked inmate sent home before the attack, and subsequent lawsuits seem wholly out of place and beside the point, which the author contends is that such attacks are rare.

This book has all the indicia of a great insight being padded with tangential information to fill a book. It would have been an excellent podcast had the author not gotten greedy.

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  • Jason
  • 2022-06-06

Good Thought; Random Stories

In depth stories that feel bias and random.

The title is better than the book.

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