Jonathan Tepper’s The Myth of Capitalism: “Fucking Unreadable”

No good deed goes unpunished.

Earlier today, we posted a very positive review by John Siman about a new book by John Tepper, The Myth of Capitalism. Readers may recall that Siman has published reviews of the latest books by Thomas Frank, Chris Hedges, and Michael Hudson that integrated material from author interviews. Having done quite a few book reviews myself, I can see the considerable craft that goes into Siman’s pieces.

Siman described the main points of Tepper’s book, as well as an in-depth presentation of Tepper’s analysis in one chapter of 29 industries with high levels of concentration. This is in fact a very common practice with reviews of non-fiction books, as our readers no doubt know well. For instance, see this article by Matt Stoller in The Baffler on Jesse Eisinger’s The Chickenshit Club.

Tepper was nevertheless very unhappy with Siman’s exceedingly favorable review. Tepper sent four complaints to Siman directly, three to me, and also enlisted his editor at Wiley, Michael Henton,1 to harangue me, all in less than 12 hours after the review went live. I also got an international call at 6:50 AM, less than an hour and a half when the post launched, from a private overseas number. Since no one calls me from abroad, I suspect that also was Tepper, who is based in London.

This is from one of Tepper’s e-mails to Siman after Siman sent him a copy of the review in advance and is the essence of his beef:

I appreciate you feel that way but listing all the key research in your piece means they don’t have to go to the book to find it. That is not a book review, it is practically an excerpt listing every single industry, and I’m not at all happy with that. Normally excerpts require an author’s permission. I’ve never seen anyone write a book review with so much material from the book. I will be in touch with Yves directly if you do not cut it down.

If you look at the Stoller review as a basis of comparison, you’ll see that it recaps Eisinger’s reporting in considerable detail. I forwarded Tepper’s complaints to Siman to Michael Hudson. Hudson’s reaction:

Good heavens! If a book contains a major new idea, that means by definition that potential readers need to be oriented in some detail to grasp what the new idea is, so as to break down their cognitive dissonance. Any good reviewer will try to summarize the book’s point so that readers see how the argument is framed, and can judge the type of evidence or logic that will be used to support the book’s thesis.

Here’s Gillian Tett’s review in the Financial Times of my “and forgive them their debts.” She traces my entire line of reasoning. The book’s first-month sales in Amazon alone were over 1,000 copies in Britain and another 1,000-plus in the US, so obviously she didn’t “spill the beans” and kill the market.

I did not tell Hudson that Siman had had considerable difficulty with how poorly the book was written and had had to do a great deal of work to find a way to present the book positively, which he was in no way obligated to do.

If you have read any of my book reviews (see, for instance, the Daily Deal pieces), you can see my practice was to trash any badly-written book. I had been concerned that Naked Capitalism readers were given an unduly positive impression of the The Myth of Capitalism given its defects.

Other writers I contacted agreed with Hudson that Siman’s review was a plus for book sales. From an author of seven non-fiction books:

As it turns out, I’d read Siman’s piece on the Tepper book before getting your email — and was impressed with Siman’s positive take. In addition, I didn’t in the slightest believe I’d ‘read the book’ … that is, there was nothing exceptional in the material excerpted…. and, indeed, if anything, it made me want to learn more.

In light of the email exchanges you’ve had with Siman, I’m struck that you are right that Tepper is fortunate that Siman didn’t comment on the difficulty of reading the book itself. Had I know that. I’d not have had the slightest inclination to buy the book.

Perhaps you might mention to Tepper the old saw about ’there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ — even bad publicity spreads the word… and, on top of that of course, is that Siman’s effort is good publicity, not bad publicity.

We also wrote an academic, who replied:

I just read that review and thought it was great. If it wasn’t cold and snowy and I was feeling even the slightest bit motivated I’d walk over and ask the INSEAD library to buy a copy or two, assuming they haven’t already. He’s forgetting that: plenty of people have access to the entire book for free, assuming libraries stock it. You gave enough to wet an appetite and you were very kind (I’m discovering that being polite to crappy book authors is a liability – that’s why reviewers can be barbarians).

He should be happy with the mention and the PR. I’d be if I’d written a book like that. Nobody who would actually buy the book (the Kindle edition is only $12) and read the whole thing would skip doing so because of that review, or for that matter because of any excerpt, even if this had been an excerpt.

Despite being considerably annoyed at this point (I’d been kept up two hours after my normal turning-in time, and I am still not completely over my bug and need proper sleep even more than usual), I had decided to go the high road, let Tepper cool off, and write him in the evening, which is the earliest I would have seen his and Siman’s messages in the normal course of events had Siman not caught me right before I was about to call it quits. That would have meant Tepper would not have gotten the message till the morning his time and would hopefully have calmed down by then.

Since Mr. Diplomacy isn’t my normal style of discourse, a colleague was so gracious as to pen the intended e-mail to Tepper:

Dear Jonathan,

It’s clear from your email that you are upset. I’m hoping, though, with some time and perspective, you’ll get past that.

Especially because the post about your book is one that will stimulate, and, based on feedback already has stimulated, interest on the part of readers to learn more.

I’m not entirely sure why you’ve chosen to cross swords with John. He did not “excerpt the book wholesale”. Stirring up a fight with John seems counterproductive. What interests are served in airing disagreements and dirty laundry among the NC readership who have just been advised your book is important and worth reading?

Best,

Yves

However, Tepper continued to be extremely aggressive. His editor e-mailed me mid-afternoon, trying to bully with with Big Company Name: “It is not OK with Wiley (a potential copyright violation, actually)…” Anyone who has dealt with lawyers would recognize that Henton was shooting from the hip (“potential copyright violation” is a non-category) and had not even bothered speaking to his in-house counsel to see if Tepper had bona fide grounds for his beef.

I e-mailed Henton:

Mike,

You are in no position to dictate the review of a very poorly written book. Siman was exceedingly generous in how he depicted it given the importance of the topic. He wrote to me during the course of writing the review that:

“Here are my thoughts, Yves. The book is fucking unreadable. The first dozen or so times I picked it up I couldn’t read more than two or three pages without dozing off. There’s just so much information — important information! — but it’s presented in a such a quirky labyrinthine manner that it took me four weeks to sort it all out.

“I guess Tepper charges a lot of $$$$$$ to his clients for giving them snippets of his exhaustive research. Well, that’s legit. But did he write this book simply to make more money or to address the failure of American capitalism for genuinely concerned citizens??”

Siman has a PhD in classics and has published reviews of other major books with dense material, so there’s no issue with his reading skills.

If you persist, I will remove the review, and publish Siman’s original take, which he sent to me by e-mail, in its place, and I will put “fucking unreadable” in quotes in the headline.

Yves

Despite this warning, Tepper did indeed persist, e-mailing both me and Siman again. His missive to me started, “I sent this email 10 hours ago and haven’t got a single apology or response.” So you now understand how this post came to be published.

Tepper and his editor made clear that they do not understand copyright law. Had there been a copyright violation, a notion we vigorously dispute, the remedy is to request or force the removal of the supposedly infringing article. So by removing Siman’s review, we are acting in accordance with where their tactics were going, had they bothered to understand them.

Be careful what you wish for.

I am very sorry that Siman has come out the loser in this display of pettiness and ignorance about book promotion by Tepper and that the 88 very thoughtful reader comments have been binned along with the post. One reader suggested if you are still interested in Tepper’s book despite it needing considerable editing, do pick it up…at the library.

We think this incident is worthy of attention for a separate reason. As a savvy reader who I made listen to this sorry tale pointed out, this sort of legalistic bullying is all too common in America. Most people capitulate because they don’t know their rights and are unwilling to spend money to call a lawyer to get a reading. Hopefully Tepper and his editor will think more carefully about what is in their interest before abusing people who have done them a big favor.

___

1 You can see Michael Henton’s bio on LinkedIn. As one writer put it, “He just a couple steps up from intern!”

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115 comments

  1. charles 2

    I guess the editor will switch from “copyright infringement” to “defamation”. Considering the first amendment, good luck for trying…

    Reply
    1. sav

      I’m assuming there’s an email bread crumb trail. He will have to sit there and take his whooping like the child he is.

      Reply
  2. Mason Wallace

    This is disappointing to hear, I thought the book wasn’t that bad myself. My biggest issue was most of note and sources are just internet addresses. A pain in the butt to type in and just how many of those addresses will work in the coming years? I felt like a nerd for wishing Chicago or MLA or something…

    Got it from Amazon too, can’t return it either.

    Reply
  3. Fiery Hunt

    Petty people, so aggregrating…

    F#@k ’em if they can’t take a gift exposure and a gift review.

    Gah.

    Can’t say thank you enough, Yves. You weed thru so much crap. Deep bow and hat touch.

    Reply
    1. ChrisAtRU

      Seconded. Thanks for all you do! And sorry you have to deal crap like this … I too would not appreciate 6:50AM calls (regardless of source).

      #LekkerSlaap

      Reply
  4. Katz

    one minor correction: the book Matt Stoller reviewed is by Jesse Eisinger, the propublica reporter, rather than Kurt Eichenwald, the creepy ex Times reporter.

    Sorry to hear you had to deal with all this nonsense, Yves.

    Reply
  5. flora

    My goodness. I thought the original article very good and spurred thoughtful comment without violating fair use copyright laws. Tepper sounds like a poster boy for the very failings of capitalism he rails against in his book. Per your unnamed reader: “this sort of legalistic bullying is all too common in America.” Too bad. The Wiley imprint is a respected name in tech publishing. There are 3 losers in this take down demand: Siman, Tepper, and Wiley.

    Reply
  6. Wombat

    Well guess I still got to read the original review before it got taken down, and learned that nearly everything is a monopoly, duopoly, or cartel…. surprise. So, no need to to purchase the book either before or after this drastic revelation. I did appreciate the admission of rising neo-feudalism under the current system. And the recognition that we need “the great republican trustbuster” to break em’ up (Teddy Roosevelt). We could use the land conservation and protections too. (Maybe not the White Man’s burden part). Time for a New Bull Moose party! One can dream.

    Reply
    1. John Wright

      When I read the original review, one of the NC commenters responded with a “been discussed before” and mentioned a book by Barry Lynn

      “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction”

      After reading the Siman review, I ordered the Lynn book, not the Tepper one, but it was not because the Siman review spoiled the Tepper book.

      I wanted to read the book by someone who foresaw and wrote of the recent problems with monopolies earlier, in 2011.

      If Siman can do such a great job summarizing, in a few words, Tepper’s book, maybe Tepper should consider hiring him as an editor?

      Reply
      1. Olga

        1 – yes, too bad about the comments because folks mentioned previous books on the subject matter, which I meant to write down
        2 – sorry Yves for having to deal with this… what to call it?… short-sighted (and, ultimately self-defeating) BS, perhaps
        3 – the author’s “performance” makes me completely disinclined to buy the book; will first look to other authors and/or may borrow the book from a library
        ‘nuf said

        Reply
        1. Dwight

          Also mentioned was Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order, a 1966 book by Paul Sweezy and Paul A. Baran, published by Monthly Review Press.

          Reply
      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I suggest you should also get a copy of Barry Lynn’s earlier book “End of the LIne:The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation”. This book details the processes of globalization and their motivations. It also points at the enormous risks inherent in the long slender threads of supply globalization built.

        Cornered details the monopolization in most of the industries listed in the ‘disappeared’ review and offers several theories of monopoly and monopsony that were new to me. Barry Lynn is the guy whose think tank group at New America pissed off Google. Matt Stoller who is on the staff at New America and now at Open Markets (Fellow) seems to have inherited his voice. After the entire group was summarily tossed off the New America website they moved to: Open Markets Institute [https://openmarketsinstitute.org/]

        Barry Lynn was executive editor of Global Business Magazine for seven years and prior to that worked as a correspondent for the  Associated Press posting from several Latin American and Caribbean nations. His writing is clear and easy to read.

        Reply
  7. grayslady

    I generally avoid any book with a magnum opus title. Capitalism, after all, is a large subject with much interpretation and misinterpretation; however, after reading the review here this morning–and particularly because of the specifics–I was tempted to request the book from my library. The author’s petulance has made me decide otherwise.

    Reply
  8. none

    I saw the review and the book looked interesting. I had planned to forward the review to someone and maybe look for the book, but didn’t get around to it, and now the review is gone. Oh well. I’ll never catch up with my to-read list anyway. I can leave this one off of it.

    Reply
  9. tokyodamage

    My message for Tepper:

    If a 3,000 word review contains so much of your book’s unique insights that you fear people won’t bother reading your book, then you didn’t write a book. You wrote a blog post and puffed it up to 200 pages.

    Maybe that’s the connection between the ‘unreadability’ and your sensitivity to excerpts: many academics use a million big words to cover up their lack of original ideas, emperor-has-no-clothes-style.

    Also, I’m sure all the monopolies are happy that you’ve successfully stopped NC readers from knowing who they are. Good job contributing to the social problem you wrote a book complaining about, ya goof.

    Reply
    1. Joost van der Mandele

      “If a 3,000 word review contains so much of your book’s unique insights that you fear people won’t bother reading your book, then you didn’t write a book. You wrote a blog post and puffed it up to 200 pages.”

      So true. One of capitalism’s failings is the inability to charge extra for less pages

      Reply
          1. JEHR

            Yes, which reminds me of a professor of English who insisted on one-page-only essays of everything we read and presented to him. It took me a long time to get my essays that short (and I tried all the tricks of longer lines, smaller font and less spacing!) but I can tell you one thing for sure, by the time I wrote that one-page, I knew the work very well indeed. We need more of that kind of extra work in understanding complex things because from there we can move on to greater detail and still understand the bigger complex thing.

            Reply
            1. H. Alexander Ivey

              Who says this site is only about economics, great and small? That (one page essays) is an idea I will use the next time I teach a class! You have served up a solution to the problem that has overwhelmed any classroom writing assignment-the internet paper mills.

              Bravo!

              Reply
    2. a different chris

      Bingo. I couldn’t believe that he felt that an upbeat review that quoted maybe two pages of his book could be anything but a positive.

      But again, nobody would know his own book better than Tepper. Thus I will take his word that the rest of it is just fill, and not bother get a copy.

      Reply
    3. Ruby Furigana

      Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

      — Blaise Pascal

      Reply
  10. dan

    I’m going to have to start making popcorn before I open NC if this keeps up. It was indeed a more than fair review – a review that obviously tried very hard to be fair to the author despite serious differences of opinion. It’s pathetic that the author is so insecure as to be upset by this, and so ignorant as to not understand how book reviews work. Perhaps Tepper has never read a long-form book review before? There are entire magazines that only do book reviews, and many of them excerpt at length and summarize findings – he could email me anytime for suggestions!

    And the editors escalating this is beyond pathetic. Unfortunately the book industry has fostered a culture where editors are not allowed to tell authors anything they don’t want to hear, which means we get much worse writing (and behavior like this).

    Anyhow thank you, Yves, for this entertaining screed, I grinned all the way through!

    Reply
  11. Keith Newman

    Sorry to learn your good deed has been punished. Very frustrating for you. When this kind of thing happens to me I feel like saying fuck it, and just sit at home and watch TV instead of engaging with the world. Also sorry to learn the original post has been taken down. I scanned it quickly, planning on reading it properly later.

    Reply
  12. Geo

    A someone who makes a (meager) living as a filmmaker I know the power of a review on my work and its potential for earnings. My response when I get a bad review: “Thank you for giving my indie film a chance, and even though you didn’t enjoy it, it means the world to us that you gave us a shot because without people like you supporting small filmmakers we wouldn’t exist. I hope my next film is one you will enjoy and thanks again for your time and support.”

    Seriously, someone devoted their time to something I created. Even if they hated it, they gave me their time. I’m grateful for that.

    Also, a kind reply has gotten a few to revisit the film and find they had been too hard on it or didn’t really give it a fair shot the first time. One even retracted his first review and gave it five stars after rewatching.

    Positivity breeds positivity.

    Reply
    1. Avalon Sparks

      Love this comment and fully agree.

      After reading the review, I put the book on my Amazon wish list, was looking forward to reading it. After this dramarama …. never mind – meh.

      Reply
      1. a different chris

        Also like the comment. I think it would make you happy, Geo, to know that there are people like me who love sites like Rotten Tomatoes, adored Roger Ebert — and yet happily know that there is zero correlation between the ratings they give and my reactions to a given movie.

        It’s just a place for me to get a rough take on what’s out there.* I make my own decisions (or, my own part of a group decision on what to see). So the “any publicity is good publicity” is so very true for movies, assuming I’m not the only person like this.

        *And also to enjoy Ebert’s masterful wit and prose…. and again, my agreement with his conclusions tracked no better than random chance.

        Reply
        1. Geo

          Thanks! I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years to see how many people are willing to take a chance on films with no big names, polarized reviews (my last one sits at about 67%positive on most sites). Like you, they tend to use reviews to inform about what’s available and what is of interest but not as the final word on what to watch/read/listen to.

          Without a supportive audience us artists have nothing so it’s important we support our audiences even when they don’t like our work.

          Reply
        2. albert

          “…there is zero correlation between the ratings they give and my reactions to a given movie….”

          Blessed indeed are those who can find reviewers who mirror their own tastes.
          . .. . .. — ….

          Reply
  13. John Mc

    Nothing like an unexpected Tepper Tantrum? What is he, a toddler?

    Cheers to you both (Yves & John) for the patience.required to navigate this shitshow

    Reply
    1. Skip Intro

      I think he has gotten too close to his subject, and ‘gone native’. A sort of inadvertent intellectual capture, he is now the monopoly source for his insights, and is due royalties even for summaries of his profound brilliance.

      I guess it would have been cute if he’d had more of a clue and gone DMCA on it. I believe there are penalties for false copyright claims, which would be the case for a review that stayed well within fair use.

      Reply
  14. Lambert Strether

    I would think that the old saw “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” would apply to the initial review (which left me respecting the book and wanting to read it).

    But perhaps, after this post, we all might want to rethink that…

    Reply
    1. mle detroit

      Yes, and read Amazon reviews from the bottom up, one-stars first. Reporter’s book had several “fucking unreadable” in addition to substantive critiques, so I decided to pass.

      Reply
  15. ambrit

    Indeed, having read the original post, I was intrigued. The old saw does say; “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” However, there is such a thing as bad self promotion. Indeed, this sort of behaviour qualifies as self-demotion.
    Naked Capitalism has deployed an absolutely proper response to an attempt at bullying.

    Reply
  16. Jason Wells

    I loved the review this morning, which resonated and intrigued me. I was looking forward to diving deeper and exploring the research so it prompted me to add the book to my Amazon shopping cart. It is unfortunate that we can’t have a more worthy voices publishing well researched, clear and rigorous criticisms of the current state of the markets and democracy in the US. We need more accessible analysis to penetrate the broader public. In any case, I will probably still buy the book based on the earlier review in spite of the author’s antics, but shame on you Mr Tepper.

    Reply
  17. The Rev Kev

    Getting an international call at 6:50 am? That qualifies as the middle of the night in my book that. It is a shame that Jonathan Tepper and his editor kinda lost it over what was for him a decent book review. I can understand a polite request to have the post taken down while issues are sorted out but threatening hell-fire and copyright violations? Those threats do not rate to people that know their business nor who are impressed by them.

    It usually does not pay to challenge people who are experts on their own territory like Tepper tried to do. It does not end well-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ug9pP7dftM

    Reply
    1. Procopius

      Getting an international call at 6:50 am?

      Since I live in Thailand, which is exactly halfway around the world from the U.S. east coast (time zone EST), in the winter I have a twelve hour time difference. 6:50 AM there is 6:50 PM here, when I’m having supper. It can be annoying if I have to call an office that is only open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Maybe Tepper is ignorant of differences in time zones? 6:50 AM in Washington, D.C., is 11:50 AM in London, so maybe he thought he was calling just before lunch. Or maybe he’s just an inconsiderate asshole.

      Reply
  18. Clive

    My sister, who was (is, she’s not dead, but had a lucky escape, with the benefit of hindsight) exceptionally talented in the field of theoretical physics left academia precisely because of preening egotistical middle aged snowflakes like Tepper. As synchronicity would have it, the topic is explored in a piece in today’s Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/jan/25/my-toxic-supervisor-ruined-my-health-but-my-university-did-nothing

    Tepper obviously never thought Yves would put this tantrum and throwing of toys out of the pram in to the public domain. I hope he feels as stupid as he looks. It has all the dignity and decorum of Alexis and Krystal pulling off each other’s shoulder pads cat fighting in the Carrington Mansion ornamental fish pond.

    Reply
    1. larry

      Clive, Sorry to hear about your sister’s experience in her field. I, too, have read the anonymous academic’s account of the experiece they had. It sounded horrific. Another anonymous academic provided a quite similar account of deplorable behavior some time back. I trust your sister is better placed now.

      When I first came to England, I was told about a practice called ‘cutting one dead’. I had absolutely no idea what that meant until I saw it with my own eyes. Three of us were talking in the hall one day about some arcane topic when this chap came up and addressed a couple in the group about something — I don’t remember what he spoke about. He was allowed to finish what he was saying after which the other guys took up where we had left off before he came up to us. It was as if he had never spoken, indeed, never existed. He had become effectively invisible. It was only then that I knew what being cut dead meant. A truly horrible practice.

      You, too, watched that episide of Dynasty. I think my jaw dropped when I saw that.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Wowsers, I just read that piece. Horrible.

        And the subtext is one of the reasons it seems to be hard to leave in academia is the importance of the supersiser’s reference, plus I imagine that posts for anyone of reasonable seniority are limited.

        The problem is when you are in a situation like that you need to leave in the first six months, and most people for a whole host of reasons find that just about impossible to do. Psychologically, you don’t want to admit that it’s that bad and you need to get out until the evidence is overwhelming.

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          The same phenomena occur in most, if not all ‘walks of life.’ I have experienced such in construction.
          One of the “hidden benefits” of the precarity labour economy is the oppressive effects of needing a job (out of a severely limited collection of “available employments”) to get by. Managers usually learn early when his or her labour pool is stuck through necessity in an employment. Then the ego games intensify dramatically.
          When the choice is to either endure in silence or end up living “on the street,” the choice is a very hard one to make. I have done both. “Rugged individualism” leaves much to be desired when food is tight. As a friend once said: “Libertarianism is the perfect philosophy for lucky people.”

          Reply
    2. Mike Smitka

      Then there’s today’s post from the Yale Daily News on just such behavior in economics departments. Grad school is a trying enough experience without personal nastiness. And then there are the grad students who find flaws in an advisor’s work – while there are faculty who can subsume their egos, there are plenty who react by not writing reference letters, or writing negative ones.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        This is how an academic fraud like Marc Hauser (invented primate research data while at Harvard and receiving US government grants) can go on so long.

        By the way I am not in any way suggesting any such malfeasance on the part of the original subject of this post.

        Reply
  19. dbk

    I had read the review almost as soon as it was posted (different time zone, ahem), and my own reactions were a) interesting, maybe read more – I hadn’t really thought about the role of monopolies/duopolies/oligopolies in suppressing innovation; b) whatever can be done to control them via regulation and legislation has already been tried in previous generations – maybe we just need to move on and start thinking about other ways to organize society and its production methods. My sense is that we can’t move backward to re-calibrate capitalism; we need to move forward to … well, I don’t quite know.

    When I got to that point, I thought “Okay, why rain on the author/reviewer’s parades? Surely they know this too.”

    The other thoughts that occurred to me were a) what a good close reader the reviewer was, and b) what a good writer he was.

    So when this post revealed something I hadn’t known (that Siman is a classicist by training/profession), I looked him up on Linkedin, only to discover that the mentor he mentions was a close friend of ours, and that I was a classmate of the chair of his undergrad department. Small world, eh?

    I’m going to go back and read his reviews of Michael Hudson and Thomas Frank’s most recent books now.

    So I guess Tepper’s protests had an effect – just not the one he probably intended.

    Reply
  20. PlutoniumKun

    Sorry you had to put up with this nonsense, Yves. The guy sounds very petty. I didn’t read the original review very closely, but the only thing I found unusual about it was more direct quotes than the usual reviewer paraphrasing. But to describe that as copyright infringement or a spoiler is ridiculous, it’s not as if its a review of a movie that gives away the plot twist.

    The author has made a fool of himself. The kindest explanation is that he had a very bad day and once he cools down he’ll apologise appropriately to you and the reviewer.

    Reply
  21. Koldmilk

    Oh my goodness. If I didn’t know NC I’d think this entire story was made up. Or from the Onion: “Author Demands that Good Review of his Book be Withdrawn as He Spurns Success”.

    This sorry saga reminds me of the 3rd Law of Stupidity:

    A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

    Reply
    1. Olga

      Thanks for the link! Is great… Mr. Tepper can take some comfort in that – while we won’t be reading his book – at least his little tepper-temper tantrum has contributed to the general education of the NC readership!

      Reply
      1. polecat

        Is it possible someday that the phrase ‘tepper tantrum’ makes it into a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary ??

        A new meme perhaps ?

        Reply
  22. JerryDenim

    Sounds like you got it exactly right Yves.

    I didn’t read the book, but from the review I found Tepper’s bio coupled with the fact that he’s panning Piketty and progressive taxation while attempting to pin the entirety of America’s economic, political and social malaise on the death of antitrust law and the rise of monopoly power quite suspect. There was a quote something like “The only cure for capitalism is more capitalism!” Eeek! While he may be very right that monopoly is the big unreported story of our times, I don’t think you can divorce the very radical changes in our tax code in the last forty years from our radical changes in law, markets, inequality, civic discourse, living standards, and politics. Pardon me for preaching to the choir, but concentrated money is concentrated power. Concentrated power is diminished democracy, which leads to corruption and a crisis of faith/legitimacy that foreshadows the downfall of societies. Monopoly power is giant problem, sure, but it didn’t spring up overnight in a vacuum, and it won’t be tamed in vacuum either.

    Tepper sounds like a very wealthy finance capitalist attempting to redirect pitchforks while making a self-serving plea to bust up some gigantic monopolies so there will be more IPO’s and publicly traded companies for him and his colleagues to bet on and extract fees from. The pipes of capitalism are getting clogged and the lower volume flows of a shrinking stock market are probably starting to worry forward-thinking parasites like Tepper who will have an increasingly hard time sucking blood from out-sized beasts like Amazon that have immense power and in-source all of their core functions as they grow.

    Monopoly and antitrust need more allies and a broader political coalition, but I’m not sure Tepper is the man to lead the charge. He seems less than honest with his arguments and about his motives. The fact that he’s a jerk makes me trust him even less.

    Reply
  23. Nik

    How disappointing.

    I do hope that Tepper and his publisher come back to read the comments and realize that this attitude has cost them sales.

    I skimmed the list in Siman’s review, found several of the items on it compelling, and looked forward to diving into them in the future. Obviously a 1-2 sentence summary is never going to stand in for reading an actual book.

    Reply
    1. whine country

      “Obviously a 1-2 sentence summary is never going to stand in for reading an actual book”

      Based on my reading of the book, I would say that Tepper is the exception that proves the rule. IMHO, the unreadable description comes from writing a book to make points which could be summarized and organized much more efficiently. More than a 1-2 sentence summary but waaaay less that what Tepper wrote. It seems to me as though he definitely wrote it principally to make money rather than make his points. One of the points he does make that is demonstrated by his complaints is that people invariable act in their own self interest with virtually no incentive or inclination to consider the greater good. In fact he states, correctly IHMO, that one of the biggest problems of our current version of capitalism is that people who do things that are at the heart of all the problems he cites are acting perfectly rationally while harming greater society. He thus demonstrates clearly the idea that billionaires cannot ever make enough money and the system must be corrected to improve the balance as between individual self interest and the functioning of a greater society. (Don’t be a pig we were taught). So what he is demonstrating with his complaints about the review, which derives from his panic at the potential loss of book sales and is more piggishness on his part, is not the need to focus on breaking up companies, but the need to create a version of capitalism that reigns in certain nut cases like him who will never have enough money no matter how much they have, and can’t help acting anyway other than “rational”. FWIW, you now have my review of the book. BTW I got the book from the library for free. Don’t be foolish and pay for it if for no other reason than keeping a pig from the trough. An honorable man would have given this book away for free!

      Reply
      1. Olga

        Great observation! If the author were really interested in spreading the knowledge (a must, I’d say – and a part of the “greater good”) instead just his own self-interest (however narrowly defined), he’d be glad the review contained an excerpt – even if extensive (at least, by some unidentifiable measure). His actions demonstrate the very behaviour he is highlighting in the book… Oh, irony!

        Reply
      2. Jeremy Grimm

        Have you read Barry Lynn’s “Cornered”? If so, does Tepper’s book add new depth to the analysis or details of monopoly and monopsony that Barry Lynn elaborated? If he did I might look for his book at a library somewhere just to get an update on the current state of monopoly and monopsony in the US.

        Reply
        1. whine country

          Haven’t read it but will add it to my list. I posted another comment but apparently used some words that alerted the thought police here. There I tried to make the point that Tepper makes it a special point to say that all of the perpetrators (including Tepper) are acting rationally but unfortunately to the detriment of society. It’s kind of a devil made me do it thing as I see it. Now he comes along and shows us that it’s really about the money and, you understand, I have to be a rational self-interested player and be paid handsomely to provide you with my insight. My point is you can’t separate the corporations from the people who run them. If you focus on breaking up corporations you are confusing the symptoms from the actual problem. Greed isn’t good for anyone but the self-interested individual. Getting more than a fair share just because you can is not good for anyone but the self-interested individual. And, as Tepper proves ironically, his self-interested ambition to improve society can only be made public if he handsomely compensated. To use an old punch line: We know what you are, right now we’re just haggling about the price. Tepper’s book is poorly written and easy to put down. Save your money and focus on the the four crucial points he makes, which are:

          1. To paraphrase the gun lobby, corporations don’t harm people, the individuals who run them do.
          2. The individuals who run the corporations are acting as rational individuals, advancing their own self interests while (as a byproduct advancing the corporations best interests.
          3. At the same time, the corporations’ best interests are harming society in general.
          4. The individuals acting rationally will not self govern themselves in order to align the corporations interests with society. (Tepper proved that BTW)

          As NN Teleb (quoted by Tepper) says. you can see the future by looking into the past. Those four principles were known and understood by our forebears and laws were passed accordingly. Unfortunately, our betters eviscerated the laws and replaced them with theories generated in our “best” business schools who, unfortunately for us are also rational individuals who are advancing their own self interest and doing harm to society.

          There is no constitutional right to own a corporation and there is nothing in the constitution that says that their mission is to enhance the return to the shareholders. Make corporations be good citizens and adopt the doctors’ creed: First Do No Harm. Then hold the PEOPLE who don’t run them to that standard.

          Reply
  24. Louis Fyne

    Sadly this quabble is par for the course in academia in many corners (in my experience).

    Was it Taleb or someone who quipped that the pettiness of office people/academia is inversely proportional to the importance of the issue at hand? Your mileage will vary

    Reply
    1. larry

      The saying that the viciousness of academic politics is proportional to the importance of the issue was well used before Taleb mentioned it.

      Reply
    2. Steve Ruis

      There is an old saying in academia that “the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small,” that is at least 50 years old.

      Reply
  25. Grebo

    Tepper thinks his list of 29 monopolies is key research? I skimmed them and got no surprises, and I don’t even live in the US.

    Anyone who thinks the solution to Capitalism is more Capitalism is not thinking clearly in my view so I was not tempted to read the book, despite the glowing review.

    Reply
    1. Wyoming

      Yes, that (other than the funeral homes anyway – my plans don’t include one so who cares).

      Interesting that many thought the review was positive. I had taken it as a more subtle form of “This sort of looks pretty good, but if you really think about these items and how we arrive at them you will realize it is all nonsense.”

      Reply
    2. Skip Intro

      Anyone who thinks the solution to Capitalism is more Capitalism is not thinking clearly

      Capitalists don’t want competition, they want to be monopolies. Duh. I think that is the natural end state, monopoly, in the absence of extra-market political forces like (enforced) anti-trust rules. But I can see how claiming anti-trust regulations represent capitalism is, perhaps, a clever way to pitch the idea to those KoolAid aficionados who idolize competition and ‘free’ markets.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        As I recall, the argument made during the Reagan years was that the US needed to release US Corporations from the constraints of anti-trust regulation in order to be competitive in the new global economy where US Corporations were losing out to giant Japanese Trading Cartels. Now Tepper revives the old notions and paean to the wonders of ‘competition’, a song I’ve heard too many times when attempting to discuss economics with libertarian true-believers — an indulgence in wasted time, argument, and breath I long ago sworn off.

        Reply
    3. TimR

      Exactly… If that review stole Teppers thunder, Tepper had no thunder to speak of.

      Commenters listed all the precedents, Barry Lynn, Baran and Sweezy, etc etc. At best Tepper sounded to have some updated details, but not earthshaking insights.

      Reply
  26. EoH

    Having worked on a few book contracts for different authors, I have found a segment of the book review world to be a Boys’ Club where only five-star reviews are allowed. In the manner of circular boards of directors, everyone lauds everyone else’s performance.

    Critical reviews are as rare as an unqualified negative outlook by a bank economist or an outright “Sell” recommendation by a stockbroker. I have found Wiley to be a notable enforcer of this form of review. It might as well ask its reviewers to wear a purple ribbon.

    IMHO, this manner of promoting books under the guise of reviewing them is false and self-defeating. That it might intimidate an academic or other author dependent on access to a decent publisher would seem to be an obvious outcome.

    If that is not what is happening here, great. It just means the author is too thin-skinned to be an author. Sad, given the importance of his latest topic.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Siman did not deal with Wiley. In my view, Siman managed to become trapped by his lofty aims were in reviewing at NC. He wants to help make sure that important new books, ones that have messages that are important to the political/economic discourse, get the attention they deserve. He goes about doing that in a manner that is more labor-intensive than the normal book review process, by also interviewing the author and integrating that discussion with his commentary on the book.

      His first three reviews were of worthy books by very seasoned writers who are also public intellectuals. Tepper’s book was on an important topic, hence Siman’s interest, but Tepper is no Thomas Frank or Chris Hedges or Michael Hudson. Had Siman told me that the book was such a mess, I would have told him to cut his losses. Instead, he persisted and tried to produce a review that put the best face possible on Tepper’s book despite its considerable shortcomings. And this is where things wound up.

      Reply
  27. PhillyPhilly

    Crap! Does anyone have the list of 29 examples of cartels from yesterday’s post? I was discussing them with a friend yesterday and I wanted to refer to the list later…

    Reply
  28. KLG

    I’m the kind of nc reader who is predisposed to buy books mentioned or reviewed here. Not this time. Thanks for the heads up, Mr.Tepper and Mr. Henton!

    Reply
  29. Steve Ruis

    Copyright laws in the U.S. do not require an author or publisher’s permission to publish small excerpts from a book if the purpose is a review of the book. (Publishing whole chapters is not acceptable, however.) UK copyright laws are quite different in some respects, though.

    The review was good enough that I purchased the book and am now reading it, which is what reviews are for. As to the list of overly concentrated industry niches, I read a sampling but otherwise it was tl;dr.

    Possibly the author was trying to stir controversy to acquire additional attention?

    Reply
  30. William Beyer

    I’m with Mr. Ruis. Read the review here, and bought the book right away, even though I knew in advance that more capitalism would never be the answer to what ails us. Because the wind chill was minus 25 degrees yesterday, I have actually read some of the book. Very heavy on “outrageous” anecdotes about abuse of monopoly pricing, but Tepper’s treatment of the German cartels completely missed James Stewart Martin’s work, cited in my comment yesterday, on how elite insiders worked to subvert Roosevelt’s directions to break them up after the war. I looked up-front in the book for a description of co-author Hearn, and either missed it or she didn’t get adequate credit. Not a good sign. I will continue to read suspiciously. Some of it may prove useful.

    Reply
  31. Iguanabowtie

    Funny, that. After reading the original BC review, I did indeed pick up a copy of The Myth of Capitalism at the library – Library Genesis.

    Reply
  32. Jeremy

    The review almost convinced me to buy the book, and that’s saying something because I know the shtick. I’m very skeptical of this new “monopoly is the problem” “we just need anti trust” type of discourse I see from leftish liberals. I think they’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole, blinded by their adherence to capitalist dogma, but I was curious to see a full boom length presentation of the argument. Not curious anymore. I’ll just keep reading Matt Stoller’s tweets, he’s pretty good.

    Reply
  33. freedomny

    Wow! I thought Siman’s review was really good – in fact I was seriously thinking of buying the book.

    But since Tepper is acting like a plutocrat….I won’t. I appreciate this PSA.

    Reply
  34. McWatt

    After reading the review yesterday I ordered the book, haven’t received it yet. I am exceedingly excited
    to see what all the ruckus is about.

    Michael Hudson is a God that Walks the Planet.

    Thanks for all the great posts Yves!!

    Reply
  35. whine country

    As Joseph Kennedy famously said: “Don’t get mad, get even. For those who are inclined to value your privacy your internet communications should always be done via a reputable VPN. Assuming you already have one or as soon as you have installed one, visit the Pirate Bay website and download a free copy from their “library”. If you feel that using such a service is objectionable as a matter of conscience, please try to recall that when getting even, It is widely accepted that turnabout is fair play. A system that is fraught with people taking advantage while breaking the laws without recourse may take some equal measures of lawlessness on our part to repair. I repeat: turnabout is fair play.

    Reply
  36. Katy

    Brilliant, Yves!

    I have often bought books based on reviews from NC. I might have bought Tepper’s book, were it not for the fact that I just bought …and Forgive Them Their Debts, which may take me a while to read because it’s so dense!

    Reply
  37. patD

    I was already skeptical given the suggestion about readability issues in the review, but what the heck, a library book can be returned unfinished. I too use NC as source of books to read. Put in on hold and was number 6 on the wait list. Just cancelled the hold. I read the very readable Barry C. Lynn Harper’s article linked in the review instead. Now I’ve got Lynn’s book on request.

    Reply
  38. oaf

    …Gotta do what you gotta do….and that one, it seems, needed help!
    Refreshing treatment of a lumbering….(fill in the blank).
    …which may turn out to have some redeeming value.

    After the dust settles.

    Reply
  39. Mike Smitka

    Ah, and when I went to FTAlphaville, lo and behold, a link back to here (NC is already on my short list of blogs to scan, so for me redundant).

    Congrats?!

    Reply
  40. Robin Kash

    Too late for me. Based on the review I bought a Kindle version. Now, I tremble at the prospect of having to read it.
    If Mr. Tepper thought the review went too far in disclosing his pearls of wisdom, one might imagine that someone so enamoured of competition as the solution to the evils of our monopolistic era would have welcomed what he took to be infringement of his book’s commercial prospects.

    Reply
  41. aletheia33

    one of the lessons here:
    don’t mess with yves smith.
    yves you are an inspiration and a heroic fighter.
    thank you for outing behavior that is generally kept carefully hidden from the public.

    i appreciated the thoughtful review and might even have printed and passed it on to my partner, perhaps even others. oh well. i do thank you also, yves, for the initial post. that list helped me grok the whole picture, as i have a mind that does better at seeing the trees than the forest.

    i work for academic publishers and yes, the industry has gone downhill since the 1990s. (i started in 1979, so i’ve witnessed it all.) just like all the sectors on the list. the current moral breakdown now touches every part of everyone’s lives and work, including academia and publishing, neither of which has ever actually held as much moral high ground as its professional practitioners have liked to think it does. and NC has well covered the administrators’ takeover of the universities.

    since the 1980s i’ve worked with some great people in academic publishing who walked away from the cutthroat, backstabbing rat race of academia and turned to the kinder, gentler working environment of the publishing companies. but the internet, and publishers’ clueless response to its spoiling powers, has destroyed that environment. like every other, the field is now all about making the shareholders happy, which means continuous lowering of standards in a race to the bottom and continuously diminishing income for all involved, which was never all that much to begin with. the usual story we are all familiar with here at NC.

    yes, the quality of the writing and the standards of production have gone down. there is also offshoring, mostly to india, which introduces problems that somehow the decisionmakers seem to consider worth what they cost. i now earn less and fix more problems in manuscripts than i did 20 years ago.

    Reply
      1. aletheia33

        thanks jerry b! i would have seen it but perhaps not read down into the whole thing. the replies are all quite interesting too.

        noting: the “unroll” version of the twitter thread seems to be a new form of journalism in its own right. i’m glad jeremy littau did not save this material for an academic article or book that would not have been found/read by many of the people who would make the best use of it.

        there are real parallels with the book publishing industry, but the two are really quite distinct. i do remember the earlier mergers and acquisitions of the publishing companies that began in the 1970s. long-term employees got axed overnight, consolidations started to gradually wipe out the variety and originality of what could be published. the disaster we see all around us now really did have some important developments of that decade.

        on the other hand, up until the 1970s, quality book publishing was always way too much a rich white man’s amusement, with levels of racism, anti-semitism, male chauvinism, and the like, just as as the elite universities, that still have not fully come to light. not to mention their moral cowardice in the face of mcarthyism and other cold war machinations. so there’s that.

        Reply
        1. aletheia33

          adding, apologies for the incoherencies in this comment. the comment editing process got away from me. i was hoping to make some final changes using the edit function after posting, but never got to see that version.

          “really did have origins in some important developments in that decade”

          “just as in the elite universities”

          Reply
  42. John

    Mr. Google has this posting as item 7 under Tepper’s name. Mr. Tepper from the shark tank world of investment banking gets a lesson in consequences of bad manners.
    Oh, I read the review as I have always understood monopoly and cartel as the end stage of laissez faire capitalism, learned from some college course 50 plus years ago. But something put me off. Maybe the unreadable part came thru. I’m lazy. I have no toleration for unreadable.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      Unreadability is a sin against the reader.

      If Stephen Jay Gould can make the average reader enjoy discovering that a principal difference between two species of fossil snails is in the pattern of whorls on their otherwise similar shells, Mr. Tepper has no excuses worth hearing.

      Reply
  43. Matthew G. Saroff

    I read the review before it was taken down, and based on that, and this post, I have one minor critique: That John Siman should have stressed that this was a very hard (and poorly written) read, even if the underlying data is important.

    There was a mention of it being dense, but that should stressed a bit more.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I agree with you. There are too many ‘important’ books for me to read. Unless the book in question is truly remarkable I can’t afford the time dealing with bad writing.

      Reply
    2. TimR

      Especially, if he wanted to maintain his future credibility as a reviewer..! Once burned twice shy…

      His email to Yves was much more frank than his finished piece, lol.

      Reply
  44. Angie Neer

    Count me as another reader who appreciates the effort Siman put into an unusually thorough and conscientious review. And I, too, finished it with the impression this was a book worth reading, though not buying (my county has a great library system).

    Reply
  45. Brian (another one they call)

    It seems as though many books should only be read as a library book. You don’t take a financial hit buying more garbage from Amazon, you don’t support the author’s pocketbook until or unless it is worth doing. Book reviews are more important when it is an opinion piece fronting for a reality only available in the authors imagination. A book like the one in question is an opinion piece designed to move readers to their point of view concerning reality, buyer beware.
    Art, Movie and music reviewers on the other hand are redundant stool, incapable of understanding the emotion of the piece to try to explain it because they don’t feel it and worse if they don’t like it. The art wasn’t trying to convince you of anything, just entertain. There is a great chasm that can not be understood or crossed. Sorry Ebert, but this means you.

    Reply
  46. Susan the Other

    I just read yesterday’s Link to Wolfgang Streeck’s “Globalism and the Transformation of the International State System. I’d like to recommend it to Tepper. This is most likely the nexus where Left and Right build their bridge. Protectionism from cutthroat competition. Competition as we worshipped it is looking like another barbaric relic. Sometimes I don’t read Struck because he is long winded, so I feel lucky I went back. Everything he says is so accessible and logically thought-through that it’s much like reading Hudson or Murphy. Streeck has outlined the history, the problems and the best solution in just a few short clear pages. No need to read the ramblings of a delusional economist-prima-donna. Yes, it’s socialism, but it is socialism coming half-way to build a bridge. Unlike Tepper. My one complaint with Streeck is that he does not confuse his social theory with environmentalism and all the problems it poses. But that is also the thing that keeps his thinking coherent. If Streeck did incorporate some thinking on the environment into his essays I’m sure it would be spot on. Thanks for posting Streeck.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Just wanted to second Streeck’s work, which does not get enough play in the Anglo world. As far as contributions to my personal understanding of how the contemporary world works, he is the only person that comes near what Michael Hudson has done for me. I appreciate your call for political economy to consider ecology more meaningfully.

      As to the content that was lost on yesterday’s post. . . I copied down some resources that looked far more helpful to understanding monopoly capital than the “f–ing unreadable’ book currently under review.

      1. Barry C. Lynn, as mentioned above. See his Harper’s essay:
      https://harpers.org/archive/2012/02/killing-the-competition/
      2. Baran and Sweezy’s 1966 book Monopoly Capital.
      3. A review of the concept take that locates the above work in its Marxist analytic context, with lots of other great references (from the same magazine that Sweezy and others founded):
      https://monthlyreview.org/2018/01/01/what-is-monopoly-capital/#en16

      Viva Streeck.

      Reply
  47. RBHoughton

    The reason I read NC is because the team call a spade a spade. We know and like their style. I loathe the PC nonsense that has caused the English-speaking nations to disguise their words. Looking forward to more straight talking fro NC. Much obliged.

    Btw, I am one of those 1,000+ Poms who bought Michael Hudson’s “…. and forgive them their debts.” He has not adopted a chronological approach but illustrates the historical blow/counter blow in the five millennia battle between creditors and debtors. One might read about a feature of Bronze Age life in one paragraph and then classical antiquity or the middle ages in the next. The structure was his choice and I think it made a better case for his argument. As you have said Gillian Tett’s review gets it right. One of the really pleasing features is that Professor Hudson has obliged his printer to put the footnotes at the bottom of the page they refer to. Thank God someone has started to restore readability to English-language books.

    Reply

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