[ Book Review ] Naked Economics, Skeptical Canary

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Four semesters of economics in college convinced me of one unshakable truth: economics is irredeemably boring. So when I saw the tagline to this book included the phrase “dismal science”, I approved.

I approved even more when I read the intro and the author’s promise of no-graphs and no-math. The part of me that convinced me to take those four semesters of econ in the first place reared its head then: “Economics are important. You’re gonna fail at life if you don’t read this book!”

Okay, okay, fine, Inner Voice of Reason and Responsibility, I’ll give it a try. And maybe become a more productive citizen in the process.

I dove in and realized a few things very quickly.

1. Wheelan doesn’t lie. There are no graphs, charts, or number crunching. Even Bill Bryson, who made space and geography fun, hadn’t managed to do that. Plus respect points to Wheelan!

2. It might have been a much dryer read if I hadn’t already had some small amount of economic background. I breezed through the first few chapters, and only started slowing down when it got to talking about the recent economic crisis and Wall Street.

3. It’s fun! The narrator pulls out plenty of amusing anecdotes that had me chortling.

4. The approach and context is US-specific rather than global. If you’re international, mileage may vary!

What about the book in general?

Wheelan, the middle bird.

Ideologically, it takes the middle ground between the kind of rhetoric I listened to last night during the US Republican debate (see upside down canary for more details) and the kind of approach proposed by economists like Jeffrey Sachs (if you like non-fiction, neoliberalism, and NPR, check out The End of Poverty*). Indeed, most of the content in the first half of Naked Economics was standard textbook material, minus the canary-numbing, narcolepsy-inducing dryness. It answered questions such as “what in the world does the US Federal Reserve do?”,  “Why are set prices and rent ceilings a terrible idea that makes everything pricier, not cheaper?” and “Why can’t we just print money–oh wait, we do? How does that work?”

Specific examples, light tone, fits in a very large pocket…It’s like the newest iPad of Economics.

(Well, okay, iPads don’t fit in pockets, have fun Econ examples, or go pastel. But they could, if Apple put its mind to it.)

*Yes, sir! I have my NNN badge, right here!

This Week’s Mine Shaft

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Four semesters of economics in college convinced me of one unshakable truth: economics is irredeemably boring. So when I saw the tagline to this book included the phrase “dismal science”, I approved.

I approved even more when I read the intro and the authors promise of no-graphs and no-math. So I dove in. I’m roughly half-way through, and it’s kept its promise. The narrator is witty and engaging, and I’m surprised to find myself calling it a fun read. Let’s see where that goes.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

I’d like to say that I picked this book up out of some kind of noble sentiment. Perhaps I picked it up because I heard the NPR program about the book in March (April? May?), or perhaps being a literate lover of history, I couldn’t walk past the chance to get an in-depth look at this ancient Egyptian celebrity. Oh, who am I kidding?

I got the book because when I was 15, in a flash of teen genius, I named my darling cat Cleopatra. It took about a week for sanity to reassert myself and I downgraded the name to “Clea”.

Reading this book shall be a kind of penance. Learn from my misdeeds, canaries. Ye Shall Not Call Your Cat Cleopatra.

Infidel by Kameron Hurley

And lest you think that I have completely converted to the dark side, here’s a bit of the fantastic to my reading list.

I’m finding myself drawn in more and more into the world Hurley has created, despite the main character’s name (Nyx, if you must know. Nyx the ex-assassin.) and the discomfiting realization, courtesy of Amazon.com, that this is apparently the second book of a series, not the first.

Still, I hadn’t noticed from the story itself, and that bodes really good things.

And really, any book with a cover like this one will have to work really hard to put me off.

Now over to theothercanary…

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

theothercanary’s mom on the phone: “Hey, Meggie. Don’t forget we have book club this week.”

theothercanary: “Yep. All done with that book.”

theothercanary’s mom: “Great, see you there!”

theothercanary, after hanging up the phone: Fuck.

Ten pages into “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,” and I’m already miffed. The sentence structure does not allow for speed reading, and this little canary has a deadline!

What’s on your reading list?