Mary's Library

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Economics -- The Sprightly Science

I’ve noticed that economics isn’t dismal any more. There have been a few recent books by economists that are so amusing and well written that they have made the best seller list. And some that didn't quite make it there are equally worth your time.

Wilhelm asked Santa for FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner (2005.) Of all the books and toys around here Christmas morning, Levitt and Dubner’s book was the most popular. Herr W read the entire thing in less than 24 hours. The only other present that was nearly as popular was Matt Gaffney’s SIP AND SOLVE: Hard Crosswords. (The less said about my new video game the better.)

The financial writer for the New Yorker, James Surowiecki, whose columns are usually pretty lively, by the way, has written an intriguing book, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations (2004.) I’m not convinced Surowiecki is right about this issue, but that isn’t interfering with my enjoyment of the book. You might want to counter it, however, by reading EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS, by Charles MacKay (1841.)

David M Cutler, who was on President Bill Clinton’s health care task force (for what that’s worth) and who advised presidential candidate Bill Bradley, makes some genuinely useful suggestions for positive change in our health care system in YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE: Strong Medicine for America’s Health Care System (2004.)

Thomas L Friedman is an economist whose work I admire greatly. You don’t get any better common sense analysis or entertaining reading than in his NY Times columns and his best-selling books, which are:
THE WORLD IS FLAT: A Brief History of the 21st Century (2005)
LONGITUDES AND ATTITUDES: Exploring the World after September 11 (2002)

And so we come to the luminous books of John Steele Gordon, every one of which is worth reading for the information in it and for the pure enjoyment of it.
THE SCARLET WOMAN OF WALL STREET: Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Erie Railway Wars, and the Birth of Wall Street (1988) The scarlet woman is the Erie Railroad.
THE GREAT GAME: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power, 1653-2000 (1999) Ever wonder why the American Stock Exchange is called "the curb?"
AN EMPIRE OF WEALTH: The Epic History of American Economic Power(2004)
HAMILTON’S BLESSING: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (1997) Who would believe a book about the national debt could be so readable.
A THREAD ACROSS THE OCEAN: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable (2002) Financing this project was almost as impossible as figuring out how to lay the cable.


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