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The Economic Naturalist November 28, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Academically Speaking, Books, Reviews.

A worthy addition to the growing number of available “popular economics” titles is Robert Frank’s The Economic Naturalist. It’s a book that grew out of the Cornell Economics Professor’s penchant for asking his students to write short essays explaining the economic intuition behind fairly everyday phenomena.

The appeal of The Economic Naturalist lies in that the esteemed professor does not attempt so much to offer the run of the mill general reader on economics. Instead, he opts to demistify more ordinary occurences that we perhaps take for granted. Why is it that twenty-four hour convenience stores have locks on their doors if they never close? Why do drive-through ATMs have braille on their keypads, even if the blind can’t drive? Why is the price of brown eggs more expensive than white ones, considering that an egg is an egg is an egg? These are just some of the questions that Frank examines through an economist’s lens, resulting in discussions that are more often than not quite enlightening.

It goes without saying that the book dials down much of the rigor required by economic analysis in favor of simpler (at times even simplistic) explanations for the topics under consideration. For the most part, it is an approach that works in the book’s favor: even where Frank’s discussion may come across as a bit of a stretch — which does occur — there is at the very least some modicum of analysis being offered. Further, more “serious” readers will be pleased to know that hidden in between the often amusing and mundane questions the book tackles are some of the more weighty questions that have captivated economists, past (there are a couple based on George Ackerloff’s research, for instance) or present (such as Chris Anderson’s observation of the “long tail”, which also finds its way to the book).

Those looking for an easy and at once interesting read on economics need look no further than Robert Frank’s book. The Economic Naturalist is that rare title which manages to remind its readers that beyond the equations and graphs, economics is in fact a versatile and interesting subject to study.



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