The Economic Naturalist: Book Review

I mentioned yesterday about my summer holiday reading, and that I’d picked up this book along with Tim Hardford’s The Undercover Economist.

The Economic Naturalist by Robert H Frank aims to show how economics can be used to explain almost everything, and lecturer Frank uses questions submitted by his students as inspiration for the sections in his book. This means that this book should be easy to dip into and out of (a good book to leave on the coffee table for brief snippets now and again?).

Sadly, many of the questions answered appear to have little to do with economics.

For example, one of the sections asks why kamikaze pilots wore helmets. One reason given is that many actually did not die in their raids, another that they could experience turbulence on the way to their target, yet another that the helmet was emblematic of being a pilot, and the most compelling reason, according to the author, is that they didn’t have an express intention to kill themselves, just that they should destroy the target at whatever cost. I may be missing the point, but where is the economics in that? It may also be historically innaccurate, by some accounts.

There are a few sections which do make you think, but all in all, the book felt a little disjointed (probably because of the way it was put together in short sections), and the answers felt a little underdeveloped, perhaps symptomatic of the fact that much of it was sourced from student’s coursework.

On a pedantic note, even the image of a milk carton on the cover looks a little shabby if you look close enough!

Rating: 4 / 10

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