Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

Freakonomics by Stevin Levitt and Stephen Dubner

May 2, 2013

As Levitt sees it, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions.  This book asks interesting questions.  If you want to know which teachers are cheating, which criminals are actually getting rich, and how the KKK is like a group of real estate agents, then Freakonomics is exactly the book you want to read.  Even if those particular questions haven’t been burning up your brain pan, the book is still a fun and interesting read, full of counter-intuitive ways of looking at the world around us.

Levitt’s blatant disregard for stereotypical economic applications (say that three times fast) allows for math and science to be used to measure something far more interesting:  people.  While the questions asked in the book are interesting (say, what do sumo wrestlers and schoolteachers have in common?) it is the answers that are absolutely fascinating.  Often the answers challenge our preconceptions and force us to really look at the world around us in ways that might be a little uncomfortable, but are almost certainly valuable.  Dubner’s writing style is smooth enough that the reader doesn’t feel like their face is being pulled off while they go through some of the data sets in the book (have no fear, there aren’t that many).  He also brings enough humor to the writing to offset any potentially “heavy” effects of certain questions that Levitt asks.

For anyone who enjoys the little idiosyncrasies that life puts out there, this book is a rare gem.  Standing standard procedure on its head, Levitt and Dubner deliver a humorous take on a wide variety of subjects, from the fairly mundane to the truly extraordinary.    I had a very hard time putting this one down, even when I had finished it, and I cannot wait to read the sequel:  Superfreakonomics.  With a title like that, you just know the book is going to be good.  If we’re all a little lucky, it’ll have some funny Rick James references, too.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

February 6, 2012

At one time, the travelers on the road to the Suhar International Airport in Mumbai could look out their car windows and see a tall, shiny, aluminum fence.  Ads for a company that sold floor tiles ran its length.  “Beautiful Forever” read the corporate slogan.

Behind that wall promising eternally beautiful floors lay what airport management didn’t want customers to see:  Annawadi, a slum first settled in 1991 by workers brought in from southern India to repair an airport runway.  Seventeen years later, when Katherine Boo did the research that led to this book, three thousand people still lived and worked there.

Boo introduces us to several Annawadi residents and gives us intimate glimpses into their lives.  There is Abdul, the young entrepreneur striving to improve the fortune of his family through recycling garbage.  We meet Asha, a rising star in the political life of the settlement.  We watch Abdul’s neighbor, Fatima, make a fateful choice that changes lives forever.

This is a gorgeously written book, but not an easy story to read.  Abdul, Asha and Fatima are people with few resources struggling to succeed in a corrupt system that does not seem very fair, especially to the poor.  Boo shows how precarious their lives are, and how quickly hardworking people can find their lives turned upside down by circumstance.

Boo, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and current staffer at The New Yorker, has spent two decades writing about poverty.  She hopes this book will “show American readers that the distance between themselves and, say, a teenaged boy in Mumbai who finds an entrepreneurial niche in other people’s garbage, is not nearly as great as they might think.”

She succeeded with this American reader.  I quickly grew to care about the people Boo portrays so vividly, especially Abdul.  The three years Boo spent in Annawadi researching this story were evident.  She made me see the dwellings and the faces of the people she met, and experience their daily struggles.

I would recommend this book to readers who like nonfiction that reads like fiction, people interested in India, readers with an interest in economic issues, nonfiction book clubs looking for a title with themes that easily lend themselves to discussion, and last, but not least, to devotees of beautiful writing.

Find and reserve this book in our online catalog.

The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter

March 23, 2011

This week I will be featuring books that are available in all of our formats. Print, Audio & Ebook. Enjoy!

This thought-provoking, reader-friendly book explores the economic choices individuals and societies make every day, often without considering the true cost and other implications of those decisions.

I really enjoyed this book, both for its overall view – which is clever and counterintuitive, if slightly insulting to our refined and correct sensibility i.e. do creatures as pure as we really think of love, women, life, etc. in terms of price? – and I enjoyed it page by page. There are tons of fascinating insights almost everywhere, stuff that seems weird and unlikely, until its’ digested and connected by Porter.

For me, particularly the stuff on the price of life was quite shocking. It goes without saying that life is priceless right? Wrong. Porter tells a moving story about how he met a Mexican illegal immigrant in California and had a long discussion with him about whether he should pay $1,500 for each of his two kids to be brought across the border – a very dangerous route – or $5,000 for fake documents to cross at the border. In effect, he was asking how much were his children’s lives worth. Very heady subject matter treated very well.

Find all formats of The Price of Everything in our catalog.

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