Lit Gloss

Books to Put the Economy in Context.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 1, 2008

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Publishers Weekly reported last week that writers and publishers are thinking quickly about current affairs. "Though the situation on Wall Street continues to unfold," says PW, "there's already quite a crowded field of book proposals and sales stemming from the crisis." PW compared the spate of proposals and quick responses to books about Sept. 11, which were also pitched quickly and accepted within weeks of the tragedy. Before these books are published, however, you can teach yourself about the economy--and have fun doing it--with these three books:

The still-great classic in the genre is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner, whose book was so popular, it sold 3 million copies and was the jumping-off point for a popular New York Times blog. Its topics--abortion, baby-naming, crime, parenting--don't initially seem the stuff of pencil-protector economists. But the authors manage to nimbly connect everything, enlarging our view of what the word "economics" means.

Similarly, John Allen Paulos' oldie but goodie Once Upon a Number: The Hidden Mathematical Logic of Stories examines concepts that inevitably surface during economic crises like this one. The "crime of statisticide," as Paulos calls it, is a favorite of pundits: manipulating numbers in the service of one's own point of view. (Paulos uses the O.J. Simpson trial as an example.) He also mathematically counters the concept of Murphy's Law, essentially explaining that we can't all be screwed even though we feel we are--a reassuring message right now.

A more contemporary entry is Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed (and Other Economic Mysteries) by Jared Bernstein, who uses a friendly Q&A format and answers tough questions like: "How much of the U.S. economy is driven by the military industrial complex?," "What's all this about the 'strength of the dollar'?" and "Presidents are always going on about the economy, but do they really have much influence?" No rarefied air with Bernstein, who ultimately reveals himself as an advocate for the poor and middle-class.

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