Rafi Mohammed

Recommended Reading: "The Economic Naturalist"

Posted on August 13th, 2007 (0 Comments)

I’ve always considered Bob (Robert H.) Frank to be the Jerry Seinfeld of economics…and I mean this in a good way. Much like Mr. Seinfeld, Bob generates interesting insights on everyday occurrences with a twist of humor and intellect. Case in point, the title of his new book; “The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas.”

Since the 1980’s, Frank has been asking his students to pose questions about oddities they encounter and then explain them in economics terms. “The Economic Naturalist” is a greatest hits compilation of these student questions along with Frank’s economic explanations. For example, one student asks why the most expensive apartments in low rise (four stories or fewer) buildings in India are those located on the lower floors. The answer is because low rise buildings are exempt from having elevators – so residents value not having to trudge up flights of stairs with their groceries. Of course in Boston, a low floor condominium is an invitation to get burglarized! Another question I found interesting is “why do new cars costing $20,000 rent for $40 a day, while tuxedos costing only $500 rent for $90." As you can see, these questions are in the “Seinfeldian” vein of “things that make you go huh?” A video of a lecture that Bob recently gave at Google (on "The Economic Naturalist") can be found here.

Now in full disclosure, I was a teaching assistant for one of Bob’s economic classes (where students posed and answered these questions) at Cornell in the early 90’s and I’m a big believer in the style he uses to write on economics. I can hear many of you mumbling the words “of course” and smirking. Well…don’t just take my word for it. The Washington Post recently intoned that Frank is a pioneer that laid the groundwork for books like “The Tipping Point” (Malcom Gladwell), “Freakonomics” (Steve Levitt) and “Undercover Economist” (Tim Harford). Additionally, The New York Times recently gave “The Economic Naturalist” a rave review. His book is selling extremely well and has a good shot at making the best seller lists.

With summer coming to a close, “The Economic Naturalist” is an interesting read to enjoy on one of those last relaxing days at the beach.

Add Comment
Send to Friend
Email Signup
RSS Feed