Non-boring modern classics of economics

I’ve recently been listening to a lot of audiobooks. I really enjoyed Freakonomics and so I thought I’d catch up on some modern classics on economics.

The black swan by Nassim Taleb is all-but unlistenable. Perhaps the author is being misread, but his rambling comes across as incredibly self-important and therefore vastly tedious.

In the first few pages we discover he dislikes the photos of ugly swans fans have sent to him, is ungrateful for the case of Black Swan wine, and he identifies himself with a nationality which simply no longer exists, because they were such cool people. This is how he introduces himself, which is a funny sort of step. At the start of The wealth of nations did Adam Smith tell you about his home life and which brand of beer he liked?  Not so much…

Taleb’s basic argument is

  • events which are wildly unlikely happen frequently
  • people pretend they don’t and are thus blindsided by them
  • people retell their stories so that the event makes sense.

This doesn’t  seem to be nearly as amazing as the author seems to think it is. I presume I’m meant to find the author’s belligerence charming, but I don’t, and so as he sets out to prove his thesis, I was left hoping that things would  improve as the book continued. They didn’t.

Also, perhaps as an artefact of listening to the book rather than reading it, his continual use of the term “black swan” eventually begins to grate. It’s like his book has an advert for itself in it, that gets played every couple of pages.

PJ O’Rourke on The wealth of nations was a surprisingly good book. A curmudgeonly right-wing humorist reads a classic economics text, and riffs off it for the amusement of the listener. I have not read The wealth of nations: like most people who studied economics at university I was given condensed and reworked versions of his ideas to study instead. I was surprised by how left of centre his work, when quoted, actually is. O’Rourke’s humor is, in places, topical but a little dated, but most of it works well, even though I don’t share his political views. Again, surprisingly good.

The world is flat shares the style of Black swan, in that the author is talking about himself a great deal, and has the same grating habit of repeating the title of his book every few minutes.  That aside, it’s an interesting view of the processes of globalisation. It’s all very rosy, strangely enough. That would be my main criticism of the book: it doesn’t deal with the downside of globalisation, as seen from the view of the person on the street, as well as it deals with the upside seen on an abstract and global level. I still enjoyed it a great deal, and in the context of this little experiment in globally published librarianship that we are doing here, it had some very apt messages.