David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
I am a reader, or at least I use to be, but in the last couple of years I have found it hard to read. It could be that personal matters and writing books made me too jittery to sit and comprehend the written page. Reading became a chore. In order to relax at the end of long day, I switched to the less demanding activity of watching seasons of TV shows (Bones, Suits, White Collar, Newsroom, The Good Wife, Downton Abby, Persons of Interest, to name a few and I do mean a few). Unlike watching TV shows, reading requires a slowing down of the heart rate and the eye speed in order to grasp the material. I couldn’t seem to do it. That is, until I picked up David and Goliath. Then, all the old habits, which made reading such a pleasure, flooded back. I have to say, Gladwell has made me glad read again.
Gladwell writes the way a good preacher preaches. He tells familiar stories but always injects a surprise. He repeats his themes often so you don’t have to take notes to remember them. Finally, he engages the emotions as well as the intellect. I have read all his books and they are all great but this one is special. Even though it isn’t autobiographical, it feels personal–as if he really wants to tell these stories.
Some of those stories include the ideas of economists. Indeed, after reading his body of work, he seems to like to popularize the work of academics. This book covers the research of economists who Gladwell thinks got it right and those he thinks got it wrong. As an economist, I have to say that when we are wrong in our predictions, it isn’t usually the model that is incorrect (ie marginal benefits and marginal costs) but that all of the costs and benefits including externalities weren’t accounted for. (In the real world, this is very easy to do.) Overall, one of Gladwell’s major themes–that disadvantages can actually be helpful–speaks to the economic idea that people are optimizers–doing the best the can with what they’ve got. This book very much has an economic undertone.
He also tells stories which are sympathetic to people who live by faith. I found this refreshing in an intellectual climate that treats religion as ‘fundamentally’ suspect. I am a woman of faith and I felt safe in Gladwell’s presence.
My only criticism of the book is that it ends too abruptly. David and Goliath needed more to finish things off. I kept turning the last page to make sure I hadn’t missed something but it wasn’t there.
I eagerly look forward to Gladwell’s next book both as an economist and a christian.
(We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. 2 Corinthians 13:9b)
Books I love. by Natalie MacNeil
What can I say but a heartfelt thanks to Natalie for recommending my book to her audience of women? I am glad she loved it! It seems to me that economics is usually thought of as a male dominated subject (especially finance) but my book has a definite feminine side…one that women can relate to. (Just so you know many men have enjoyed it as well.)
Let me quote from my final chapter…
Well, there you have it. A few big ideas and a lot of small talk about markets. I hope you feel more confident during cocktail party conversations. Even if these kinds of conversations aren’t your thing and you would rather discuss the latest movie or novel, there are still some benefits to knowing this material. If you happen to be a women, remember that an educated understanding of a subject viewed as a typically male one is like fantastic underwear. No one has to see it, but you can feel the difference and it changes how you carry yourself. If you are a man, lightly chit-chatting on these matters with savoir faire is very attractive, especially if you know when to stop. Cocktail Party Economics pg 168
But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Taken from The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money pg 383 by John Maynard Keynes
As far as I am concerned what you are about to read can only be described (in the British vernacular) as ‘brilliant’. Brian manages to bring to life the times and importance of Keynes in his introduction to The General Theory taught as a 4th year seminar course at the University of Guelph. It should be read by all who love or hate Keynesian economics. (Those who don’t really care are of course exempt.) If you are interested at all, you will find this text a pleasure to read.
See SSRN downloads for all of his lectures
Lectures on Keynes’ General Theory by Professor Brian Ferguson winter 2013:
Lecture 1: Chapter One, Background and Historical Setting
John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Prices is one of those rare books which actually deserves to be labeled revolutionary. Regardless of one’s take on Keynesian macroeconomics, the publication of the General Theory marked a major change in the way economists thought about macroeconomic issues. Indeed, Keynes can be credited with (or slammed for) creating the concept of macroeconomics. Arguably, prior to the General Theory, most professional economists thought of the macroeconomy in a general equilibrium sense, as an aggregate of a large number of individual markets, and they assumed that the analysis of how individual markets behaved could be carried over pretty much unchanged to the collection of markets which constituted the economy as a whole. There was, it seemed, no need to think of the economy as anything other than the sum of its parts, and an understanding of how those parts worked was sufficient to understand how the economy as a whole worked. After the General Theory, that no longer held. Economists started to think in terms of aggregates.