A fun, informative introduction to a persistent problem: how to get money “right.”




An economist and bestselling author examines the nature, utility, and power of money.

Say this for Wheelan (Public Policy/Dartmouth Coll.; Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data, 2013, etc.): he knows how to conduct a class. Well before tackling difficult topics—why Japan tolerated two decades of deflation, why the United States and China are in an “unhealthy codependency,” why the structural infirmities of the euro were baked in, why the gold standard is the key to understanding the Great Depression—he’s careful to lay the groundwork, introducing and defining terms and offering a potted history of the financial crises that have plagued American capitalism. Before exploring the mysteries of bitcoin or explaining the challenge of modern monetary policy, Wheelan has already managed to keep his students interested and on task with his consistently good humor and lively use of real-world references: he spotlights the proliferation of frequent flier miles to explain inflation, uses a list of Hollywood’s highest-grossing movies to mark the distinction between “nominal” and “real” figures, cites the cost of a Big Mac to measure market basket prices among nations, explains how pouches of dried mackerel qualify as currency in prison, and invokes It’s a Wonderful Life to illustrate a financial panic. Still, the author keeps to his serious purpose, making clear, for example, the difference between liquidity and solvency, the power of credit, the nature of exchange rates, the necessity (and danger) of fiat money to a modern economy, and the importance of banks and of central banking in particular. Specialists will find little new or original here—although they may well be interested in the high marks Wheelan gives Ben Bernanke for navigating the 2008 crisis—but general readers will welcome this wonderfully down-to-earth treatment of a subject too often the exclusive province of experts.

A fun, informative introduction to a persistent problem: how to get money “right.”

Pub Date: April 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-06902-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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