The Rise and Fall of Homo Economicus


In his debut, Greek journalist Papadogiannis argues that the triumph of economics as a science is a tragedy of human arrogance.
In this stinging critique, the author writes that mainstream economics has lost touch with reality. Economists have cast economics as a “hard science” and have put their trust in mathematical models and the efficiency of free markets. Yet economic dilemmas erupt violently and unexpectedly, such as the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, despite economists’ assurances about stability and risk. Papadogiannis contends that this happens because the study of economics operates in a “parallel universe” that’s merely a shadow of how real life works. A number of dubious assumptions, he says, have left economics poorly equipped to explain a complex, chaotic world. Among them is the myth of “Homo economicus”—that people are economic agents who coldly calculate profit and loss for every decision. Citing voluminous research from psychology and the social sciences, Papadogiannis shows that people are seldom purely rational; emotions, biases, and social and political ideas profoundly influence people’s behavior. Add the disruptive nature of technology, and no mathematical formula can possibly capture the messiness of life. The only thing that’s certain, the author says, is another economic calamity. He hammers home this point with a thumbnail history of financial crises, from the 17th century tulip mania to the Great Recession of 2009. It reveals a pattern of boom-and-bust money-grubbing and misfortune that illustrates how academic theories crumble before human folly. The book’s true value is in how it challenges the so-called experts; like a dogged skeptic, Papadogiannis raises razor-sharp questions to expose flawed thinking (“Why did [economics] stubbornly ignore reality and get trapped on a lonely path?”), and in doing so, he accomplishes a rare feat: an economics text that will hold the attention of noneconomists. Richly sourced and strongly argued, his book is an attack on humanity’s self-deceiving faith in its own abilities. The author doesn’t deny the value of economics but rather urges its practitioners to widen their vision. The economy, in his view, is a many-sided beast driven by passions, expectations, fear and greed—just like the people who comprise it.
A forceful economics text that tells a damning tale of hubris.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499646672

Page Count: 296

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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 timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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