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The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas
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The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  1,543 ratings  ·  155 reviews
Why do the keypads on drive-up cash machines have Braille dots? Why are round-trip fares from Orlando to Kansas City higher than those from Kansas City to Orlando? For decades, Robert Frank has been asking his economics students to pose and answer questions like these as a way of learning how economic principles operate in the real world--which they do everywhere, all the ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published May 21st 2007 by Basic Books (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,785)
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Caroline
I think this is the perfect book for do-it-yourself Christmas crackers. Instead of all those pathetic jokes, why not bless your crackers with a pithy conundrum? Something to really chew over as you down your Christmas pudding?

The book is presented as a serious of questions and answers centred around different topics. I didn't really pay attention to the economic theory underpinning these topics, I just took each question on its own merit, and read the ones that interested me.

Herewith a few of t
...more
Matthew
I had anticipated enjoying this book, as I am a fan of "popular economics" - especially of stuff like the brilliant "Undercover Economist", or "Freakonomics". I was, hoewever, very disappointed with this book. What seemed an interesting premise, a collection of short answers to everyday economics questions by students, seems to have resulted in a rag-bag collection of "just-so" stories used to explain the various questions. When I say that the most enlightening thing I picked up was why DVD case ...more
Cheryl
To sum the author's point: "I have a theory of economics, and this theory is what I teach, and here are some observations about people's choices that can lead to interpretations that might kinda support it, if they're true. But let's not bother with experiments or with fact-checking or with actually asking the people making these choices."

Sorry, if economics is the 'dismal science' I expect books about it to be at least a bit scientific. No matter how often the author says "may" or "might be par
...more
Adam
The Economic Naturalist by Robert H. Frank was a fairly easy read and interesting to me from the standpoint of economic ethnography. I don’t know much about economics in an academic sense, but after reading this book and reflecting it is obvious that I use it on a daily basis. In retrospect this makes sense because economics is a method of codifying everyday behavior.

Although the volume is slim it gets repetitive fairly quickly. Everything seems to boil down to opportunity costs, which could ver
...more
bkwurm
I was a little disappointed with the book. While the book is subtitled "why economics explains almost everything", too many of the examples provided were things that economics could not explain while other explanations were clearly wrong.

The book is a compilation of short essays from the author's students. Briefly, the author invited his students to think of an interesting question and to then answer it. What appears to have happened is that some of his students chose to ask rather simple questi
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Thomas
My friend dropped out of her economics class after saying that economics is just common sense and that the study of it is quite useless to anyone who can think logically. I disagreed with her completely as I had just finished reading "Freakonomics," but after reading (or at least getting a third of the way through) this book I understand what she means. Whereas "Freakonomics" took the laws of economics and applied it to unconventional situations and finding interesting results, this book looks a ...more
Jean
Thought the book might be similar to Freakonomics-- it is, but it's more rooted in econ principles. Cost-Benefit analysis, cash on the table, and the dreaded opportunity cost, which apparently something like 75% of those who took economics still don't understand. (Apparently I'm one of them as well.) Book's mostly examples of why certain economics principles work in the real world and it's semi-coherent, though not easily digested. Most of the stories make you go, "Oooooh!" though.
Dale
Entertaining but of questionable value

I have read Freakonomics and Naked Economics in the past 6 months and thoroughly enjoyed them. I was hoping to get more of the same with The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. It caught my eye because it is nearly the exact same color as Naked Economics (Hmmm, I wonder if the economic naturalists would care to speculate on products that intentionally look similar to better-known products...) and I was hoping to get some more
...more
Jeff Kessler
When looking at The Economic Naturalist, many would instantly assume it is a nonfiction business/economics book. It isn’t. Instead, the book acts more like a poetry compilation that contains numerous collections of poems. The book’s format is certainly unique, to say the least. Each chapter begins with a short introduction by the author. These short introductions leave the reader puzzled, often asking the question, “Am I reading an economics textbook?” While this may have something to do with t ...more
Tiredstars
I'm having trouble deciding whether to give this book two or three stars. It's an easy and fairly interesting read, and communicates some of the key lessons of economics, and how it can be useful. Not in a particularly insightful way, though.

In fact, the reason I'm considering three stars is because the book inadvertently gives some good insights into the problems of economics. One of which is the idea that it can explain almost everything. In fact, many of the "answers" in the book are just hy
...more
Maurizio Codogno
I "polli contro balene" del titolo italiano di questo libro si riferiscono a una delle domande a cui viene data risposta nel libro: "perché ci si preoccupa della possibile estinzione delle balene e non di quella dei polli?" Il titolo inglese in effetti è "il naturalista economico", anche se confesso di non averlo capito: Frank dice che noi siamo stati plasmati dall'evoluzione per raccontare e comprendere storie, e quindi è meglio spiegare l'economia per domande e risposte, piuttosto che con form ...more
Ummu Auni
A book akin to freakonomics except that freakonomics is told in lengthy flow akin to a storybook, and slowly unfolding. What's more terrifying is that the facts potrayed in freakonomics are terrifyingly true, such as why drug dealers live with their mother, why crime rate drops in the early 2000, what makes a children intelligent? you want to know the truth - crime rate drops in 90s and 2000 due to legalisation of abortion. Terrifying but true. Unwanted pregnancy is common in the west, but it wa ...more
Peter
Another simplistic view of economics along the likes of Freakanomics and Naked Economics. Readers who enjoyed either of those, or who are looking for a soft start in the complex, but invigoratingly exciting world of economics should be pleased with this book.

The author is a professor of Economics and as one of his assignments over the years asks his study to pose a question and then offer a naturalistic economic dissection of the possible reason for the aforementioned conundrum.

The book is essen
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Becky
I like the idea of this book--that almost every question can be answered by rationally examining the factors that go into production, human nature, economics, etc. I even like the process. I do not, for the most part, agree with the author's answers, especially since it doesn't seem like he did any research.

IE "Why do women spends thousands of dollars on a wedding dress that they will wear once, while men spend $100 or so to rent a Tuxedo that they will need a number of times." His answer is tha
...more
Ryan
The Economic Naturalist by Cornell professor Robert H. Frank has an admirable goal: To take economics beyond boring textbooks filled with abstract graphs and equations, and bring it into focus for the everyday world in which we live. He aims to show the world in such a way that will inspire the reader to develop an economic way of thinking. Through a series of one to two page explanations ranging from "Why is milk sold in rectangular containers, while soft drinks are sold in round ones?" to "Why ...more
Dave
This would be great supplemental reading for anyone taking an intro micro course in college (if I teach someday, it'll definitely be on the syllabus). But as something to pick up and read for fun, it's not the greatest popular econ book to come along. I really like Robert Frank and I have no problem with him capitalizing on the recent interest in economics, but this book would work better as one of those 365 day calendars. Each chapter has a dozen or so 500-800 word answers to questions like "wh ...more
Calum
Robert H Frank presents a collection of reworked student essays on economics applied to real life situations. Each is short, perhaps a page or more, with titles such as 'Why do women endure the discomfort of high heels?' or 'Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?'

Good introduction to the way that economists think about some problems. Breaks down many issues in an analytical way, outlining the apparent discrepancy and attempting to explain it. I think it falls down in that it gets repetitive very
...more
Dan Reznicek
Too much a basic introduction to economics that anything else, really. Personally, the slogans on the cover that made it look attractive in a bookstore blew it for me in the end. Nothing against the aim of the book at all - it is mainly a collection of questions posed by students and curious people - it just wasn't for me.
I think most people with previous interest in economics or common sense will find a third of the examples in the book very obvious. Unfortunately, the explanations to a lot of
...more
irfan darian
An interesting read for those curious minds who wants to discover the economic angle of how some decisions are perceived and made. It would help if you have some basic understanding of what 'Economics' is and its basic terms. Other than that, this book can be a let down as it is also full of assumptions and guided logical explanations, which are rather 'common sensical'. Some of these stem from rather logical explanation of these assumptions, and are thus, concluded or perceived as the final fac ...more
Alex
Interesting book that teaches certain basic economics concepts through dozens of 2 page case studies (with zero graphs and equations). Very readable, very reasonable length; the author mercifully didn't try to stretch a 200 page book to 350 pages.

I was of two minds about this book. Sometimes I found it stimulating and insightful. At other times I was annoyed by the author's self-confidence, essentially taking any reasonable explanation based on economic principles as truth, without evidence. The
...more
Matt
This is my second popular economics read. An interesting, interconnected collection of "Why do...?" essays offering insight into a naturalistic way of thinking like an economist.

In the introduction, the author notes that many university economics courses are heavy on numbers but don't equip the student for the real world (and later gives possible reasons why economics has become so maths-intensive in the post-WW2 years, recognising that economics is itself part of the world that it seeks to unde
...more
Lorna
Whilst the 'Q&A' structure made for easy reading, it didn't seem well structured and certainly didn't explain any overarching principles of economics, which was a little disappointing. That being said, some of the questions asked were very interesting.
Samantha
This book is essentially a tool to learn economic principles using everyday questions that relate to economics from various parts of our lives.

The various questions include interesting things to ponder such as:

Why do we leave tips for some servers and not for others?

Why do stock analysts seldom recommend selling a particular stock?

Why does the rookie of the year seldom have an as successful second season in baseball?

Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

While I enjoyed the book, at times the form
...more
Carl
I was disappointed in this book. I was hoping that it would tie these basic economic principles together better. The individual questions and answers were interesting, but I still feel that I don't quite understand some of the concepts—like, just exactly what is opportunity cost.
Denise
This book is set up in short bits, with the "everyday enigmas" in question form, answered by short essays. Generally the economic analyses for why 24-hour stores have locks on their doors (for example) were interesting, I thought a couple of times the author operated from basic assumptions that I thought were incorrect. So unless the topic of why CEOs get paid so damned much to do so damned little (Frank thinks they're just inherently more valuable- see above about incorrect assumptions) makes y ...more
Aaron
Here are the interesting concepts from economics I got from this book:

1. Opportunity cost, or the value of your time
2. Discount hurdle, a clever way of charging people differently for the same thing
3. Cash on the table, the principle of 'no free lunch'

This accounts for maybe 10% of the book. The rest is a collection of trivia questions, answered frequently with self-evident common sense and sometimes with no authority at all ('perhaps it's because').

Particularly galling is the fact that googling
...more
John Williams
Nov 10, 2007 John Williams rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: students taking Intro to Economics
Interesting in that it gives practical examples of (mostly micro) economic principles. The examples are short pieces that his students have turned in over the years for his class assignment "the economic naturalist," in which they provide a 500-word solution to an economics problem they've discovered in their life experience (such as why airline tickets are more expensive if you buy them at the last minute, but theater tickets are less expensive). Overall, the book is interesting but not too dee ...more
Katie
Nonfiction 8

I absolutely loved this book! It has a 'Freakonomics' feel to it, so anyone that enjoyed that book will love this book! He explains common terminology in economics through very real world examples that make waaaay more sense than the usual definition. Why are there light bulbs in the fridge, but not the freezer? If blondes are considered more attractive, and attractive people tend to be more intelligent, why do we make dumb blond jokes? Why do airlines charge so much for last minute
...more
Erica
I really enjoyed reading this book. It as interesting to discover that so many decisions are made based on pure economic reasoning.

As the book cover indicates, there is a reason why milk is sold in rectangular containers, whereas sodas are sold in circular ones. The reason is that milk needs to be refrigerated, which means that grocery stores have to pay extra to store it on shelves, which means that they need to maximize the amount of shelf space available. Also, sodas are meant to be consumed
...more
Kevin
Good Book, not what I expected. I bought the book after hearing a lecture given by Robert Frank speak on KUOW's "Speaker's Forum" (Seattle NPR affiliate). While I guess the lecture pertained to the way economics plays out in everyday life I guess I was looking for something different. The content of the book was great and certainly refreshed my knowledge of economics having been out of college for a few years. I did enjoy the book and would recommend or lend it to a friend. I think I was looking ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: ISBN13: 9780753513385 2 23 Jun 07, 2012 02:19AM  
a thought-provoking book on everyday economics 2 16 Jan 17, 2009 11:41AM  
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Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and a Professor of Economics at Cornell University's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management. He contributes to the "Economic View" column, which appears every fifth Sunday in The New York Times.
More about Robert H. Frank...
The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us Luxury Fever: Weighing the Cost of Excess The Return of The Economic Naturalist: How Economics Helps Make Sense of Your World

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