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The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  2,061 Ratings  ·  185 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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May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
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
Aug 19, 2008 Matthew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2011 Adam rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 01, 2009 bkwurm rated it it was ok
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
Nov 27, 2008 Thomas rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2008 Jean rated it liked it
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.
Rob Dudek
Jan 26, 2016 Rob Dudek rated it it was ok
It'll keep you entertained for a while, if you're just too tired to read a proper book. Some interesting facts/theories but ultimately nothing special. I'd flip through it in the library but probably wouldn't buy it.
Nguyen Truc
Aug 05, 2015 Nguyen Truc rated it really liked it
Engineers build the world and the economist helps to explain it.
Suhaila Binyoh
กไมคิด วาตัวเองจะอานแนวนี ... จนจบได - -" ...more
Nov 24, 2007 Ryan rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jeff Kessler
Dec 31, 2011 Jeff Kessler rated it liked it
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
Nguyễn  Hồng Lam
Jul 02, 2016 Nguyễn Hồng Lam rated it really liked it
Một cuốn sách về kinh tế rất thú vị mà không hề khô khan chút nào. Những khái niệm như chi phí cơ hội, chi phí cận biên, lợi ích cận biên, chi phí bình quân,.... được đưa ra tự nhiên và gần gũi. Vừa lúc mới học kinh tế vi mô ở trường xong, mình thấm hơn những công thức, đồ thị, phân tích,.. tưởng chừng như chỉ để trên giấy .
Giống như cuốn Phi lí trí - Dan Ariely, cuốn sách này cũng cho mình thấy rằng, những nghiên cứu khoa học hay phát minh vĩ đại nào cũng xuất phát từ việc quan sát và đặt ra n
Cik Aini
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
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
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
Jan 07, 2008 Becky rated it liked it
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
Mar 22, 2012 Dale rated it liked it
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
Oct 18, 2008 Peter rated it really liked it
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
Aug 14, 2007 Dave rated it liked it
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
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
Jul 29, 2011 irfan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 14, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 23, 2008 Alex rated it it was ok
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
Aug 06, 2008 Samantha rated it liked it
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
Madhav Srimohan
Feb 25, 2015 Madhav Srimohan rated it liked it
I had picked up the book with lot of expectations that it will explain the things around me and also the catchy cover that quoted few questions from the books. But I was disappointed after realizing that most of the explanations for the observations that the book contains are quite outdated. Also I expected questions from the observations done in developing countries like India but sadly the book has only one or two such questions. Most of the observations came from developed countries like the ...more
Jul 25, 2008 Denise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2009 Erica rated it really liked it
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
John Williams
Nov 10, 2007 John Williams rated it it was ok
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
Jan 29, 2012 KimStitch rated it liked it
Since I enjoyed Freakonomics, I thought I would pick this up too. The British cover, seen above, is way more appealing than the Canadian one. Oh well. Most fantastic fact in the book: Why is milk stored in rectangular containers and pop in cylindrical ones? It all has to do with wasted space between the cans and the price of keeping milk refrigerated. If you have to keep it cold, you may as well minimise the space between cartons to have no wasted space. Clever and ridiculous, eh? The book is fu ...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...

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