The Independent Market Observer

7/5/13 – Beach Reading

Posted by Brad McMillan, CFA®, CFP®

Find me on:

This entry was posted on Jul 5, 2013 5:06:34 AM

and tagged On My Bookshelf

Leave a comment

I will freely admit that I wrote this post ahead of time. When you read this on Friday, I plan to be on a beach, either flying a kite or dragging my son around on a boogie board.

In between chasing my five-year-old around, though, I do like to sit down and read. Yesterday, a colleague and I were talking about the New York Times’s recent list of essential business books for summer reading. I’ve read all but one of them, and they are indeed excellent books. What some of them lack, though, is that beach reading thing that I want heading into a summer weekend. So I thought I’d come up with a list of some fluffier books that nonetheless deal with economics or economic issues. As I’m a lifetime science fiction and fantasy fan, that is a great place to start.

Charles Stross is probably the most original, ideas-driven science fiction writer out there. He also happens to be interested in the science of economics. Many of his books have an explicit economic cast to them, but the one I think is most fun for a weekend read is Halting State. It’s a mystery set around a bank robbery—in a World of Warcraft-like virtual setting. It only gets stranger from there.

The virtue of Stross’s stories is that they create new contexts for ideas, making you rethink them in a different way. The problem is that, because he has so many different and interesting ideas, you have to stay pretty closely involved. As a guide to the possibilities of the near-future, as well as a very entertaining writer, Stross is worth a look. Other books of his are also economically focused, particularly Trade of Queens and the Merchant Princes series.

Another of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett, wrote a book a couple of years ago called Making Money, about revamping the currency-minting operation in a fantasy city known as Ankh-Morpork.

I can imagine eyes rolling even as I write this. Currency minting? Fantasy city? I get it. Pratchett, though, is a wonderful combination of Charles Dickens and Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—also worth a read. His Ankh-Morpork is really historical London, with magic and dwarves thrown in. As for the currency-printing part of it, the book offers a lighthearted introduction to the mechanics of money earlier in our history, from which I learned quite a bit. And, of course, it’s a wonderful story to boot.

Finally—because, let’s face it, I am an econo-geek—I’ll also be taking along Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow this weekend. I haven’t read it yet, but the reviews are great; I’ll report back when I finish it.

I can think of other authors worthy of mention in the F/SF space. For example, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Jackson’s Whole, a planet featured in her Vorkosigan Saga, is a very good end-state example of capitalism (and a straw man—but hey, it’s fiction). And I haven’t even touched other genres.

But that should do for one weekend. What we need are some more books like these. Any ideas? Please e-mail me or comment with suggestions.

Subscribe via Email

New call-to-action
Crash-Test Investing

Hot Topics

New Call-to-action



see all



The information on this website is intended for informational/educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice, a solicitation, or a recommendation to buy or sell any security or investment product. Please contact your financial professional for more information specific to your situation.

Certain sections of this commentary contain forward-looking statements that are based on our reasonable expectations, estimates, projections, and assumptions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve certain risks and uncertainties, which are difficult to predict. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.

The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based measurement of changes in stock market conditions based on the average performance of 500 widely held common stocks. All indices are unmanaged and investors cannot invest directly in an index.

The MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australia, Far East) Index is a free float‐adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets, excluding the U.S. and Canada. The MSCI EAFE Index consists of 21 developed market country indices.

One basis point (bp) is equal to 1/100th of 1 percent, or 0.01 percent.

The VIX (CBOE Volatility Index) measures the market’s expectation of 30-day volatility across a wide range of S&P 500 options.

The forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio divides the current share price of the index by its estimated future earnings.

Third-party links are provided to you as a courtesy. We make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided on these websites. Information on such sites, including third-party links contained within, should not be construed as an endorsement or adoption by Commonwealth of any kind. You should consult with a financial advisor regarding your specific situation.


Please review our Terms of Use

Commonwealth Financial Network®