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.