The "Instant Economist": Early Reviews and Reactions

Last week my book The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works was published by Penguin/Plume. For a description of the book, see my January 31 post here.
To buy copies for yourself, as well as for those in your family, club, company, or community,  head for a local or click here for Amazon or here for Barnes and Noble–or just check a copy out of your local library. Here are some early reviews: 

In the February 2012 issue of Better Investing, Angele McQuade has written a view called \”Fun With Numbers–Making Economics Make Sense.\” It\’s not freely available on-line at this time, but here are a few excerpts: 

\”If your only exposure to economics was a class so boring you yawn at even the memory of it, you’re missing out on a lot of useful — and even fascinating — information, says author Timothy Taylor. With so much election year talk of budget deficits, health care costs, wealth disparity, foreign trade and unemployment, it’s not surprising that economic statistics and theories are flying fast and hard. No better time to brush up your knowledge of economics, especially with the help of Taylor’s latest book, The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works. …\”

\”What I liked: That Taylor branches beyond a purely domestic viewpoint into the heavily interconnected world of international economics. There’s a reason economists care so much about international trade, and Taylor does an excellent job explaining its importance. …\”

\”What I loved: How truly relevant Taylor’s lessons are.Yes, we all hear and read economic statistics all the time, but how often do we stop to think about their meaning in our daily lives? Taylor seems to delight in pointing out the many ways economics matters, as well as the ways we can put the knowledge he’s offering to use. …\”

\”I’m not going to sugarcoat the truth: The Instant Economist isn’t written in a finish-it-over-a-cup-of-coffee style. The content is rich, though, as will be your intellectual reward if you devote even a little effort to it.\”

In the December 1, 2011, issue of Booklist, Mary Whaley writes: 


\”[T]his handbook on economics is a readable, nontextbook approach on the level of an undergraduate introductory course. … We learn how markets work in the context of goods, labor, and financial capital and also about unregulated markets, including monopoly, the environment, and poverty; he notes that although these issues can attract democratic government involvement, such intervention can fail. He concludes with macroeconomics (an overall view of the economy), with topics including economic growth, unemployment, and inflation. Taylor wants us to respect the power of market forces but understand where those forces fall short; he encourages a belief that government policy can be useful but, in some cases, can be useless or even counterproductive. This guide to the key principles of economics is an important source of information for many library patrons. Excellent book.\”

From on-line sources, the first review up at Amazon, by Gene Chamson, gives the book five stars and is titled: \”Should be required reading for anyone who wants to participate in the economy. In other words, everyone.\” He adds: 

\”I am generally not a fan of books that dumb down important subjects, adding a veneer of folksy prose to make them appealing to \”dummies\” or \”complete idiots\”. This is not such a book.
\”The Instant Economist\”, despite its simplistic title, is a thoughtful, engaging survey of modern economic principles and issues. In 36 short, easy to digest chapters, the author provides a foundation in economic literacy, beginning with the basics of how markets work, then covering the main topics in microeconomics and macroeconomics. … Highly recommended.\”

From the blogosphere, here\’s Brian L. Belen, a graduate student in economics, writing from the Philippines.

\”Economics is such an important field of study, yet it is often perceived as too technical and complex for the everyman.  … For this reason, there is plenty of room for accessible books that demistify what economics is all about …  It is in this context that Timothy Taylor makes an important contribution with his new book The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works.

From the title alone, it\’s obvious that Taylor seeks to achieve two things: to explain the essentials and to do so in a practical way. He manages both quite ably, beginning with the requisite discussion on demand, supply and pricing, and thereafter branching off into weighty topics in macro- and international economics. When he does so, his presentation is often fairly Socratic: he identifies several specific issues (such as the minimum wage), poses an apparently polarizing question about them (\”Should it be higher or lower?\”), and then proceeds to present both sides, often with some statistics to back up the analysis. As a consequence, readers are left with a very balanced perspective on relevant economic concerns, and are hopefully empowered to make their own judgments accordingly. ….

In fact, there are several chapters that I particularly appreciated, having taught undergraduate macroeconomics myself. For example, the chapter on the monetary system (i.e. Federal Reserve, to use the U.S. case) is excellent, and I wish I had it as a reference back in my teaching days. Likewise, Taylor very capably devotes a chapter to exchange rates, and it is positively enviable that anyone can write so clearly about the subject.

The Instant Economist isn\’t your usual introductory economics book, even for casual reading. It\’s a little more than that — a little more advanced, a little more practical, and arguably a little more interesting. For that reason, it\’s material well worth having a look at in order to delve a little deeper into topics from Econ101, whether you took it last semester or years ago.\”

My New Book — "The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works."

Here\’s the start of my new book called The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know about How the Economy Works. It\’s available as of today on Amazon here, or at Barnes and Noble here.

\”Talking about the wisdom of economists in polite company is like talking about the honesty of politicians or the lips of chickens. Yet in the face of this prejudice, I maintain that economics has useful lessons for understanding the world. My wife says I hold this belief because I am an evangelist, with economics as my religion. Perhaps so, but I have also been asked many times, by many people—at venues as diverse as conferences and cocktail parties—to recommend “just one book” that explains economics. These people aren’t looking for a treatise on the beauty of the free market, or for a lecture on the need for government regulation. They have their own views on politics and policy, but they are self-aware enough to recognize that at least some of their views are built on a shaky or nonexistent understanding of economics. I can sympathize. There are dozens of books out there on economics—freaky and otherwise—but I’m hard-pressed to point to a readable non-textbook that would give a soup-to-nuts understanding of the key principles of economics. I hope that the book you’re reading will impart a working understanding of both micro- and macroeconomics, not enough to prepare you for setting up your own economic forecasting business, but enough that you can read and speak about economics topics with greater confidence and conviction.\”
\”I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if I’m out to push a certain set of economic policies, and if so, whose side of the political fence I’m on. Such skepticism is understandable, but here’s the honest truth: If you’re wondering whether this book’s contents are slanted toward liberal or conservative economic policy—or toward the Democratic or Republican Party—the short answer is no. Professional economists of all political leanings use the tools and concepts I will discuss here. Economics is not a set of answers, but a structured framework for pursuing those answers.\” 

For an idea of what the book tries to accomplish, maybe it\’s useful to tell the back story of how this material has percolated a long time, through five episodes of thinking about how to teach intro economics.

Episode #1 started in the late 1980s was when I worked with Joseph Stiglitz in putting together his introductory economics textbook. This led to episode #2, which was when I started teaching large-lecture introductory economics courses at Stanford University in the late 1980s. This in turn led to episode #3 a few years later, when Stanford got a Pew Foundation grant to bring over groups of young diplomats from countries of eastern Europe. Many of them had been educated and trained with the expectation that they would become part of the larger Soviet diplomatic apparatus, but with the break-up of the Soviet Union, those expectations has become obsolete. Groups would come over and spend a few months based at Stanford, with side trips to see other parts of the U.S. They sat in on various courses, but also had an international affairs course and an economic course just for their group. For a few years while the grant money lasted, I gave the economics lectures, which were were an intuitive and nontechnical 15-hour version of the intro economics course.

This led to episode #4, which was a call from the Teaching Company, a firm based near D.C. I\’d won a student-voted award as the outstanding teacher of a large lecture class at Stanford, and they wanted to know if I would record a version of that course for their adult education lectures. I\’d never heard of the company, but I had the lecture notes pretty much ready to go from my talks to the eastern European diplomats, so I said \”sure.\” That course was first recorded in 1994; the most recent edition (the third) was recorded in 2005. This led to episode #5, when Penguin/Plume started having talks with the Teaching Company about turning some of their more popular courses into books. They asked if I would take a stab at doing this with the economics book. This involved a huge cut in the word count from the 18 hours of lectures, because they didn\’t want a tome, and then updating the material as needed so that it would cover the economic events of the Great Recession and its aftermath.
I\’m pleased with the book. For those looking for an actual introduction to economic thinking, and a bunch of examples and applications, this book should help to organize  the concepts and clarify the tradeoffs. I suspect that the book may also be used as background reading for those who want to teach an intro economics course with almost no graphs or equations. Buy a bunch and give \’em out as party favors! Send a copy to political figures! Use them as paperweights!

Here\’s the review from Library Journal, which I thought captured the flavor of the book:

\”Taylor’s (managing editor, Journal of Economic Perspectives) volume can help conversationalists looking to raise the bar for their watercooler chats and casual readers who want to understand better the current economic condition of the United States. Taylor uses simple language with field-specific vocabulary to explain economic concepts, and each concept is successfully reinforced with a real-life—and usually entertaining—example. He hits all the subjects that might interest a layperson, such as division of labor, supply and demand, wages, competition and monopoly, inflation, banking, and trade, for a total of 36 petite chapters—just enough information to give the reader a basic but well-rounded understanding of the subject. VERDICT This highly readable, nonpoliticized look at some of the economic principles that shape our society, presented in an engaging, anecdotal fashion, is highly recommended for armchair economists and anyone with a general interest in the state of our economy. —Poppy Johnson-Renvall, Central New Mexico Community Coll. Lib., Albuquerque