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on 3 June 2017
Great product that arrived very quickly.
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on 16 June 2008
After reading Levitt's "Freakonomics" and Harford's "Undercover Economist" I was attracted to this book when I came across it. Yes, there's some overlap with both of them and yes, in some places either Levitt or Harford is better. Where this book scores, however, is that you can take it in small bites and have a good mull over what it says a bit at a time.

As another reviewer has noted, the book is based on questions that Frank's students have posed and answered, in varying degrees of depth, but always from the economist's perspective. The result is a collection of questions and answers, all relatively concise, and all showing economic thought at work. And the book pretends to be no more than that.

Criticism that it is too shallow or not based on empirical research IMO misses the point. The book's purpose is to demonstrate the application of economic thought to questions about everyday economic observations. The answers are cogently presented without any pretence that they are the last word - and this alone is welcome in a field whose more psychotic schools of thought have a hubristic track record of basing theories on patently false premises.

The important thing about this book is that it seeks to make its readers *think* about the things it discusses. IMO, it succeeds admirably (and it certainly made me think a lot). As a former student of economics, I'd confidently recommend it as a taster for students considering whether to take economics as a major subject.

More power to Frank and his students. I hope he writes a sequel ("More from the Economic Naturalist"?) that addresses topics not included in the original.
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on 16 August 2014
I got this because I have no background in economics and the cover made it look like an accessible and stimulating intro to economics that would make it relevant for the layperson. Well, if questions like "Why are houses in the UK smaller than in the states and Australia?" stump you, then go ahead. If however you've already worked out the answer before he's finished asking the question then this will drive you as mad as it did me. Even content that could have been potentially a good basis for interesting discussion (like the fact that New York cabbies knock off early on rainy days) was dealt with in the same turgid and dry manner. I never even got half through I was so bored. Intellectual riches may lie in the second half but I couldn't bear to plough on.
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VINE VOICEon 27 May 2008
There's a rash of these things. This latest one, like Freakonomics, takes an "economic approach" (i.e. use of basic statistics and vague generalisations) to make a series of obvious or clearly incorrect assertions about the world. Still, the lack of hagiographies about the authors at least makes it easier to stomach than Freakonomics.

I got bored after two chapters of this. To take an example: there's a section on why milk comes in square cartons, while coke comes in cylinders. The answer seems to me to be almost entirely because coke needs to be pressurised. He says it's because it's drunk from the can and therefore needs to be easy to hold. I don't care either way because I can't see why either has anything whatsoever to do with economics. And anyway, what's so hard about drinking directly from a Tetrapak?

Get Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist" instead, which addresses many of the same points (especially the ones about product features/costs) much more intelligently and in some cases directly contradicting this; Frank assumes that additional product features cost more to produce; Harford makes the point that often they don't, they're just excuses to have differentiated pricing. It's a much stronger case.
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on 30 September 2008
If you enjoyed Freakononics and Undercover Economist, then like myself either you have already bought this book ... or planning to buy it... expecting similar quirky questions answered with the aid of `layman' economics.

The book didn't disappoint, but did not dazzle either. It definitely misses the quality of linked events and explanation of Tim Harford's Undercover Economist, but is not as bad as some of the reviews claim.

Yes, it's not economist prose with complex explanations and statistics...with a unifying idea as an explanation for everything... which in my opinion frankly is a good thing. The layout is simple... each section has a series of questions with their `answers' below them... the Q&A layout makes it an easy read... which you can enjoy in chunks ...taking as much time as you like.

Some questions do jog the brain, and you will definitely find a few which you yourself might have wondered from time to time. Please be aware though, that the `economic explanation' offered for the posed question MAY be one of the many right ones... it's a point of view ... with an economic angle... just like these reviews which have been posted... each with our individual opinion!

A few fellow readers have been a bit generous with their criticism on for this book, but as already mentioned here a couple of times, due credit to the writer (R.H. Frank) that he confesses early in the book that the answers are a `point of view' and should be `critically' evaluated.

Yes, it's not dazzling economic or literary genius... but still a good read... worth a try.
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on 1 October 2011
A good book, starts as a light mood pop-economics, and gets more serious after the half.

I find many reviews here too harsh, so decided to try adding my 2 cents.

As the author says, the answers he gives are free to be refutable, open interpretation, and it's just an economical aproach. The point not to reply to the answers as whole (like how electromagnetism works for the lights in the freezer, and etc.) but to answer them in the economical perspective.

For the most, it was interesting, although I didn't agree with everything. I admit I liked freakonomics more, but an interesting read nontheless. I'd give it 3,2/5
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on 30 May 2008
I bought this book expecting, on the basis of cover quotes, to find more of the type of incisive and analytical thinking that illuminates Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist. Against the standard sent by those, and other books, it is a **huge** disappointment. Peter Kennedy writes in his review that it uses "basic statistics and vague generalisations". From my reading I'd say that it weights itself heavily towards the vague generalisations side of this statement (I would also like to say that Freakonomics is rather more robust than its mention in Peter's review implies). I got bored very quickly.

This is a book that is cashing in on the popularity of a genre and falling short of the standard of that genre. Prospective purchasers should be aware that the source material for the book is short essays that were written by Robert H. Frank's students of an Introductory Economics course. Specifically, they were asked to 'use a principle, or principles, discussed in the course to pose and answer an interesting question about some pattern of events or behaviour that you personally have observed' in less than 500 words. So you are, in effect, reading a compendium of coursework that addresses this challenge. And, frankly, the lack of rigour that results is evident.

To be fair to Robert H. Frank (and his students), he does admit in his introduction that he doesn't expect all the answers to be correct and that they should be read with a critical eye. He states that the answers should be seen as 'intelligent hypotheses suitable for further refinement and testing'. And many of them do stand up to that measure. But I'd have been grateful for a bit of the refinement and testing coming from Professor Frank himself. For example the answer to the question of why Kamikaze pilots wore helmets (which is touted on the cover of the book) is historically inaccurate and doesn't even contain any economics.

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on 28 September 2009
This book is alright, but it's not fantastic. The questions are a collection of questions set by the author to his students and the replies are what his students came up with. Some of the answers do make you think, but mostly the realms of Behavioural Economics... it's still a bit of circular reasoning.
The book book is good to get you thinking beyond finance and business in an economic view point, but the extent to which it's being tenuously stretched makes you wonder.

This book is good for an A-level student who's looking into economics and wants to whet their appetite on questions that are a little more obscure that economics can help with. But overall the book is great while you're reading it, but you get the feeling "i would have come up with this" on a lot of the questions.
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on 24 September 2008
I write this as a riposte to those reviewers who have recommended this book as good for beginners in Economics.

Reminiscient of Mark Penn's "Microtrends", the content of the book consists of marginally different permutations of the same idea. Aside from the first two or three chapters, there's no real sense of continuity between the chapters or any sense of a development of concepts built upon previous chapters that you would get from a 'proper' reference book.

While providing real world examples of economic concepts is a valid means of getting people interested or sufficiently energised to begin studying the subject, the book fails as a primer for the fundamental concepts (namely, what IS an economy? etc, etc.) - if anything, it assumes a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the reader.

Thus, for a novice, it would be perfectly fine as a companion to a real reference book but not, alas as a standalone work, hence the 3 stars.
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on 19 June 2008
While it is admireable that there is a positive tendency from economists to make economics "more popular", this book largely misses the target, and in fact risks making economics irrelevant. While pretending to explain basic economic concepts by way of examples, too many of the examples turn repetitive and/or represent pure common sense. Some of the examples also have little/if anything to do with economics.

It is a pity, since it feels the author(s) look down on the capacity of the reader to understand economics.

If you have a basic grasp of economics, you can quickly bypass this book which swims in superficial and common day examples, since it will become very repetitive after just a few pages.
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