Fact and fiction

With a brief holiday after my NZAE conference and then 24 hours of travel back from Australia to the UK, I managed to read two chunky books as well as the others described in my last post.

One was

by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, the biography of the extraordinary Gabriele D’Annunzio. It educated me about the Italian role in the First World War – something unsurprisingly not much covered in the centenary materials here in the UK – and the way the aftermath paved the way for Mussolini. I’d known next to nothing about D’Annunzio before reading this prize-winning biography. He was an extraordinary character, and the story is supremely well told in this book, which while clearly based on exhaustive historical research indeed reads like a novel.

[amazon_image id=”0007213964″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Pike[/amazon_image]

The other was Donna Tartt’s epic novel,

, a nearly 900-page page-turner. It’s a novel with an economics lesson at its heart. The protagonist, Theo, goes into the antiques trade. He observes: “I also learned a lesson; a lesson which sifted down to me only by degrees but which was in fact the truest thing at the heart of the business. It was the secret no-one told you, that in the antiques trade there was really no such thing as a ‘correct’ price. Objective value – list value – was meaningless. … An object – any object – was worth whatever you could get somebody to pay for it.” An excellent lesson in applying behavioural insights to pricing antiques follows. The entire novel is about value, both market value (at its most brutal, in the criminal world as well as the antiques trade) and inherent or moral value.

[amazon_image id=”0349139636″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Goldfinch[/amazon_image]