At the moment I’m alternating between intense reading of books and papers for my new course, and fun stuff, while saving the really light reading for a few days’ holiday later this month. So the advance copy of The Mystery of the Invisible Hand by Marshall Jevons arrived at the perfect moment, and it’s a very enjoyable romp – campus novel meets detective novel meets economics primer. Nobel Prize winning economist Henry Spearman uses economic logic alone to solve a murder, the power of the little grey cells amplified by the muscular rigour of economics.
There are many nice touches. I liked the fact that the classroom building is called Hamermesh Hall. I *loved* this quotation from Carl Christ at the head of one chapter: “I have heard an unkind critic say that an economist is someone who would sell his grandmother. This is quite wrong. An economist, or at least a good economist, would not sell his grandmother to the highest bidder unless the highest bid was enough to compensate him for the loss of his grandmother.”
As a way to bring some basic economic concepts to life for students, this is an excellent series, although of course not Great Literature. Russ Roberts’ novels, The Price of Everything and The Invisible Heart, are similarly both enjoyable and educational. (He, by the way, has a terrific new book out, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.)
As I’ve long argued, economists are particularly amenable to two strands of genre fiction, detective and sci-fi novels. The ur-models of rational homo economicus are Hercule Poirot (or perhaps Sherlock Holmes) and Mr Spock, logical, calculating, and totally brilliant naturally. Paul Krugman was famously inspired to become an economist by reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.
I’m a detective fiction person myself – economists have that same impulse as the writers of these books, I think, namely to bring some order to a disordered world.