Adam Smith Blog

Books about money, the mind, and the planet

Marginalia

A range of books passing across the desk at the moment! I’ve enjoyed Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler’s Small Change (US edition is Dollars and Sense) which is a mashup of all the best in behavioural economics research, whimsical chat and financial advice. Fans of Dan’s earlier work will find this rather familiar – especially if they’ve also read the very good Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (UK) (US) by Belsky and Gilovich, which covers similar ground in a more sober style – but its a fun book with some wise advice.

I have also been revisiting On The Psychology of Military Incompetence (UK) (US) by Norman Dixon, a fascinating book, if one which looks strange to my modern eyes in some ways. Dixon is excellent in his account of military errors; his explanation is also excellent in some ways and odd in others. Too much about eg the impact of how generals might have been toilet trained as toddlers – but then I realised that this predates the modern behavioural literature on heuristics and biases. Still: thought-provoking!

Tim Jackson has sent me the second edition of his book Prosperity without Growth (UK) (US) with a note saying he wasn’t sure how much I’d agree with it. I’m not sure either, having not made the time to read it in depth, but I turned directly to the chapter on the “Myth of Decoupling” – a subject about which a lot of nonsense has been written – and was impressed with the balance and more importantly the attention to the evidence. I am more optimistic than Tim about decoupling, the idea that an economy can grow without ever-increasing energy and resource use – but can’t fault his chapter on the topic.

I’ve also received a copy of Earth at Risk (UK) (US) by Henry and Tubiana, which seems to be a chewier more academic exploration of “natural capital and the quest for sustainability”. Endorsement by Bill McKibben.

 

 
My recent book is “Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy”. Grab yourself a copy in the US or in the UK (slightly different title) or through your local bookshop.

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