Forget everything else the book contains (and there really is a lot, some of which we shall get to in this review) – buy the book for the three principles for distinguishing good economics from bad.
One: the entire argument should fit on the back of a postcard (or a 280 character tweet, if you like). Two: the grandma test. What you’re saying, or trying to learn, should be understood by your grandma (assuming grandma is not a trained economist herself). Three: It should light up a bulb in your head – it should help you see the world in a way that you didn’t before.
The rest of the book is what fans of Professor Cowen might call classic Cowen. He discusses bribing your own daughter to do household chores (and explains, I should add, why this is a bad idea), how to visit a museum ( skip the explanatory text, and ask yourself which painting you would steal, if you could steal one) and why gifts don’t really work (in more ways than one).
The point, as with the other books in this series, isn’t to necessarily agree with everything the author says (I love giving gifts to near and dear one, and maybe I should write a post about this). Instead, it is to learn how to think like an economist, and this book is particularly good in that regard.
There is also a particularly good interview on the book that Tyler Cowen gave Russ Roberts over on the EconTalk podcast, which you might want to listen to before you buy the book. I particularly enjoyed (both in the book and in the interview) the discussionon sunk costs – where books and movies are concerned, I find myself to be more Robertian than Cowenian.
But all in all, it’s a great book for a layperson to read, if you want to learn how you might benefit by discovering your inner economist.