Should I read Akerloff & Shiller’s Phishing for Phools?

Here are eight on-line reviews. Three broadly negative:

  • Arnold Kling’s review: “Akerlof and Shiller are Nobel Laureates, which they earned with previous research. That is what makes this book so disappointing. People may enjoy reading Phishing for Phools, but it is lacking in real intellectual nutrition. It is the literary equivalent of a Cinnabon.”
  • The Economist: “Readers are merely left with the impression that there are lots of nasty people about—and perhaps that they may themselves have been phished.”
  • Alex Tabarrok in The New Rambler: “a disappointing foray into behavioral economics from two recent Nobel Prize winners. … Akerlof and Shiller have both made enormous contributions to economics but one will find in this book little of the analytical rigor or attention to evidence that earned them their laurels.”

Three more mixed reviews:

  • Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution: “My main complaint about the book is that its chooses easy targets and doesn’t puncture enough sacred cows.  … I wonder to what extent what the authors call “The Resistance and its Heroes” is in fact another example of…phishing for phools.”
  • Cass Sunstein in the New York Review of Books: “Their extraordinary book tells us something true, and profoundly important, about the operations of the invisible hand. But the largest views can lose focus.
  • Siddharth Singh at com: “They leave one question unanswered: how can the preferences of a regulator, or even a set of regulators, be superior to those of the ones being regulated?

With one broadly positive review in the Financial Times and one super positive one in the Times of Higher Education:

  • Robin Harding in the Financial Times: “The style of Phishing for Phools will be familiar to fans of Shiller’s work: light on jargon and pacy enough not to outstay its welcome. The authors tell some engaging tales, although usually at the remove of a fellow academic’s research. There is not much grime or anguish, dialogue or doubt.
    The brilliant, catchy title will sell Phishing for Phools. Indeed, it is almost as if Bob and George want to tempt the monkey on the shoulder of the book-buying public. They give their readers a breezy ride through some modern behavioural economics — and if they leave them hungry for a little more nutrition, well, what clever marketer does not?”
  • Victoria Bateman in the Times of Higher Education: “George Akerlof and Robert Shiller’s brilliant new book”

what i’m reading

Over breakfast I read The Humboldt Current.  (Breakfast is my Read A Friend’s Book time, and there’s no better!)  On the bus I read The Book of Mormon.  Then, in my carpool on the second half of my commute, I puzzle my way through Le Petit Prince in French.  When I need a break during the day I read Cristina Garcia’s Handbook to Luck.  And I’m starting – for the ride home – a book of Brazilian short stories (collected for students) in Portuguese.

Trying to stave off dementia.

informative books about Africa that aren’t slow reading

A friend asked me for recommendations of books she could read to learn about Africa but not to feel like she’s learning (i.e., not hard reading).  So last night I looked over every book I’ve read either taking place in Africa or written by an African or dealing with Africa over the last five years.  (Here is the complete list, with a capsule review and a rating.)

Here are a few of my favorites among those that are not slow-reading non-fiction (i.e., they’re either fiction or they’re easy – not necessarily light – reading non-fiction):

  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie [novel about the Biafran War, Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960s] (my review)
  • What Is the What, Eggers [novelization of the story of a Sudanese refugee, one of the “lost boys of Sudan”] (my review)
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (my review)
  • We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Gourevitch [account of the Rwandan genocide]
  • Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Fuller [memoir of growing up in Rhodesia as it became Zimbabwe]
  • King Leopold’s Ghost, Hochschild [historical account of King Leopold obtaining the Congo as his personal colony and of the fight for human rights there. this one is a little bit slower reading than the novels, but for history it’s not bad]
  • A Man of the People: A Novel of Political Unrest in a New Nation, Achebe [my favorite Achebe book; read it over a weekend!]

If you look at the list, you might notice that Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation (my review) – a novel about child soldiers in West Africa – is also highly rated.  This book really moved me as I read it, but a friend who does lots of research with issues faced by child soldiers soured me on it a bit.