The Price of Everything
Do not read it expecting to find a classic, well-made novel: in that regard, it is awkward and misshapen. But it has a different purpose.
As the subtitle promises, it is “a parable of possibility and prosperity,” which is to say a passionate argument in favor of using the economic approach to look at the world.
The main characters are a late-middle-aged economics professor at Stanford (a woman, as it happens, in a nice break with stereotype) and a student who is a Cuban immigrant, a tennis champ, and extraordinarily attuned to how the world works (or how he thinks it should work). Suffice it to say that the teacher does a lot of teaching and the student does a lot of learning in the course of the book.
The plot itself is rarely satisfying, but the lessons learned along the way are extremely well-drawn. There is the familiar but always charming tale of how no one person knows how to make a pencil, but how it somehow gets made. There is a compelling explanation for why it might be good for stores to raise prices on certain items — flashlights, say — during a storm. (A higher price acts as a brake for those who might be tempted to grab five flashlights they don’t need, which means that the store doesn’t run out for the people who really need one flashlight.)
To my mind, his writing bests the Marshall Jevons economics-lesson mysteries, and there’s a lot more economics to be learned along the way.
Although nothing, sadly, about financial-services meltdowns.