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by Andrew P. Morriss

The Not-So-Dismal Science

Using literature to enliven economics.

When economists read literature or watch movies or television, we sometimes come across passages that illustrate economic principles. (We also come across passages that illustrate ignorance of economic principles. Novels can serve as models, as Tyler Cowen has observed, but they don't have to be well-constructed models.) Sometimes the illustration is memorable enough that we remember to use it in class when we make the relevant point. The problem is that unless the work is a current bestseller or routinely assigned in a required English course, most of the students in the class will not have read the work in question and our illustration is unlikely to illuminate. But a remedy is close at hand.

In The Literary Book of Economics, Michael Watts of Purdue University, a major contributor to the profession's ongoing discussion about how to teach economics, has pulled together more than 80 excerpts from a wide range of authors and genres. He has grouped them by economic content and written informative notes to accompany the excerpts. The book draws from classic authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, and Pope, more modern but well-established writers such as Steinbeck, Heller, Vonnegut, and Stoppard, and even from contemporary fiction such as Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Fans of most genres (except science fiction and mysteries) will find some favorites.

Who might use this book? Certainly, teachers of the basic principles of economics. Watts has handled all the copyright issues involved in using excerpts, making the book a handy single-source, reasonably priced supplement for an economics course. Since economics texts, with a few notable exceptions, are generally not fun to read on their own, this book could provide an excellent addition to a basic principles course, as well as a good source for essay assignments for students.

A second possible set of readers would include those looking for a book in which to graze. The excerpts ...

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