Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Favorite Christmas Gift This Year

This year, my wife bought me a copy of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics (Volume One: Microeconomics) by illustrator Grady Klein and stand-up economist Yoram Bauman. When it arrived in the mail, she didn't know if this was something I would like. After all, the cover of the book looks like a Far Side illustration. Economics taught through cartoons? There's no way an economist would like this... right?

Wrong. I love it -- and whenever I am in charge of a principles microeconomics class -- I will seriously consider assigning it as required reading.

What I love most about the book is that there are no paragraphs or lines. Each page is a canvas and the book fills that canvas with an engaging story about microeconomics. This story is told through pictures.... and we all know that a picture tells a thousand words. Reading introductory economics in this format is a liberating experience. Even better, using cartoons to lure students into the study of economics is one of the greatest head fakes of all time. You read it because it is fun, but you end up learning economics along the way.

The graphic content does a tremendous job of bringing out complex concepts. One of my favorite illustrations of the power of this format is the introduction to Chapter 8, which is about simultaneous-move games. (Forgive my coercion into text. It works better in picture form. You can see for yourself for only $12.21 plus S+H... as of 12/30/10, prices may adjust to market conditions. When you get the book, turn to page 89.).

The cartoon features two characters who were introduced earlier in the book: Ooga (smart cave woman) and Mog (less smart Neanderthal). The two are about to play a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Ooga is apparently teaching Mog how to play. Mog says "Ok, Ooga, Mog understand rules. Ready? 1... 2... 3..." And, the next panel says "ROCK!" "paper." You can guess who said what.

This illustration is rich with information (and it is just one example in the book). Very few words are needed to convey a whole paragraph of ideas. And, not only does the reader understand that rock-paper-scissors is an example of a simultaneous-move game, but there's an insightful hint that the simultaneity might be a problem if you take the game too seriously. That said, the reader is willing to suspend his disbelief long enough to be tricked into understanding how simultaneous-move games work.

I received it as a gift, but after the fact, I would have happily paid for it. And, at a price of $12.21, I wonder how many "high school or college instructors" would have the gall to request an exam copy (price of $3). Not me.

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