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Who's Reading What

Janice Gross Stein is trying to avoid another recession Add to ...

WHO Janice Gross Stein is director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Trinity College, University of Toronto, and Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management and Negotiation in the University of Toronto's political science department. She is the co-author, with Eugene Lang, of The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar.

WHAT The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism, by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller; Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler

WHY As it slowly recedes, the Great Recession has left in its wake a treasure trove of summer reading that can at least partly assuage the losses that many of us have experienced. Three stand out.

First is Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, a provocative and irreverent look at probability. We are all quite poor at estimating probabilities, but Taleb shows us precisely why we shouldn't take probability too seriously.

Second is George Akerlof and Robert Shiller's Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. The subtitle says it all. Drawing from Keynes, these two quite human economists show us our frailties, disabuse us of any hubris that we are fully "rational," as most economists insist, and develop an agenda rooted in who we are rather than in what economists wish we might be.

Finally, there is Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. This is an iconoclastic read by two economists who think they can design around our human frailties to get better results.

All three fill in some big gaps in our understanding of what went wrong in the run-up to the Great Recession. I do wish, though, that economists would shorten their subtitles.

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