Squandering Aimlessly: On the Road with the Host of Public Radio's ""Marketplace""
Brancaccio writes like the public radio broadcaster he is (on the show Marketplace), in slow, even tones, savoring every detail of his stories, in firm control of where he is going but in no hurry to get there. This is not a book you attack, but one you surrender to. In fact, so easy is it to read that when you put it down after the last page, you will have no idea if you have painlessly learned anything or have just been entertained. The book consists of 10 travel vignettes arranged around the topic of spending money. Brancaccio wonders what he would do with a sudden windfall: save, spend, invest, retire, give it away or something else. For each answer he travels to various places to experiment and discuss the solution with people he meets. Having secured an advance for this very book, he goes to Minnesota's Mall of America to shop, to Las Vegas to gamble, to Levittown to investigate buying a house. Each story ends with morals, souvenirs and life resolutions. The author is intensely introspective and easily disoriented, so an ordinary trip to a mall seems psychedelic; Las Vegas, Silicon Valley and Wall Street seem like other galaxies. The only fixed referents in this world are eccentric individuals and attitudes toward money. Brancaccio is deliberately impressionable, and he has a knack of discovering interesting attitudes, empathizing with them completely and then analyzing them. He finds that generosity is common, as are guilt, insecurity, confusion and regret. However, there is very little of either greed or indifference. Perhaps the most important message of the book is that no one seems to have a good answer to the question of what to do with money. Neither professional money managers, professional thinkers nor gamblers have the secret. The people Brancaccio meets who are happy and secure do not worry much about money, but seem to have enough (everyone else has a problem, either financial or emotional or both)--but the cause and effect of this relation is not clear. (Feb.)