cover image Economics: The User’s Guide

Economics: The User’s Guide

Ha-Joon Chang. Bloomsbury, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-62040-812-4

Cambridge economist Chang (23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism) wants to popularize his field through accessible writing and explanations of our material world. The result is a synthesis—half textbook, half browser—that the author suggests should be read in snippets. Chang notes depressingly that economic history has, for economists, turned into a “harmless distraction, like trainspotting, and at worst as a refuge for the intellectually challenged who cannot handle ‘hard’ stuff like mathematics and statistics.” The book’s first section tries to reconcile and differentiate lines of thought, examining capitalism as a system through classical, Marxist, Keynesian, Schumpeterian, and other perspectives. In the bracing chapter, “Dramatis Personae,” Chang presents a sharp-edged summary of individuals and organizations that comprise the world economy. Despite these highlights, too much of the book dutifully checks off significant-topics-in-economics boxes. Chang stresses the seriousness of global poverty and environmental constraints, for example, but in clichéd language. The book’s whole is less than its parts, partly because the large print and minimal graphics make its many moving parts hard to grasp. Still, it works as an accessible introduction to the field. What Change shows is that economics in its many guises is vitally important to our everyday lives, and as such remains fascinating, the opposite of Carlyle’s so-called dismal science. [em](Aug.) [/em]