Tyler Cowen’s blog is endlessly entertaining. He’s an economist with a real gift for lateral thinking, plus insane passions for travel, ethnic cooking, music, and books. It’ one of my favorite blogs, because most days he’ll post something either worth cooking, worth reading, or worth thinking about. His latest book is an awful lot like the blog. So why was I so disappointed?
Because it’s an awful lot like the blog. So much so that many passages are adapted more or less directly from a blog entry. (Or vice-versa, but either way I feel robbed.) He can’t stay on any particular topic for more than four or five paragraphs, the range of subjects is astonishing, there’s absolutely nothing systematic about the presentation (and barely anything orderly), and most of the arguments have the same half-baked, lunch-conversation style as the blog does. I love it in blog form, but in dead-tree form, it gets tedious quickly. I read over a dozen passages out loud, but learned almost nothing Cowen hadn’t already exposed me to.
Cowen’s a fox; his blog is a fox blog; his book is a fox book, too. I bought the book expecting he’d show his hedgehog side; isn’t that what academics do in books? But no, it’s a fox book, too. (That’s a bit of a relief, as compared with some of the unpleasantly hedgehoggy pop-econ book out there, some of which Cowen takes a swipe at in this one.) Now, I like fox books, too: the Mimi Smartypants book is a recycled collection of blog entries, and I like it just fine. But she doesn’t pretend that it’s anything more than what it is. Whereas Discover Your Inner Economist (mistitled: it really should be Nurture Your Inner Tyler Cowen) has chapters, and the occasional claim about an overarching theme. Lies, all lies! What he has to say works much better in blog form. Go read the last two years of his archives, and you’ll save some money and have a more enjoyable time. (Plus, that way you get actual recipes. Tasty ones, too.)
In conclusion, I’d reveal the address of his secret blog, except that he hasn’t posted in over a month, so it’s not as though I’d be letting you in on any big secret.