This is one of a stack of books I was generously given by Econ Dave, the college professor husband of one of the doctors I work for. I’m still not 100% sure whether it’s endearing or annoying that any time we socialize, I end up bending his ear about economics books I’m reading, but given the stack of books he recommended he can’t be that mad about it. This one looked like the most fun, confirmed when the doctor handed me the pile and said “oh, that one’s by Pirate Pete!” (There’s another review coming about the hidden economics of pirates called The Invisible Hook by the same author from the same stack).
It’s basically Freakonomics but with more of a historical bent, and the author uses the conceit of a tour of the weird literally; he frames each study as a sideshow and escorts an audience of straw men circus-goers through each unexpected result.
I really liked the book, but I have to admit I found the straw men a bit off-putting – for instance, one chapter focuses on wife auctions (an alternative to divorce in an era where women were treated like property that was unexpectedly feminist) and the woman objecting that this was misogynistic is described as bearing a striking resemblance to Janeane Garofalo. There is also an idiot hick, a high-and-mighty priest, and an irritating economist, so obviously the characterizations are tongue-in-cheek, but we’re creeping up on Poe’s law here with satire being mistaken for the real thing. The author creates all the characters to be-over-the-top, including his own proxy, so he’s poking fun at the stereotypes, but it still makes an otherwise perfect book imperfect.