Book Haul: Novels and Economics

This week’s book haul features one good novel, one quite boring novel, and one book that made me want to punch the author in the face.

The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri


As he gets older, Inspector Montalbano is plagued by existential questions. But he doesn’t have much time to wax philosophical before the gruesome murder of a man – shot in the face at point-blank range with his pants down – commands his attention. Add two evasive, beautiful women as prime suspects, dirty cocaine, dead politicians, mysterious computer codes, and a series of threatening letters, and things soon get very complicated at the police headquarters in Vigàta.

For ages, my mother’s been going on about this Italian TV series featuring a Detective Montalbano. She’s been nagging me to watch it and I haven’t, mainly because I prefer my TV series to be either set in space, or full of badass ladies fighting things (or both: hello, Voyager).

The other day, however, I was perusing the shelves of my local charity shop when I came across this book. Flipping it over, I realised it’s a Montalbano mystery, and that my mother’s beloved TV inspector was probably based on this. So I picked it up and read it.

Hmm, nah. The story was pretty average for a crime novel: body found, might have been killed by the girlfriend, or was she being set up? There’s a reasonably interesting twist at the end. But the writing style is so annoying that it made me not want to read any more in the series.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen by Paul Torday


When he is asked to become involved in a project to create a salmon river in the highlands of the Yemen, fisheries scientist Dr. Alfred Jones rejects the idea as absurd. But the proposal catches the eye of several senior British politicians. And so Fred finds himself forced to set aside his research and instead figure out how to fly ten thousand salmon to a desert country – and persuade them to swim there. 

I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and it’s just as good as everyone said it would be. Alfred is a brilliant protagonist, because he’s both very loveable and supremely flawed, making him a satisfyingly realistic character.

To be fair, I love pretty much any book featuring an academic embarking on a slightly crazy project, but Torday’s writing really brought the story to life and the ending was… well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

The Theory Of The Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen


Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), the controversial American economist and social critic, argued that economics is essentially a study of the economic aspects of human culture, which are in a constant state of flux. In this best-known work, Veblen appropriated Darwin’s theory of evolution to analyse the modern industrial system. 

While industry itself demanded diligence, efficiency, and cooperation, businesspeople – in opposition to engineers and industrialists – were interested only in making money and displaying their wealth in what Veblen coined “conspicuous consumption”. Veblen’s keen analysis of the psychological bases of American social and economic institutions laid the foundation for the school of institutional economics. 

They say you should read things written by people you disagree with, so I did. And I was glad I had, actually. Veblen was a product of his time – in other words, a sexist, racist cuntflap – but he does make some interesting points about economics, even if he expends a lot of time and energy dismissing women as “barbarian” and “useful as trophies”.

One paragraph which summed up most of what he was saying about economics (and also was neither sexist nor racist, for once) stated the following:

“Goods are produced and consumed as a means to the fuller unfolding of human life; and their utility consists, in the first instance, in their efficiency as a means to his end. The end is, in the first instance, the fulness of life of the individual, taken in absolute terms. But the human proclivity to emulation has seized upon the consumption of goods as a means to an individuous comparison, and has thereby invested consumable goods with a secondary utility as evidence of relative ability to pay.” – p.154

…and therein lies the fundamental problem with our society. One of them, anyway.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this book, as such – it’s hard to recommend something that’s so horrifically offensive most of the time – but Veblen’s economic theory is certainly worth a look.

What have you been reading this week? What should I read next? 


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