The Cartoon Introduction to Economics vol. 1: Microeconomics
Written by Yoram Bauman, Ph.D. & Grady Klein
Illustrated by Grady Klein
Published by Hill & Wang
Good news, Internets! I’m back.
You could at least pretend to have noticed. Thankfully I opted for the warranty on my laptop a year and a half ago, and the review I had planned to run here two weeks ago runs today, with a little assistance from an all-new motherboard.
So, on with the show:
If the ubiquitous XX for Dummies books were turned into a comic book, they’d probably be a lot like Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein’s The Cartoon Introduction to Economics vol. 1. The creators take big ideas, distill them down to rudimentary, everyday examples and manage to make most of their abstract material seem concrete and even somewhere on the fringes of exciting.
It’s probably not very surprising, since Bauman’s YouTube video has been stupendously popular, and he even maintains his own economist blog at http://www.standupeconomist.com, that the author has the creative background and intelligence required to convey information in clear order.
So Bauman clearly knows what he’s talking about, and – particularly in the early chapters – he’s able to consistently find simple examples that illustrate how supply and demand trend toward pareto efficient – that is, the best possible deal for both sides. (He later discusses how the world isn’t quite perfect, so we rarely achieve a true pareto efficient, but the economic theory is sound.) Klein complements Bauman’s lessons with a diverse cast of cartoony characters who cope with the consequences of supply and demand. Enhancing his illustrations with graphs and charts to explain where lines of seller and consumer interest intersect, Klein handles nearly all of the lessons adeptly.
The book’s delivery isn’t perfect; the chapter on marginals defies my best efforts to wring any meaning from it, often requiring leaps of understanding that I don’t have the mathematical groundwork to make. Nor has Bauman’s writing given me the theoretical understanding required. Fortunately, most of the higher-end math aspects are restrained to the book’s supplemental website. Subsequent chapters veer back toward solidity, but may occasionally stretch the reader’s limitations. But more often than not, Bauman provides clear examples and uses humor via puns and visual gags to keep readers engaged.
On the art side, Klein sticks to loose, cartoony character designs that are easy to recognize, if sometimes sloppily drawn. The animated style and exaggerated body language matches the tenor of Bauman’s upbeat, humorous writing, and Klein inserts dozens of tables and graphs to enforce the relationship of economic forces. Klein also took a considerable hand in the pacing of the stories, and his cartooning experience shows on every page. Although he’s not the financial expert of the team, this is a book that succeeds as much through his understanding of the comics form as Bauman’s knowledge of money.
Given the recognized educational value of comics, The Cartoon Introduction to Economics vol. 1: Microeconomics should find considerable life. The writing is clear and lively, the art loose but bouncy and effective. Schools and anybody looking to glean a little more insight into current recession-based headlines would do weel to give this one a look.