- Hardcover: 264 pages
- Publisher: Stanford Economics and Finance; 1 edition (October 17, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781503600911
- ISBN-13: 978-1503600911
- ASIN: 1503600912
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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WTF?!: An Economic Tour of the Weird 1st Edition
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"This book has a surprise—not to mention a puckish joke—on every page. It's strange, it's fascinating, and it's one of the most original books I've ever read." Tim Harford, author of Messy and The Undercover Economist
"Your initial reaction might be WTF!? How can medieval trials by ordeal, wife sales, and divine curses all boil down to rational economic behavior? But, Leeson will lead you deftly through the logic and history behind these seemingly senseless rituals. Keep an open mind and this book will surprise, teach, and entertain!” Andrei Shleifer, Harvard University
"WTF?! is the most interesting book I have read in years! Peter Leeson displays his unique talent: unearthing mankind's seemingly craziest behaviors, and then showing that these behaviors, against all odds, ultimately make perfect sense. WTF?! is like Freakonomics on steroids." Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the bestselling Freakonomics book series
"A fascinating tour of some of the world's strangest customs and behaviors, led by a brilliant, funny, and eccentric tour guide dedicated to the proposition that no matter how strange it looks, there's always a reason for it—and a lesson to be learned by discovering that reason. It's okay to gawk, says our tour guide, but it's even better to empathize and, armed with Leeson's insights, there's no reason why we can't do both." Steven E. Landsburg, University of Rochester, author of The Armchair Economist
About the Author
Peter T. Leeson is the Duncan Black Professor of Economics and Law at George Mason University. He is the author of the award-winning The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (2009) and Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think (2014). He can be reached via his website peterleeson.com.
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But WTF?!: An Economic Tour of the Weird, is something else altogether.
As far as content, the book combines eight real world behaviors that make you say "WTF?!", derived from Leeson's research and published papers. Everything from shaking a poisoned chicken to settle a slight, to convicting insects and rodents of crimes in a court of law are examined, revealing sensible, even brilliant logic. The theme over and again is simple but profound: given the constraints (beliefs, resources, etc.) they face, people behave in rational ways to seek their ends. Yes, trial by combat and wife sales are rational actions in context.
But what makes the content in WTF?! really stand out is the form. Leeson's academic work is accessible, but this book is downright fun. It's like Ripley's Believe it Or Not; enjoyable as much for entertainment as enlightenment. Acting as a tour guide, Leeson describes strange phenomena and their rationale, while engaging colorful characters on the tour who ask many of the questions readers are thinking. The guide pokes fun at them, and himself, shares barbs and insults, and connects to stories from his own childhood.
You don't need to care one bit about economics or social theory to enjoy this book. Conversely, if you hate fun and frivolity and care only for social science, you'll find serious economic theory in WTF?!
If you don't find the world more fascinating and enjoyable, and people more ingenious and clever, after reading WTF?!, something might be wrong with you!
Along with the hilarity of the book, its main purpose is not just to entertain but to enlighten. Dr. Leeson's work, broadly speaking, can be thought of as a defense of rational choice theory from the attacks of behavioral economics. In this capacity, the book shines. Dr. Leeson explains, using very clear and simple terms (but also more technical terms in the appendix!), why rational choice theory is the best tool social scientists have for answering the eternal question, "why?"
This book, and Dr. Leeson's work in general, will go down as among the most cogent and strongest defenses of rational choice theory.
Leeson invites you on a tour with eight stops (chapters). In preface and the first chapter you get a very brief introduction to the rational choice theory and the key principles of economics. The next seven exhibits of WTF?! tour will knock your socks off. The second chapter tells you a story about medieval ordeal - a trial of defendant by boiling water or hot iron. Do you know that a lie detector test or God swearing in a courtroom testimony have underlying incentives of the medieval ordeals. Have you heard about sassywood? No. That’s weird. The third stop gets weirder. What do you think about wife sale in Industrial Revolution England? Why did wives want to be sold? In the next four chapters you’ll learn about superstitions and the Gypsy public order, maledictions in eleventh-century Francia and protection of clerical property, oracles and chickens in twentieth-century Africa, and vermin trials in Renaissance France, Italy, and Switzerland. In the last chapter you’ll hear about judicial combat and land disputes in Norman England. Do you know that modern litigation system has the underlying principles of the medieval land disputes?
WTF?!: An Economic Tour of the Weird is a great book for everyone who wants to understand human behavior from perspective of economics. It presents principles of economics in a very original and entertaining way. Wife sales, medieval ordeals, vermin trials, maledictions, superstitions, oracles, and judicial combats are weird examples of human behavior that Leeson investigates masterfully with the tool of economics - rational choice theory - and breaks down skillfully to the key principle of economics – people respond to incentives. This book has another important story that connects all these examples of the weirdness of everyday living. People are able to produce socially desirable outcomes privately such as criminal justice, protection of property, and public order.