Sunday, July 22, 2007

Robert Frank

Robert H. Frank is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University.

Two new books -- Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class (University of California Press, 2007) and The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas (Basic Books, 2007) -- top the list of his many publications.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
With vacations coming up, you'll want to pack a copy of Nature Girl, Carl Hiaasen's latest farce of swindlers on the make in Florida. It's not his best, but it's still terrific.

Sentence for sentence, there's no fiction writer I enjoy more than Elmore Leonard. His The Hot Kid (2005) ranks among his best, and I'm looking forward to its sequel, this year's Up in Honey's Room.

As a social scientist, it's always struck me as odd there are basically only two modes of published discourse: journal articles (usually no more than 20 pages) and books (rarely less than 300 pages). What happened to the middle? Having just written a very short book myself, I've asked friends in publishing why they don't publish such books more often. I've not yet heard a plausible explanation. But there are a few notable exceptions. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, weighs in at less than 100 pages despite its large font size. Even if you disagree with his thesis, it's as good an example as you'll find of sheer rhetorical virtuosity.

Tamara Draut's Strapped is well worth a read if you're curious about why it's become so much more difficult for young people to launch themselves in today's economy. Another title I recently enjoyed in the same vein is The Trap by Daniel Brook.

My favorite entry from the increasingly crowded post-Freakonomics bookshelf is Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist, out now in paperback.

But the nonfiction book I've enjoyed the most in recent years is Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis.
Robert Frank is a monthly contributor to the "Economic Scene" column in the New York Times. Until 2001, he was the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy in Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences. He has also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Nepal, chief economist for the Civil Aeronautics Board, fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and was Professor of American Civilization at l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Frank's books include Choosing the Right Pond, Passions within Reason, Microeconomics and Behavior, Luxury Fever, and What Price the Moral High Ground? His The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us, co-authored with Philip Cook, was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times, and was included in Business Week's list of the ten best books for 1995.

--Marshal Zeringue