A few minutes back I finished reading Richard McKenzie’s Why popcorn costs so much at the movies and other pricing puzzles. Since the book is not available in India, I managed to procure an online pirated version through a friend. And since the book isn’t released in India, I didn’t feel guilty about reading the pirated version.
Coming to the point of this post, I found the book a bit of a bore because I thought I knew most of the stuff already. McKenzie has done a good job of tying things together and classifying stuff, but the core concepts that he discusses in the book are nothing new. I now wonder if through regular reading of blogs such as Marginal Revolution and Econlog, I’ve outgrown the popular economics genre. Of course it is a good thing if I have – since that shows I understand more than I used to. But clearly, I need to update my reading preferences. I’ve got A Farewell to Alms lined up, again thanks to the same friend, and hopefully that should be more insightful.
Now, really coming to why I’m comparing Taleb and McKenzie. The similarity is that both their books didn’t have too much more to offer. Just took a set of concepts that I already knew and understood, applied some kind of a framework (actually McKenzie’s book doesn’t have much of a framework) and compiled the stuff. Both authors’ books didn’t offer too much more new stuff to me, but only reinforced what I already knew. I, however, ended up really loving Taleb’s works (in fact I read The Black Swan twice), while I don’t seem to have really liked Popcorn.
The difference, I think, is in the kind of issues that they tackle. From my perspective at least, Taleb tackles what I call “deeper stuff”. Stuff that explain things about life, etc. On the other hand, McKenzie takes the concept of pricing – a concept that I’m really interested in but not something I’d classify as “deep”. I would rather do with reinforcement of my beliefs in stuff like randomness and other things mentioned in Taleb’s books, than I would with pricing. The latter makes me feel good by telling me that I do know what I claim to know. The former reinforces certain “basic ideas” and principles which I had begun to doubt on more than one occasion.
The main reason I liked Taleb’s works, I think, is because they filled me with a broader sense of confidence compared to McKenzie’s stuff.
Coming back to Popcorn, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t seem very well compiled. It seems more like a collection of huge blog posts. I sometimes wonder if it requires 300 pages to communicate what the book does, but that is fodder for another post. And I’m not even sure if I’d recommend the book to you.