Book Review
Title: "The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics"
Authors: Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman, Ph.D.
Publisher: Hill and Wang, 2010; 224 pages; $17.95

Comedy and economics are typically mentioned in the same breath only to invoke the concept of the "comedy of errors" or "comedy and tragedy."

One needs to read only a few pages of "The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics" to revise these stereotypes and begin to see comedy as a natural vehicle for delivering a primer on economics.

The novel approach of authors Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman, Ph.D., doesn’t stop with the book’s lighthearted, comedic slant. Bauman, who the cover extols as "the world’s first and only stand-up economist," totally tweaks the traditional economic text by bringing in cartoonist Grady Klein to deliver this microeconomic primer in, well, comic-book format.

Yep, it’s a comic book. But the levity of this "comic book" format belies the depth, breadth and clarity of its substance. It’s the levity of format that transforms what would normally be an eye-glazing, theory-heavy foray into microeconomics into a warp-speed, entertaining and enlightening journey through the basics of this field of study. Many a university "econ" major will want to peruse this before their first day of class, just to orient themselves painlessly in the subject matter.

Klein and Bauman begin the book by laying down the foundations of microeconomics. The authors posit, with literally graphic clarity, the essential question of microeconomics: to determine "under what circumstances individual optimization lead[s] to outcomes that are good for the group as a whole?"

"The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics" takes readers on an elegant and well-organized ride through important precepts of microeconomics by first analyzing one "optimizing individual," and then expoloring interactions between several "optimizing individuals." Finally, the interactions of masses of optimizing individuals are discussed.

Reality-based examples that lend concrete, relatable, modern imagery and references to concepts that would otherwise be tres ivory tower help keep the reader from curling up in the fetal position.

For example, Klein and Bauman illustrate the abstract concept of the tragedy of the commons with depictions of traffic jams and dirty dorm kitchens — real-life fact patterns in which individuals’ efforts to optimize their own objectives (trying to get to their destinations, or studying instead of dishwashing) result in damage to the collective. …CONTINUED

After elucidating the basics of microeconomics, Klein and Bauman move on to decision trees, which are the preferred tool of microeconomists seeking to understand the decision-making processes of optimizing individuals.

They then explore the impact of time on the value of money, and the various impacts of risk on the decision-making of optimizing individuals, before introducing the basic ways optimizing individuals strategically interact with each other (namely, trade).

In Part Two, Klein and Bauman offer comic tutorials on game theory, including an in-depth exploration of the prisoner’s dilemma (one example of the tragedy of the commons), using it to explain real-life no-win situations such as arms races, overfishing and price wars. They then move into auctions and price theory, "the study of competitive markets," as one solution to the plenary question of microeconomics.

From there, it’s a smooth cruise through supply and demand, taxes, margins, elasticity and the big picture of market forces.

Throughout, Klein and Bauman guide readers using stripped-down examples to explain complex concepts. They explore why pro wrestlers juice up with steroids, for example, or how gas taxes impact market equilibrium.

Chauffeuring readers through the experience are Klein’s mini comic economists, who drop in little insights, jokes (of varying degrees of actual funniness) and mnemonics along the way.

Whether you’re a college student or a consumer or professional seeking a deeper understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of your coursework or current political hot topics, you could certainly pick a worse place to start than "The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics."

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site,


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