Book Review: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume 2: Macroeconomics

For the Japanese, the combination of pictures and text is not just relegated to juvenile fiction. Non-fiction manga, ranging from history to instructive titles are part of the normal landscape in Japanese bookstores. American non-fiction comics are a bit more sparse, but we recently got a new title added to the list: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume Two: Macroeconomics.

Back Cover Blurb

Need to understand today’s economy? This is the book for you. The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, Volume Two: Macroeconomics is the most accessible, intelligible, and humorous introduction to unemployment, inflation, and debt you’ll ever read.

Packaging

This is a pretty durable book. It’s not hardcover, but the binding is sturdy and the pages are thick so it should be able to survive some abuse in a backpack. The pages are printed in black and white, but I’m not sure if the art was originally meant to be color. Contrast gradations are achieved with varying shades of gray instead of screentones so some detail in the illustrations can be difficult to see.

The Review

Bauman’s tag, “the world’s first and only stand-up economist,” might sound like a joke, but it’s true. He actually is both a PhD in economics and a comedian (See his website www.standupeconomist.com). In this second volume of their cartoon series, he and artist Klein strive to be informative and entertaining on the subject of macroeconomics, and as a non-economist, I found it to be both.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One, A Single Macroeconomy, defines and explains basic terminology. Part Two, International Trade, provides illustrative examples on how trade plays out between countries. Part Three, Global Macroeconomics, isn’t so much about concepts as it is food for thought about the future and the sustainability of current systems and attitudes. For example, Chapter 14 addresses global warming and the use of market forces to fight climate change. Bauman uses past events to illustrate his points and quotes Nobel Prize winners so there’s also some history and name-dropping included.

Regarding the book’s humor aspect, it’s a combination of Klein’s goofy artwork, one-liners, and silly illustrative scenarios (e.g. trading with aliens and outsourcing to different planets) with the occasional highbrow joke. Everything is rated G, though one joke I did find gross was the visual of the bumbling Depression-era Fed cutting off the legs of the economy.

In terms of this book’s usage, it’s appropriate for a layperson who wants to learn basic concepts like GDP and inflation. It can also act as supplementary material in the classroom but wouldn’t be an ideal primary textbook for teachers as it doesn’t contain review questions or practice problems. However, it may convey concepts more effectively to students who learn better visually. For instance, the book’s analogy of a marriage between multiple partners to describe the adoption of the euro gets the point across in a fun and clear way.

In Summary

The Cartoon Introduction to Economics is an ideal launching point for young students and adults whose eyes glaze over in the face of too many lines of text. It’s predominantly basic concepts with some food for thought about the future so you won’t turn into an expert, but you’ll come away with a better grasp of what all those analysts are talking about on CNN.

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