Book Review: The Price Of Everything

The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do by Eduardo Porter
# ISBN-10: 1591843626
# ISBN-13: 978-1591843627


  • Makes you think seriously about prices and economics on a variety of subjects.
  • Has fascinating historical and cultural insights, with plenty of references.
  • Asks – and answers – some hard economic questions.
  • Extremely readable and accessible.


  • References are arranged in a hard, odd-to-use way.
  • At times the author's opinion intrudes on his analysis.
  • Discusses solutions to economic issues, but not in much depth.

SUMMARY: An accessible and thought-provoking look at how economics affects almost everything we do that's good for people who want a better handle on the psychology of our economic behaviors.

Economy, psychology, and our culture all influence each other.  Do we actually think about this self-evident fact?  Probably not a lot – but fortunately Eduardo Porter does and now he has a boon on the subject.

The Price of Everything is about the economic decisions we make – the author notes that we are economic creatures, calculating benefits, goals, etc.  From one historical era to another, from one culture to another, Eduardo Porter looks at the decisions people make and why – and the economics behind them.  As you may guess, economics is behind a lot of decisions.

From album sales to conspicuous consumption, from slavery to failed companies, the book explores the economic thinking behind various decisions people and countries have made.  Things that may seem nonsensical, especially in the past, often make sense if you view them as economic decisions.

However Porter notes these decisions may make sense, they are not necessarily good ones.  Too often history is a case of short-term interest defeating long-term planning, or tradition trumping good sense.  Just because a decision is economically calculated doesn't mean the calculator was using the right data or thinking far enough into the future.

That's the strength of this book – making sense of what might seem to be nonsensical and helping you think about how people, well . . . think.  You'll doubtlessly have many "oh wow" moments as you read, and will quickly be rethinking your personal and business strategies.

Don't expect the book to be a fun and pleasant romp through amusing statistics, however.  Porter dives straight into a variety of controversial subjects such as slavery, infanticide, religious fanaticism, and more.  Things that seem terrible to us may make perfect sense at the time they happened, even when these ideas turned out to be long-term bad choices.  You'll probably be horrified now and then reading that book as you contemplate the choices people have made over time from calculated economic interest.

Horrified as you may be at time, you will also find yourself thinking as you read this book.  Porter also makes a stab at discussing how economics and economic knowledge can help us make a better, saner world.  Be it social pressure, scientific research, or government organization, Porter makes some propositions to help the world – though the book doesn't dedicate nearly enough time to that in my opinion.

The end result is that this is a book that's through-provoking and intriguing, but you won't find a way to save the planet here.  You may just find some ideas to help you make the world a better place, but mostly you'll be dizzyingly rethinking what you know of the world.

The book is not perfect, though it is good.  The reference section is oddly organized and it's hard to relate what you read to the references without some work.  The author also has moments of injecting his opinion which contrast with his style and his use of statistics – it's different enough in the way it reads that its fairly obvious.

So would I recommend this book?  I recommend this as a buy to people seriously into economics and the psychology of economics – it'll give you a lot to think about and you'll probably reread it.  It's a must-read (as in get it as an ebook or buy and share) for people who are looking to broaden their economic understanding – that fits people like me and possibly you.  If you're not interested in economics it might be interesting to borrow if you want to try and broaden your horizons.  It would also make an excellent gift for someone with the appropriate interests.

Steven Savage