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Life's Little Questions

Why are there Braille dots on the keys of drive-through ATMs? and why don't the Japanese have many swear words? We found the man who can answer those questions -and others like them - economically. 

Illustration by Carey Sookocheff

FORGET THE PIE CHARTS. When Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, wants beginning economics students to help themselves to a heap of understanding of the subject's principles, he sends them off to conjure up a question that, eventually, they'll have to answer using economic principles. Though there are, to a certain degree, limits, Frank makes it clear that many of life's most confusing questions - like the ones asking why retailers start the holiday season when summer's winding down and why there is disparity in pricing between black and white MacBooks - can be solved with economics.

Thankfully, Frank doesn't just leave the questions in his desk drawer after dispensing grades; he delivers them in some truly entertaining books. Yes, Virginia, economics can be entertaining.

With Frank's latest book, The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas, on your side (or on your bedside table), you won't need an Idiot's or a Dummies guide to get a grip on economic principles. And (shocker!) you'll even have fun along the way. Walking you through a world of odd questions, Frank provides all the economics you'll ever need to get through daily life. Plus, aside from a fun illustration on the front cover, there's nary a pie chart in sight. We asked Frank to answer some of the questions we've had on our minds - along with some of his favorites from over the years.