WHAT ARE YOU READING?
During this time of growing financial uncertainty, books on economics are enjoying a new-found cachet, with some boasting titles that make them sound even more appealing than Hollywood blockbusters _ the likes of Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, for instance, or Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan and Burton G. Malkiel.
One title has been such a phenomenal success that it's even spawned a play in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Written by Czech economist Tomas Sedlacek, Economics Of Good And Evil: The Quest For Economic Meaning From Gilgamesh To Wall Street takes a refreshingly multifaceted approach to its subject, drawing on references to the bible, history, mythology, philosophy and culture (both ancient and pop) to interpret, criticise, debunk and humanise tenets of what to many is a very tedious topic.
It's been on bestseller lists in several countries and is now a major hit in China. Sedlacek visited Beijing last month to promote the Chinese-language edition of his book and take part in a discussion about whether the sky-rocketing growth in that country's economy over the past decade is in fact sustainable.
Sedlacek was only 24 when he was appointed as an advisor to Vaclav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic. In 2006, Yale Economic Review included the rising star in its "Young Guns: 5 Hot Minds in Economics" list. Sedlacek presently serves as chief macro-economic strategist at CSOB, one of the largest banks in the Czech Republic. He also lectures at Charles University in Prague, where he also presents his own programme on a local radio station.
Still only 35, he looks more like an artist or member of the Occupy Wall Street movement than the financial whizz-kid that he is. But he does come across as the quintessential bookworm, habitually jotting down notes on the various books he reads almost concurrently. He says he's a big fan of e-books and makes the most of electronic gadgetry. He totes around a Samsung Galaxy Note, hooking this up to a tennis-racket-size external memory dock, in which he stores a miniature library of texts, varying from economic reports and a copy of the Bible to books on ancient myths and works on philosophy by everybody from Aristotle to Lacan.
When we caught up with him in Beijing he was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions from Life about his reading preferences.
_ Anchalee Kongrut
How many books have you bought and not finished reading?
A lot. The point is that [at the moment] I am reading 30 books at the same time!
Have you ever got a book because it was recommended to you, but then found it to be a let-down?
Tough question! Now you need to give me a minute to think about it...[After pausing for exactly one minute]. I must say that I really live in fortunate times; that I've enjoyed every book I've read and, if I didn't, I would simply put it aside very quickly.
In your field of professional interest, which book did you enjoy the most?
My favourite book on economics is Debt: The First 5,000 Years. But the author, David Graeber, is actually an anthropologist. The book is simply beautifully written.
Another is Fooled By Randomness: The Hidden Role Of Chance In Life And In The Markets. It's by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who also wrote a very very famous book called Black Swan (definitely nothing to do with that Hollywood movie!). But I prefer and highly recommend Fooled By Randomness.
And your favourite title on a subject other than economics?
A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This is a must-read!