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Book cover - The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas, by Robert Frank
The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas
by Robert Frank, Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management
Perseus Publishing (2007), 256 pages | Excerpts |

Why do restaurants offer free beverage refills? Why does a light come on when you open the refrigerator – but not when you open the freezer? These, and many other intriguing questions, are explored in The Economic Naturalist, Professor Robert Frank's newest book.

Like a child's earliest questions, these queries begin with "why?" and address everyday phenomena. A majority of the questions, and their answers, were inspired by student essays submitted in response to an "economics naturalist" assignment Frank gives in every course he teaches: Use an economic principle to pose and answer an interesting question about a pattern of events or behavior that you have observed. Like a biologist who asks why the elk grows such unwieldy antlers, Frank's students question the apparent incongruities around us.

The assignment is intended to help students connect economic principles with everyday occurrences. In his introduction, Frank points out that most people conceive of (or remember) economics courses as consisting of "all those horrible graphs" and little else. He argues, rather, that economics helps explain the strange, fascinating behavior of those oddest of animals – human beings. (Why are Manhattanites ruder than Midwesterners? Frank has his own explanation.)

He culled thousands of responses down to the 150 found in the book – the ones that most interest him. "Typically these are ones that entail an element of paradox," he explains.

"I've long stressed that by trying to teach students too much, we often end up teaching students little that they retain after the course," says Frank. "But if we concentrate on mastering a few basic ideas deeply, we can actually make a difference. The economic naturalist writing assignment embodies that philosophy to a 'T'."

Speak Business English Like an American: Learn the Idioms and Expressions You Need to Succeed on the Job
by Amy Gillett, MBA '99
Language Success Press (2005), 201 pages

A non-native speaker can find English daunting, with its bewildering syntax, phonetic inconsistency, and constantly broken grammatical rules. Add to that the U.S. native's heavy use of idioms. Say "I made a friend" in another language and people might picture you lovingly fashioning a miniature companion from modeling clay.

In the workplace, English is riddled with industry jargon – not to mention military and sports metaphors. "The C-levels want to fast track their guerrilla-marketing campaign; we need to step up to the plate and push back while the ball is in our court."

To guide lost souls through the paper-clip jungle, there's Amy Gillett's Speak Business English Like an American. The book, which is popular with individuals and business-English teachers, is organized into 30 chapters, each presenting an idiom-rich dialogue and definitions of the idioms with examples of usage, and in some cases an explanation of the expression's origin. Then, several multiple-choice questions let the reader test his or her understanding. A comprehensive index lists all the idioms. An audio CD of all the dialogues comes with the book.

The book is a business version of Gillett's first book, Speak English Like an American, which was sparked by her experience teaching English as a Second Language. Gillett found that her students were often unfamiliar with idioms. "They're not presented in most textbooks," she says. "So students start translating them word-for-word and get confused by expressions like 'stab someone in the back.'" As soon as Gillett finished that book, she began working on the business version, "obsessively" collecting roughly a thousand idioms in two years. She culled the list down to several hundred, organized those into 30 common business situations, and got down to coin a phrase.

– Irene Kim