Written By: Barbara O’Neill, Michael L. Walden and M.E. Whitman Walden
Financial Fiasco: A Dia Fenner Economic Thriller is not the first book to teach economic and personal finance principles through a story featuring fictional characters. The Wealthy Barber and The Richest Man in Babylon also come to mind. However, this 155-page novella is extremely well-written and held my interest from beginning to end. Consisting of 25 short chapters featuring a variety of crooked and honorable people, the book describes the exciting Duke University sabbatical of its heroine, Dr. Lydia (a.k.a. Dia) Fenner, a Cornell Ph.D. The book is third in a series featuring Dia, but each book stands alone. The two previous books are Macro Mayhem and Micro Mischief. The authors are Michael Walden, a Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University, and M.E. Whitman Walden, a retired educator and artist.
The book is about two-thirds story plot lines and one-third presentation of subject matter content. However, the “teaching” sections of Financial Fiasco appear naturally as part of Dia’s presentations or as conversations between characters. When these sections get long, they are chalked up to Dia’s passion for economics. Worthy of a Hollywood screenplay, the book includes an unscrupulous boss, a suspicious new boyfriend, a financially influential corporation, several influenced public officials, a “chatty” administrative assistant, a threatening letter, a case of investment fraud, the theft of Dia’s politically sensitive research data, and an attempt on Dia’s life. Important economic historical events such as the Great Recession and the formation of the European Union are also woven throughout the book. In the final chapter, the loose ends of concurrent plot lines are tied up with a hint of, perhaps, a fourth book about Dr. Dia Fenner and her economic lessons.
Worthy of a Hollywood screenplay, the book includes an unscrupulous boss, a suspicious new boyfriend, a financially influential corporation, several influenced public officials, a “chatty” administrative assistant, a threatening letter, a case of investment fraud, the theft of Dia’s politically sensitive research data, and an attempt on Dia’s life.
Financial Fiasco would make an excellent assigned or extra credit book for college undergraduates. It is a fast and enjoyable read. I can envision students reading the book and then writing a paper, blog or threaded discussion to describe its key economic take-away messages. Some of the personal finance messages that stood out to me are:
- Investing means using unspent resources today to generate additional resources in the future
- Investing in a diversified set of low-cost mutual funds provides the best returns with the lowest fees
- Some investors see low-cost funds as “boring” and, instead, chase higher returns due to a basic urge to “win”
- Monte Carlo analyses are used to evaluate investment performance under different economic scenarios
- Attending “free dinner seminars” provides an opportunity for people to be fleeced of their life savings
- Airfares at airports dominated by a hub airline are typically high due to convenience and less competition
- Defined benefit and defined contribution plans have both plusses and minuses for workers and their employers
Full disclosure: I know both of the coauthors. In fact, I introduced them to one another when Mike Walden and I were graduate students at Cornell University in 1976-–78. Not only am I very proud of my friends for co-authoring an informative and entertaining novel, but I chuckled when I saw references to academic life (e.g., tenure, publishing in top tier journals, grantsmanship) and to people that we both knew (e.g., the late Professor Scott Maynes at Cornell University).
Who says economics has to be boring? You certainly won’t feel that way after reading Financial Fiasco.
Barbara O’Neill is Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management for Rutgers Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at 848-932-9126 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She also tweets daily financial education messages on Twitter at http://twitter.com/moneytalk1.