The title reflects the breadth of topics that Eduardo Porter covers. And he covers a lot, including things that may be considered taboo in polite circles, doing so in a manner encouraging thought and discussion, rather than derision.
For instance, the opening chapter, The Price of Things, starts with a look at why we pay so much for a cup of coffee; looks at the drivers behind a 6 year-old’s toy decisions; to why exotic dancers on the pill make less than those who are not.
In The Price of Life, the second chapter, he dissects the seemingly self-evident notion, “human life is priceless.” Without emotion or being judgmental, Porter takes us through numerous examples (in some depth) as to why this actually, just isn’t true. Just two examples are how the U.S. Environment Protection Agency values life; and, how the World Bank assesses a person’s life (e.g. in India: $3,162/year, $95,000 an entire life).
An aside, I recently viewed renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s discussion of the implications of charitable giving. His own discussion on the value of charity would be a complementary supplement for Porter’s The Price of Life. You can view the RSA Animate version of Zizek’s presentation: First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.
You say No, there is no price on life? Consider Peter Singer’s simple exercise. “Ask yourself how much you would be willing to pay, through insurance premiums say, so the health-care system would cover a treatment to extend the life of a stranger by one year. Would you pay $1,000,000? $10,000,000?”
The moment you say no you have put a ceiling on the price of that person’s life.
It is frank discussion like the preceding topic that causes one to take a moment, think, and consider the surrounding (often controversial) implications. What does the US’ own efforts to socialize healthcare portend? Or those discussed in The Price of Happiness and The Price of Women.
The Price of Everything is as much a study of history. Only with an understanding of how everything has been valued in the past, can you understand why things may be in the state they are today.
Other key areas Porter explores include The Price of Work, Free, Culture, Faith, Future, and when prices fail.
In The Price of the Future, significant time is spent discussing climate change, proposed warmth, it’s economic impact, and what some solutions may mean, such as Cap and Trade, dramatically higher gasoline taxes, and alternative energy. To be honest, I found his discussion surrounding global climate change to be the most well-reasoned I’ve read.
One note. Good book. Very informative. Be prepared: This requires thinking, it isn’t a book you breeze through in a few hours.