I have used the Dorling Kindersley publication ‘The Economics Book’ frequently in the classroom since it was published, so I was delighted to notice last year that they’d brought out a new book, ‘How Money Works: The Facts Visually Explained’. I teach AQA A-level Economics, and as with all the current A-level specifications, there is a unit on financial markets. While financial markets are covered in textbooks, it can be quite difficult for teachers to understand how this complicated industry fits together. Where this book really helps is in its simple visual explanations of complex phenomena. I edit a magazine myself and I was extremely impressed by how hard Dorling Kindersley have worked on this publication and their other subject information books to ensure that the designers are fully briefed, so that the illustrations add value to, and explain the text.
For example, in a layout on pages 52 and 53, ‘How Money Works’ tackles the topic of derivatives. The seriousness of the topic is immediately signalled by a box titled WARNING, which starts: ‘Referred to as financial weapons of mass destruction, derivatives can be volatile…’. Simple text with colourful graphics defines derivatives, explains the concepts of ‘futures’ and ‘options’, gives an example and then indicates the kind of numbers involved: ‘£827 million was lost in derivatives trading by Barings Bank in 1995’. If you’d like something even scarier to show in the classroom, visit this website and keep scrolling: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/worlds-money-markets-one-visualization-2017/ [Douglas Adams fans may be reminded of the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’…]
Back to ‘How Money Works’: the derivatives information could be used to excite students about the topic, included in general PHSE or financial education classes and is also helpful background before watching films such as ‘Inside Job’ or ‘The Big Short’. The sections explaining shares and bonds are also useful in the same way, while sections on ‘The evolution of money’, ‘Financial markets’, ‘The money supply’ , ‘Managing state finance’ and ‘Attempting control’ directly address aspects of the A-level specifications. Real examples are given throughout (‘24% [is the] estimated percentage of economic activity in Greece that went undeclared and untaxed in 2013’) while the size of the numbers helps students to understand just how crucial the rather dry-sounding concept of ‘systemic risk’ could be.
This is one of those rare types of book that both provides useful extension resources for the more able and interested, while supporting students struggling with the basics: pages 132 to 139, which explain inflation, the balance of payments and international currency fluctuations are beautifully laid out and would really assist a student (or teacher) trying to get the chain of causation clear in their mind before writing an essay.
There is also an extensive section on Personal Finance, covering everything from the difference between income and wealth, investments, pensions and debt. This would make useful handout material for a personal finance course. Given the conversations I have in the staffroom, maybe a few colleagues from all disciplines would benefit from reading through it too.
Finally, two articles on ‘Why Governments Fail Financially’ cover hyperinflation and debt default, with some contemporary examples, as well as visuals for Germany in 1921-24 and Argentina in 1998-2001. These are not only useful for engaging students with the economic history aspects of courses, but come in handy when History colleagues ask for a quick run-down on economic aspects of their own teaching.
This is not a textbook: it has a wider brief than that, but it is educational in the widest sense. Buy it for your classroom, for yourself and maybe for that annoying relative who corners you to tell you their thoughts about quantitative easing…
Josie Baker is Teacher in charge of Economics at Queen’s College, London