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Financial Literacy through Economic Narratives (August 2015): Home

By Roark Mulligan


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the August, 2015 issue of Choice (volume 52 | number 12).

Abstract and Introduction

This essay focuses on “financial literature,” that is, novels, films, and creative nonfiction that entertain and educate, performing an ameliorative cultural function.  Pragmatic works serve as realistic case studies that inform choices and encourage intelligent practices.  Moralistic tales of greed offer idealistic solutions that appeal to the emotions, motivating one to support change.  Written for readers at all levels of education, financial literature can and should be consumed by everyone—from a kindergarten student to a Wall Street trader, from a business major in college to a retiree—because the works can be both compelling and didactic.  As early as 1908, the Harvard School of Business recognized the pedagogical power of economic narratives when it developed a curriculum that employed case studies—narratives that are, on a basic level, simply business stories—to determine best managerial practices.  This case-study approach has spread to all business colleges.  In more recent years, fictional narratives have been added to business school curricula because imaginative works too can explore complex economic situations.

In the wake of the dot-com crash of 2000 and the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, financial literacy initiatives have boomed.  Numerous agencies—many discussed in the last section of this essay—promote teaching financial literacy to children, adolescents, and adults in the United States and around the world.  As this focus on financial literacy has intensified, there has emerged a renewed interest in literary narratives that represent and explore the world of finance because these works serve as “equipment for living,” a phrase employed by Kenneth Burke to describe the way that literature helps people understand the world in which they live.[1]  The means by which to teach economic principles is disputed, but studies have repeatedly correlated reading comprehension with financial literacy.

This bibliographic essay presents a wide range of economic narratives that can motivate and educate readers of all ages.  The first and longest part of this essay discusses fictional works under several subheadings.  Categorized here chronologically and by genre, the works discussed differ greatly (ranging from realistic to melodramatic), but they all explore economic principles, and they all teach by presenting real-world situations, even when those situations appear in fanciful science fiction or entertaining fables.  After the sections on books comes a section on films; the last section takes up the secondary literature, including websites, books, and journal articles.

Like the essay itself, the works cited list is in three sections.  The first, which includes primarily—though not exclusively—fictional narratives, lists many titles that will be familiar to readers.  Given the number of editions in which many of these titles have appeared over the years, this first section includes only the original publisher and date of publication.  The second section provides citations for films; the last, citations for all the titles discussed under “Other Resources,” interfiled and with up-to-date bibliographic information.

[1] Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action (University of California Press, 1941), 293-304.

Roark Mulligan is a professor of English at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He has authored essays that have appeared in American Literary Realism, Dreiser Studies, English Education, and Studies in American Naturalism. In 2010, he published the Dreiser Edition of The Financier (University of Illinois Press), and he is now editing The Titan (Winchester University Press), the second volume in Theodore Dreiser's Trilogy of Desire.