The Number: Overview

This week, The Simple Dollar takes a look at Lee Eisenberg’s The Number, a frank, well-written, and entertaining book that addresses the one number that so many of us obsess over: the amount of money we each need to live the rest of our lives the way we want to.

For the last few months, the powder blue cover of The Number has been seen in countless bookstore shelves, promising right on the cover to deliver “a completely different way to think about the rest of your life.” The appeal is clear to anyone seeking financial answers: what is the number that will answer the issues I’m facing down the road? Yet as I read through the beginnings of the title, a few things began to become clear to me, the first of which was that I was not invited to this particular party.

The Number is going to be a fairly interesting personal finance book for me to discuss because, even though I am an intelligent and college-educated individual with more than a passing interest in personal finance, this book doesn’t include me in its audience. The audience here is the Baby Boomers facing retirement, and not just any boomers, either; Eisenberg is clearly meditating on the situation of the upper middle class and above.

It’s also written substantially different than most personal finance books. Most books start with a question and attempt to analyze the answer. Eisenberg takes a different approach: he analyzes the question itself. Rather than attempting to come up with a formula with which everyone can calculate the number, he tries to look at the question that the number poses for all of us. What does that number buy us? What does that number really include? Is it even worth caring about?

In short, this book is something of a social science book rather than an economics book. Although it’s not packed with the upper middle class liberal guilt that we saw in Nickel and Dimed, it isn’t a nuts-and-bolts personal finance book, either. Instead, it tries to paint a broader picture of a small slice of the Baby Boomer generation (the wealthy but not quite rich group) dealing with their upcoming retirement – and what that actually means.

Although this book was in fact loaded with a bit of the ol’ Boomer selfcenteredness and was clearly written for more of a general interest audience, I did find a lot of interesting and thought-provoking points inside. Over the rest of the week, I’ll review the three major sections of the book (Chasing It, Figuring It, and Finding It) and then deliver my “buy or don’t buy” recommendation.

You can jump to the other parts of this review of The Number by using the following links:
Chasing It
Figuring It
Finding It
Buy or Don’t Buy?

The Number is the tenth of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.

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