However, Sutherland is revelatory — and entertaining — in his anatomy of apparently paradoxical consumer choice in action. For example, people will happily pay 30p for a Nespresso capsule, but would be affronted if they were charged £50 for a jar (which, in effect, they are). Or how about the pilchard, demand for which had all but died out, until the head of the Pilchard Works fish suppliers in Newlyn had the idea of renaming them Cornish sardines and persuading the EU to award them Protected Designation of Origin status. Sales of the things at Tesco rocketed by 180%. Yet they were still pilchards.
In Alchemy, Sutherland brings together complex theory with stories and plentiful humour to both captivate and entertain. It’s an important work for our era of apparent irrationality.