The book: The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do, by Eduardo Porter; Portfolio.

The big idea: How we assign value—to the things we buy, to the way we spend time, even to the principles we hold dear—affects every decision we make.

The backstory: The Price of Everything is global in scope and reportorial in approach. That is not surprising. Porter serves on the editorial board of The New York Times and has worked as a journalist on four continents.

Voter's guide: As we gear up for 2012, the book smartly lays out the economic underpinnings of many of today's most troubling issues: health care, climate change, immigration.

Think global; price local: Given the differences in values from country to country, it is surprising global companies don't send in teams of sociologists before entering markets. Fortunately, writes Porter, the more two countries trade, the closer their values become.

If you read nothing else: Businesses will eye consumers eagerly and consumers will eye businesses warily after reading The Price of Everything, which explains some of the psychology that influences buying. (The money you will save on toner cartridges when you learn how printer companies spike sales of ink will more than offset the cost of the book.)

Rigor rating: 9 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Porter read what sounds like a lot of really dull reports to make this engaging book possible.