Peter Mountford’s enthralling new novel, The Dismal Science, looks at what happens when a recently widowed World Bank administrator gets embroiled in Latin American politics. In this companion to Mountford’s debut, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, middle-aged and recently widowed World Bank administrator Vincenzo D’Orsi comes undone, jettisoning nearly every one of his personal and professional relationships.

Peter and I met at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle for a talk about identity, middle-age, and the 1 percent.

Charm was not among Priya’s gifts. She was lean and ambitious and had a temperament of hammered iron. Priya was from Bombay and had been in charge of emerging-markets equity for the Calloway Group for five years. She had studied at Oxford in the nineties and when she finished there had promptly been launched as a fund manager at Lehman, where her portfolio was the only one to turn a profit during the Asian crisis. A millionaire by twenty-eight, she could supposedly intuit peaks and troughs in the market as well as Warren Buffett could. Every day she spent an hour at the gym with her personal trainer, ate a great many vitamins, and drank two liters of green tea. She didn’t touch alcohol or cigarettes. “I would like to outlive my own children,” she’d said to a Financial Times reporter in an interview in 1997. But as it turned out, the conception, carrying, birthing, and rearing of children were not activities that interested her much.

Why do people love money?

There’s a connection between money and mortality. It’s no coincidence that wealthy people have longer life-expectancy: they have better healthcare, more time for the gym, better food, safer automobiles. Money is power and money is time, which is to say that money is a unit of life. Not for quality of life, but quantity and something else, something you could call flexibility. Because it affects what you can do—your powers. If you’re rich enough, you might even have superpowers. Bill Gates has superpowers, evidently. I gather he has decided to rid the world of malaria.