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The Undercover Economist Paperback – January 30, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345494016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345494016
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nattily packaged-the cover sports a Roy Lichtensteinesque image of an economist in Dick Tracy garb-and cleverly written, this book applies basic economic theory to such modern phenomena as Starbucks' pricing system and Microsoft's stock values. While the concepts explored are those encountered in Microeconomics 101, Harford gracefully explains abstruse ideas like pricing along the demand curve and game theory using real world examples without relying on graphs or jargon. The book addresses free market economic theory, but Harford is not a complete apologist for capitalism; he shows how companies from Amazon.com to Whole Foods to Starbucks have gouged consumers through guerrilla pricing techniques and explains the high rents in London (it has more to do with agriculture than one might think). Harford comes down soft on Chinese sweatshops, acknowledging "conditions in factories are terrible," but "sweatshops are better than the horrors that came before them, and a step on the road to something better." Perhaps, but Harford doesn't question whether communism or a capitalist-style industrial revolution are the only two choices available in modern economies. That aside, the book is unequaled in its accessibility and ability to show how free market economic forces affect readers' day-to-day.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Harford exposes the dark underbelly of capitalism in Undercover Economist. Compared with Steven Levitt’s and Stephen J. Dubner’s popular Freakonomics (*** July/Aug 2005), the book uses simple, playful examples (written in plain English) to elucidate complex economic theories. Critics agree that the book will grip readers interested in understanding free-market forces but disagree about Harford’s approach. Some thought the author mastered the small ideas while keeping in sight the larger context of globalization; others faulted Harford for failing to criticize certain economic theories and to ground his arguments in political, organizational structures. Either way, his case studies—some entertaining, others indicative of times to come—will make you think twice about that cup of coffee.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Tim Harford is the author of the bestseller The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life and a member of the editorial board of the Financial Times, where he also writes the "Dear Economist" column. He is a regular contributor to Slate, Forbes, and NPR's Marketplace. He was the host of the BBC TV series Trust Me, I'm an Economist and now presents the BBC series More or Less. Harford has been an economist at the World Bank and an economics tutor at Oxford University. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Economics is that one branch of the sciences where everyone claims to be an expert.
Andrew Desmond
Great book on some aspects of economics, easy to read and exiting book. well written, concepts are explained with examples.
Highly recommended, both as a great read, and as a progeny of the line that started with "Freakanomics."
Bertram Wooster

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on September 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
Ever since the surprise success of "Freakonomics", a flood of economics books for the general public have been published, all trying to cash on the success of that peculiar best seller. According to the principles explained in Tim Harford's book, that is probably a mistake: profits come from scarcity - so further books about `the economics of everyday life' face diminishing returns. And yet, Harford offers several explanations as to why such books may continue to be published: one is that if everyone thinks that economics books are going to be best sellers, an editor who wouldn't publish economics books may lose her job. I'm merely speculating, of course, but this is what happened (with dotcom stocks instead of econ books) to Tony Dye, chief executive of Phillips & Drew (pp. 135-137).

Tim Harford's stuff, though, is worth reading. A regular contributor to slate.com and the financial times, Harford has the gift of explaining complicated economic ideas in accessible language.

Although the comparison to "Freakonomics" is made prominently by the book's cover (which in my version includes an endorsement from Freakonomist Steven Levitt himself, as well as a description as the "elder sibling" of Freakonomics by `The Economist'), `The Undercover Economist' is the better economics book. Freakonomics, after all, doesn't teach too much economics: beyond emphasizing that "people respond to incentives" (an important message, for sure) it answers such questions as whether Sumo wrestlers cheat (They do) and what name should you give your child (It doesn't matter).
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By David Rasquinha on February 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist" is in many ways a return to the fundamentals of economics. In recent years, the field of economics has seen a growing influence of quantitative modeling and econometrics, to the extent that the medium has become the message. The complexity and elegance of the modeling often obscures the fact that these are mere tools for the study of economic behaviour. At its foundation, economics is the study of human behaviour with the focus on how people make decisions by applying (consciously or unconsciously) the basic economics concepts of scarcity, relative pricing, comparative advantage, marginal cost etc.

Harford is a columnist for the respected Financial Times and it shows in his clear and almost conversational writing style. He almost entirely avoids the use of jargon and technicalities, using simple logic and even common sense to explain economics ideas. His use of everyday situations to illustrate his points makes the book read like a collection of anecdotes, with the difference that the anecdotes serve to buttress the theme in the background. Readers will doubtless enjoy his application of economic reasoning to shopping at the supermarket, pricing of a cup of coffee, health insurance and so on. And for those who like the bigger picture, Harford's explanation of the benefits of globalisation and the rise of China are top drawer.

I wish he had not glossed over the free loader issue while discussing externalities. Similarly, in explaining the problem of asymmetrical information in used car sales, he glosses over the role of independent 3rd party information providers who can help in restoring the balance of information. Perhaps he will attack these in a future book? I for one will stand in line to buy it!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Eli Bendersky on August 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
I must begin by saying that I liked this book very much. Not to cut suspense, since the review is obviously favorable all along, but just to set a positive tone for the start.

On the surface, "The Undercover Economist" is just another popular economics book, of the kind that is quite common lately (Freakonomics is one example that immediately comes to mind). However, once you finish reading it (paying attention all the way, of course), you realize it presents some relatively deep ideas, explaining them very thoroughly and logically connected pieces from different aspects of economics.

The book begins by a thorough overview of supply and demand, providing simple and befitting examples, both from real life and imaginary. Next, it treats the topic of price targeting (also called "differential pricing") - with really a huge assortment of examples from diverse fields. Then, it explains about free markets and what's good about them.

The connection of market freedom to "finding the truth" is enlightening, and becomes even more so while reading further. The author then moves to more macro-economic topics, discussing globalization and the economic situation in third world countries, such as Cameroon. Finally, he concludes the book with a thorough treatment of the changes in the Chinese economy in the past 30 years. This is the best part of the book, in which all the concepts presented in previous sections come together to explain why the communist system prevailing in China before 1976 failed, and why the gradual freeing of its economy in the years that passed since succeeded on a magnificent scale.

Here are another few topics that I found interesting, in no particular order:

* Why is wine always very expensive in restaurants ?
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