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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Economist Tim Harford has made a career of demystifying many of the central assumptions of economic thinkers and policy makers—the sort of endeavor that’s likely to get you barred from exclusive DC social gatherings if done right. […] Harford’s latest book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, expands the range of his analysis to take in the broader sweep of macroeconomic planning. […] Harford’s style is accessible, engaging, warm, witty, and fun, and he takes us on a romp through some of the denser thickets of macroeconomic thinking. […] Along the way, Harford takes on more than a few quasi-sacred shibboleths in our current economic and political environment. —Helaine Olen

Review

"Every Tim Harford book is cause for celebration. He makes ‘the dismal science’ seem like an awful lot of fun.”
– Malcolm Gladwell

“With fascinating examples and vivid explanations, Tim Harford succeeds in turning macroeconomics into a gripping read.”
—Simon Singh, author of Fermat’s Last Theorem

"Tim Harford is perhaps our very best popular economics writer, and with this book he turns his attention to inflation, unemployment, business cycles, and macroeconomics, with lucid clarity and compelling insight."
—Tyler Cowen, author of Create Your Own Economy and The Great Stagnation

"Tim Harford is a brave man to write a book about macroeconomics for the lay person; luckily, he is also a funny man...his perky style and chatty asides keep us grinning... [and he] has a knack for posing questions the average reader will have wondered about."
Wall Street Journal

"Harford has a knack for writing about economic issues in a clear and gripping way."
Worth Magazine

“Harford brings vigor and even humor to otherwise dry topics…[and] clarity to what has often been comprehensible to only a select few.”
Publishers Weekly  

“Independent thinkers aspiring to a better understanding of the world economy and of possible fixes for the current downturn will delight in this crisp, readable, and knowledgeable explication and analysis of macroeconomic events and theoretical perspectives.”
Library Journal 

“By the end of this book, you'll have learned so much that you'll be just as confused as the experts – and anything but bored.”
The Christian Science Monitor 

“Tim Harford is perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world… what [he] has achieved with his new book is nothing less than the holy grail of popular economics. While retaining the accessible style of popular microeconomics, he has managed to explain, with clarity and good humour, the knottiest and most important problems facing the world’s biggest economies today.”
The New Statesman

“With beguiling clarity and…effortlessly breezy style… Harford explains the subject with impressive clarity and wit.”
The Times (London)

 
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (January 16, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594631409
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594631405
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

This book is fun to read, and even enlightening from time to time.
Daniel V.S.
A more matter-of-factly approach would have appealed to me better; the chosen one somehow reeked of underestimating and belittling the reader.
Jani Lehtinen
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (2013) by Tim Harford is another excellent book from a superb economics writer.
sien

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Trey Jones on December 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
**I received an uncorrected proof copy of the 2014 paperback edition of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway.**

I came to be a fan of Tim Harford through his podcasts, "More or Less: Behind the Stats" and "Pop Up Ideas". I was eager to read this book, because I am a big fan of the way the podcasts explore ideas and make sense of numbers in the news, and I've recently developed an amateur interest in economics. I was not disappointed.

One word of advice to the reader: throughout the book, Harford explicitly uses the conceit that he is speaking directly to you (who have been chosen to run a world economy) and that you are answering him. I found that jarring, but it was easy to put aside by imagining that instead of participating in a conversation, I was merely observing one.

The book explores macroeconomic ideas in an engaging way, and the dialog style allows the author to take the occasional left turn away from the topic at hand into an interesting cul-de-sac before jumping back on track. Most of the material is readily accessible if you have an interest in current events (no economic theory needed), though the discussion of the Beveridge curve could really have done with at least one diagram.

The entire discussion is bookended with by elements of the story of Bill Phillips, a tinkerer, war hero, hydraulics engineer, and eventually an influential economist who created a very cool machine—the MONIAC, or Monetary National Income Analogue Computer—that solved economic differential equations with water. His story is a highlight of the book, and is told largely in the first chapter.

Overall, this is a very accessible and non-technical introduction to macroeconomics, which is a especially nice since much of the material I've come across recently online, in podcasts, and in books has been on microeconomics or behavioral economics.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By sien on October 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back (2013) by Tim Harford is another excellent book from a superb economics writer. This book covers macroeconomics and presents a Socratic dialogue where Harford discusses how to run a modern economy. This sort of dialogue is often contrite. However Harford manages through his mastery of the subject and by being reasonable, skeptical and carefully presenting both sides of an argument to make it highly informative and enjoyable.
Sadly the cover of the edition I have has a quote from Alex Bellos suggesting that Harford could be Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell. While Harford has some similarities to Gladwell in that both write excellent infotainment Harford is much better because he writes over a more limited subject area but with much greater depth of knowledge.
The book covers recessions, money, inflation, stimulus, output gaps, unemployment, management, GDP, happiness and endless economic growth. It covers all with such aplomb that it’s hard to pick out the best bit.
Stylistically Harford uses a dialogue and also has the wonderful character of the economist Bill Phillips to provide a narrative core for the book. It all works.
This book is a delight to read.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gu Si Fang on January 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book is very well written and educational, as Tim Harford has led his readers to expect. At times, it is a bit heavy on the storytelling style. Overall, it does a nice job explaining a lay reader how economists think about the big macro issues such as growth, recessions and unemployment. I list what I view as some pluses and minuses of the book below.

Pluses:

- Great quotes from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

- A nice debunking of Krugman's babysitting coop rant.

- A great discussion of Radford's POW camp article.

- A very pedagogical comparison of the classical and Keynesian views of recessions, concluding on an ironic note (but see below for a minus): « Sometimes an economy’s output is constrained by the demand for goods and services (Keynes’s Law) and sometimes it is constrained by their potential supply (Say’s Law). It sounds like neither of them are really laws at all. Yup. This is social science—what did you expect? » ... « But there is also a really simple way to combine the two views. We need to introduce a concept you’ll hear discussed often in economics—the “short run” and the “long run.” Most economists would agree that in the short run, it is Keynes’s Law that is relevant. And most economists would also agree that in the long run, it is Say’s Law that counts. »

- A thought provoking discussion of the question Can Growth Continue Forever?: « Energy growth is not the same as economic growth [...] It’s easy to grasp why exponential economic growth is not the same as exponential energy growth. If I’m worried about money, I may turn off my heating and wear a coat and hat indoors; a bit of extra money will mean I take off the hat and coat and use more energy.
Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kiyoshi Taniguchi on February 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a fun read for sure. The writing style is a fictitious Q&A, but it does not bother me at all. What I like the most is that the book comes with a lot of anecdotes. Many economics students might know about theories, but usually people are not exposed to the real-life examples of many economic issues. You can walk through historical and recent economic anecdotes with this book. However, this book is neither a macroeconomic textbook nor its substitute. It is simply incorrect to "learn" macroeconomic theories from it. This book is about macroeconomic phenomena, and we can familiar with the subject. Perhaps the theoretical rigor and depth is compromised, as others point to it; it is because the book is for everybody who may or may not study economics.

Highly recommended.
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