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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run--or Ruin--an Economy [Kindle Edition]

Tim Harford
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A provocative and lively exploration of the increasingly important world of macroeconomics, by the author of the bestselling The Undercover Economist.

Thanks to the worldwide financial upheaval, economics is no longer a topic we can ignore. From politicians to hedge fund managers to middle-class IRA holders, everyone must pay attention to how and why the global economy works the way it does.

Enter Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford. In this new book that demystifies macroeconomics, Harford strips away the spin, the hype, and the jargon to reveal the truth about how the world’s economy actually works. With the wit of a raconteur and the clear grasp of an expert, Harford explains what’s really happening beyond today’s headlines, why all of us should care, and what we can do about it to understand it better.

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


Every Tim Harford book is cause for celebration. He makes 'the dismal science' seem like an awful lot of fun -- Malcolm Gladwell Harford spurns the polemical style that infects so much writing about macroeconomics, offering a clear exposition of the key debates using case studies ranging from Second World War POW camps to the 1970s oil shock and Brazil in the 1990s ... Harford explains the subject with impressive clarity and wit. The Times clear-thinking and easy to read ... he has mastered the art of dealing with this subject without the use of a single diagram or mathematical equation Sunday Times Our chief economic storyteller ... thanks to people such as Harford, the profession will gain a better informed audience Independent Reading Harford is like finding yourself next to the funniest, smartest fellow at the party. It is such fun that readers will hardly notice that, by the end, they've mastered macroeconomics Financial Times

Product Details

  • File Size: 1023 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594631409
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (January 16, 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DMCV624
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,598 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Non-Technical Intro to Macroeconomics 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 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb, fun to read look at macroeconomics October 24, 2013
By sien
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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice read, nice storytelling, lacks depth January 25, 2014
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.


- 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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Macroeconomics made "easy" February 14, 2014
Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford tries to show us that macroeconomics is not that hard in The Undercover Economist Strikes Back.

In order to fix the economy, we need to understand the economy. The book is a "practically minded poke-around under the hood of our economic system." It's a sequel to The Undercover Economist , which looked at microeconomics. The first book looked at the cost of coffee and other focused topics that affect an individual's behavior.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back tackles the world and the uncertainty of macroeconomics. These are the big forces of gross domestic product, inflation, and unemployment. Rather a droll, laborious discussion of complex theories, Harford keeps things witty and perky.

The book is not about bashing big banks or pointing fingers at who caused the financial crisis of 2008. But he does discuss the macroeconomic forces in light of the recovery (or lack thereof) from the 2008 crisis.

He does not try to oversimplify the topics. He cautions that they are difficult to understand, difficult to calculate, and difficult to get right. He offers advice and lessons from history.

He explains the theory of currency with the extraordinary example of the rai used by the Yap islanders in Micronesia. Each rai is a stone wheel, the biggest of which is nine feet across and weighs over four tons. That will help you buy land. Smaller ones, a mere foot or two across will buy you a pig. The islanders still use the currency even if it has sunk to the bottom of the bay while being transported in a boat. Given the small number of transactions, the islanders can just keep track who owns which stone, without having to move the big ones.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, explains the macro economic by examples that ...
Excellent book, explains the macro economic by examples that you can relate to in your daily life. A real eye opener, changed my mind about how the common sense approach to solving... Read more
Published 20 days ago by No Coby
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
The information was good but the conversation style format was difficult to follow.
Published 2 months ago by Jason O. Munshower
3.0 out of 5 stars Macro-Economics 101
Good for someone trying to understand fundamental macro-economics. No specific insights.
Published 2 months ago by Ankur Kothari
5.0 out of 5 stars Conceptually sound
Basic macroeconomics with an emphasis on ideas rather than shifting curves. Excellent for the curious layperson or as a complement to standard undergraduate macro texts.
Published 3 months ago by Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A refreshingly candid presentation of the world of Macro economics.
Published 5 months ago by sanjeebk
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read and very educational
Excellent little book. Well written, I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot.
Published 5 months ago by Robert A. McKelvie
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are non economist, but wish to understand the world better, it...
for somebody who is not an economist by profession, but is excited and keen to learn more how the macroeconomics work, this is a fantastic and easy to read book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Miroslav Koncar
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, well-written, objective introduction to contemporary...
Tim Harford needs very little introduction, Javier Estrada has done Harford justice in his review of Harford's first book (JOIM Q2, 2006) - The Undercover Economist, which delivers... Read more
Published 8 months ago by N. Kulasekaran
4.0 out of 5 stars This book provides good insights into the world of economics
This book provides good insights into the world of economics, which are easy to understand and not loaded with jargons.
Published 9 months ago by Rishi Jha
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
really well written. important concepts.
Published 9 months ago by Marshall Marriott
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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.


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