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4.2 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The Undercover Economist’s latest, winning theory is that making mistakes helps people to succeed. . . . This is an excellent book. . . . utterly compelling.”
The Sunday Times (UK)
 
“Intelligent exploration that draws thoughtful conclusions on highly complex world events. . . . [Harford’s] claims might not be as decisive as his American contemporaries—also riding the wave of popular economics—but they are more robust and as a consequence more significant.”
City A.M. (UK)
 
“A novel approach to problem-solving.” 
Big Think

“Terrific new book. . . . Harford is a gifted writer whose prose courses swiftly and pleasurably. He has assembled a powerful combination of anecdotes and data to make a serious point: companies, governments and people must recognise the limits of their wisdom and embrace the muddling of mankind.”
Financial Times

 “[A] wealth of fascinating case studies.”
The New York Times (The 6th Floor)

 
“Persuasive new book. . . . [Harford] knows how to deal with complicated subjects in lay terms, gracefully holding a line of accessible elucidation without veering into patronising oversimplification. . . . Harford’s invitation to a fireside chat in No 10, if not issued already, cannot be far off.”
the Guardian (UK)
 
“Harford’s case histories are well chosen and artfully told, making the book a delight to read. But its value is greater than that. Strand by strand, it weaves the stories into a philosophical web that is neat, fascinating and brilliant. Like the best popular science, it advances the subject as well as conveying it, drawing intriguing conclusions about how to run companies, armies and research labs. . . . It would be hard to improve Harford’s outstanding book.”
Nature
 
“A very good read. . . . open, clear and persuasive.”
Management Today (UK)
 
“Conjures inspiring visions of redemption from the wreckage of failure. . . . an interesting guide for determined and open-minded entrepreneurs.”
Mortgage Strategy (UK)
 


From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

TIM HARFORD is the Undercover Economist and Dear Economist columnist for the Financial Times. His writing has also appeared in Esquire, Forbes, New York, Wired, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. His previous books include The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: HighBridge Audio; Unabridged edition (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611745020
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611745023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,761,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Chancellor TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
You may wonder about the need for adapting. Tim Harford, the author makes a very strong case for learning to adapt. "We face a difficult challenge: the more complex and elusive our problems are, the more effective trial and error becomes, relative to the alternatives. Yet it is an approach that runs counter to our instincts. The aim of this book is to provide an answer to that challenge."

There is no doubt that the world and our individual lives are becoming more complex and challenging. The conventional approach to solving problems does not seem to work.

Mr. Harford builds a case for an unconventional approach - an experimental approach involving trial and error.

The book puts forth that there are three essential steps for successful adapting: The first is to try new things with the knowledge that some will fail; to make failure survivable since some of the attempts will surely fail and to make sure you know when you have failed.

The essential steps seem fairly straightforward. But Mr. Harford takes the reader on a journey through history, recalling many failures - Robert McNamara's handling of the war in Vietnam; Donald Rumsfeld's stubbornness dealing with the war in Iraq; The Piper Alpha rig explosion in the North Sea; and the Lehman Brothers financial meltdown.

He also recalls many things that worked and contrasts the different approaches used by the successful - trial and error and adapting.

There is a wonderful collection of historical events, psychological experiments and insights that we can put to use in our daily lives.

Some of the insights deal with large organizations and governments.
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Format: Hardcover
As always, Tim Harford finds the most interesting economic research and explains it well. As I read Adapt, I was frequently inspired to go online and look up the economics he reports on. The section on evolved virtual creatures prompted me to visit YouTube and watch for myself how animal-like forms evolved through computer simulations. After reading about the unintended consequences of some foreign aid programs, I had to see what a Play Pump looks like and watch the interviews with teachers who preferred the old borehole pumps. Adapt is an excellent collection of quotes, stories, and research findings on innovation and economic evolution.

However, the book falls short in a few ways. First, although Harford's writing is generally clear, he employs some annoying rhetorical devices that should have been edited out. One is that he repeatedly withholds the name of the person whose work he's discussing until he has built up all the details of the story. Only once he's laid out the research results does he reveal that the anonymous manager is a famous figure or someone we met in the last chapter. It's as if Harford isn't confident that the research will hold anyone's attention, so he has to play games with the reader. Equally irksome is his tendency to repeat points again and again, reminding readers of things he mentioned two pages back that no one could have forgotten.

The chapter on the financial crisis was also a disappointment. It devolved into boring jargon and obscure terms for different loans and contracts. Maybe it's not possible to make subprime mortgages entertaining, and I don't know if any other writer could have done a better job. But the book would have been more enjoyable without that tedious interlude.
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Format: Hardcover
Adapt is a well written book with compelling examples that covers, in my opinion, the single most important topic in how to think about thinking:

To a first approximation, rational deduction fails 100% of the time, when applied to the messy real world. The ONLY path to success is to try, fail, and adapt.

The examples are engaging, the writing is pleasant, and there are soundbites throughout that are wonderful. My favorite in the second half of the book was a joke making fun of self-help and business books.

The flow of the book goes roughly:

1. What's the likelihood of getting something wrong? (~100%)
2. What can we do? (Feedback + Adaptation)
3. What about situations where we have to get it right (Nuclear power plants?)
4. How do organizations adapt (Low central control).
5. How do individuals adapt (It's hard).

The book was generally very strong. The variety of examples throughout was particularly impressive. Anyone who doesn't already understand the idea that we all are wrong up front most of the time should have this book stapled to their hands. Considering myself well read in this space, I saw a new example I was unfamiliar with every third page.

Among my favorite of the little examples that I was unfamiliar with:
Paul Ormerod ran math models of corporate extinctions that lined up pretty well with math models of species extinctions.
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