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Publisher's Summary

Everything we know about solving the world’s problems is wrong. Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting - improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again.

In this groundbreaking new book, Tim Harford shows how the world’s most complex and important problems - including terrorism, climate change, poverty, innovation, and the financial crisis - can only be solved from the bottom up by rapid experimenting and adapting.

From a spaceport in the Mojave Desert to the street battles of Iraq, from a blazing offshore drilling rig to everyday decisions in our business and personal lives, this is a handbook for surviving - and prospering - in our complex and ever-shifting world.

©2011 Tim Harford (P)2011 Hachette Digital

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Judy Corstjens
  • 07-23-11

A rising star

Tim Harford gets better and better, now with a whole thoughtful book exploring the concept of evolution as applied to markets and other complex systems. He is really becoming the UK's Paul Krugman with his colourful analogies that bring to life economic concepts for the lay person - Coco bonds as airbags and 'economic Bulldogs' for the unintended consequences of well intended policy. So why only four stars? Well, most unfortunately, Tim (who, as we all know, is himself a highly competent presenter, well able to read his own book) delegated this task to some actor who decided to deliver various lengthily quoted passages in the supposedly appropriate accent. So Adam Smith appears with a rich scottish burr, and various Americans with a transatlantic drawl. This is irritating and unnecessary (and probably inaccurate) but tolerable. It becomes unbearable when we have third world economists such as Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen bank). The narrator can't actually face the horror of putting on a faux-Bengali accent so he does a sort of 'humble peasant voice' instead. Made me squirm. Tim - read your own books - please.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Elizabeth
  • 09-25-11

very disappointed Tim Harford fan

I think I am in the minority here, as the book has an average of nearly 4 stars from other readers.
I loved the Undercover Economist, which I read, rather than listened to, and I am a big fan of More or Less on Radio 4. But I just can't get through this, I have given up at chapter 4. Perhaps it is unfair to give a book a negative review when I haven't finished it.
First of all, as a previous reviewer said, the narration is awful. He sounds to me like he is narrating the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I keep expecting him to say something like "So long and thanks for all the fish". The accents are annoying, but I could probably live with that. I just think he has the emphasis all wrong and it's changing the meaning. He says things deadpan that sound to me like Tim Harford meant them to be ironic, and then uses what I take to be his ironic voice to say things that sound like they should be serious.
Then, I get the feeling that this book is intended for an American audience. Where the Undercover Economist started with examples of coffee stands on Waterloo Station, this one starts with the variety of products in Walmart, and President Obama. . I've just got up to a discussion of the Haditha massacre in Afghanistan. I really don't think Tim has any authority (in the academic sense) to be writing about this, and I've given up. I might look out a written copy from the library, if they've been allowed any money for new books, so I can flick through and see if improves.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • R
  • 07-19-12

Fantastic read

One of the best books I have heard / read. For me a convincing tour de force.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jeremy
  • 04-08-12

Clever, entertaining and well narrated!

What an interesting and unusual book, and read in a clear, straightforward style. I have to disagree with the previous reviewer about incorrect inflection. Judge for yourself, but I found the no-nonsense narration easy and enjoyable to listen to.

"Adapt" is a practical application of complexity theory to modern life. As such it challenges many common sense assumptions. Failure is often the prelude to success, because it involves experiment, which allows us to learn, if we can recognise, admit and understand our mistakes.

The case examples are interesting, from the "toaster project" to the overturning of Rumsfeldt's disasterous central planning of the Iraq war, to the building of the first Spitfire through the persistence of a maverick civil servant and the generosity of an eccentric female philanthropist. Perhaps there are a few too many military examples. However, I really enjoyed this audiobook.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Marc
  • 11-14-11

Economic concept for this age

If you are a manager or run a business, you should read this. There is some really original thought here (i.e. not yet seen in Godin or other "guru" books) and Harford pulls together a lot of other leading edge thinking into a comprehensive page turner. The evolutionary mechanism described is apt for our current economic climate and Harford illustrates how it can be applied on various levels of work and management related processes.
The only part I disagree with and preventing 5 stars is his reference to Google as being visionary in regard to business practices - it's easy to try new things if you can blow billions!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Story
  • Guy Brewer
  • 11-01-17

ditch the accents

fascinating account, slightly marred by the jarring accents of the narrator - no need for them.

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  • Edg
  • 02-23-17

is a cracker if your in to this sort of book

he tends to dwell on examples a bit long, but it's fascinating and charming written.

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  • Richard Williams
  • 01-17-17

The first and last chapter is enough

It's a ramble!
Iraq -- why he suggests the military personnel should decide when to go to war is amazing

It's a book that says all leaders are wrong- and we should do our own thing

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  • Lulwah
  • 11-21-16

good content, narration annoyed me at times

the content is good, i found it worth my time and attention. the narration was clear, but the imitation of accents and dialects was painful to listen to.

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  • Daniel Johnston
  • 08-22-16

very hard to follow.

wasn't sure what the point of each example really was. The dodgy accents are distracting too. I'm afraid I got bored very quickly.

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  • Neil
  • 07-17-17

Good, but not as good as Messy

Playback glitchy. Waffly at times. Narration volume varied with accent - sometimes too soft to hear in the car.