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Publisher's Summary

Author of the extremely popular "Dear Economist" column in Financial Times, Tim Harford reveals the economics behind everyday phenomena in this highly entertaining and informative book. Can a book about economics be fun to read? It can when Harford takes the reins, using his trademark wit to explain why it costs an arm and a leg to buy a cappuccino and why it's nearly impossible to purchase a decent used car. Supermarkets, coffee houses, airlines, insurance companies, and more are sucking money from our wallets. To protect ourselves and our bank accounts, we must better understand why companies do what they do.
©2006 Tim Harford (P)2006 Recorded Books, LLC.

Critic Reviews

"The book is unequaled in its accessibility and ability to show how free market economic forces affect readers' day-to-day." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Everyone needs to know this.

This is a basic economic theory book which is logical and substantiated. The reader has a very British accent, is entertaining but somewhat monotone. I recommend this book if you are a little rusty on economics. Most of us would be best to hear this to support our own political views or possibly to change our political views. The book also answers many questions; why are poor nations poor? Why is China so successful as compared to India? What happened to India previously? What are negative externalities? What are the problems with the American and British health plans and what is the best way to solve the insurance problem? He is both conservative and sometimes liberal, so we can say middle of the road. He is fair. Sometimes the book is humorous at least as much as an economics text can be.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Samuel
  • Somerville, MA, USA
  • 03-02-07

Required reading for voters!

Harford explains lucidly how the free market determines how resources are allocated, why it seems to work well much of the time, why it fails under some circumstances, and what sort of government actions would appropriately address those failures. Much of the latter half of the book is devoted to the effects of increased global trade, including a whole chapter on the miraculous success of China. I didn't find all of it well argued; for example, his argument that globalization is not significantly harmful to the environment was painted in broad strokes and not well-supported. But overall, this book is an enjoyable elucidation of the world's dominant economic model, and should be read by anyone who... well, votes.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Excellent Insight

Very good treatment of the economic concepts that we often ponder but for which we have no definitive solutions. Using an inductive approach the author explains a simple model for defining scarcity and its effects and then applies it to a number of tangential yet relevant areas. Very mind expanding for the economically curious.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tim
  • Fremont, NE, United States
  • 01-15-09

Deserves more than 1 listen

I listened to this audiobook over a year ago and can't believe how many things in life I've seen that ring true with what the author has to say in this book. I actually found myself re-listening to parts of the book - somethig I almost NEVER do!

Probably the most interesting treatise in the book is the discussion about why poor countries stay poor. Having traveled to Cambodia recently, and to Russia right after the fall of Communism, the things the author said about this topic really seemed to hold water. However, had I not read this book, I never would have seen the common thread between the two.

In some ways, this book reminds me of "Freakonomics", but seems more profound and well thought out.

Liked it so well, that I bought his other audiobook.

Only criticsim (and a small one) is that the author can tend to "overexplain" his position. But, it's a small issue - and the book's content and benefit easily transcend this issue.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Margaret
  • Pacific Grove, CA, USA
  • 04-26-10

Not For High School Graduates

I was very disappointed in this book and want my 10 hours can keep the money! was embarrassed for anyone who listens to this who doesn't know that supply and demand are basic to economics which is lectured about over and over again in this book. I was pulled in by the idea that essays were going to clue me in to stuff I didn't already know but this was not the case. Honestly, I was appalled at the dumb-downedness of this book and could have overlooked this if there were more than just a few interesting facts about products and how they are sold. Disappointed.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • fred
  • greensboro nc
  • 06-28-14

The dismal science made a little less dismal

Making the dismal science a little less dismal is something the Undercover Economist has accomplished. As a fan of boring books, I found this one a little less boring. The biggest problem is that the recording was completed in 2005. Many aspects related to economics changed greatly post-recession of 2008 and therefore seem a little less realistic. The reader is excellent. I could listen to him read the phone book!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Noah
  • New York, New York
  • 03-03-14

Econ 101 in a book!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend this book. Listen to this book, and you can skip your undergrad Econ 101 course - you'll already know everything in it, without ever having to draw a single supply-and-demand graph.

What did you like best about this story?

Tim Harford is an incomparable master of clear and simple, yet effective explanation of difficult concepts.

Which scene was your favorite?

This book doesn't have scenes.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No; each section should be enjoyed on its own.

Any additional comments?

The sequel is great too!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well worth it

Really enjoyed his discussion about markets, both their power and limits. Harford doesn't try to explain too much with his theories, and the conclusions he does draw are well supported. If you like books like Freakonomics, you will like this as well.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • James
  • Fairfax, VA, USA
  • 07-09-07

economics rules!

A great read, which uncovers many things about the world that will clarify them for the ordinary reader, and even for the ordinary economist (like myself).

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Insightful Read

I enjoyed this book's insights into what really makes our society tick. It goes beyond the popular conclusions into the basics of motivation and structure. Worth it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful