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The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy (The Undercover Economist)

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,179 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
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 wor
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 16th 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published 2013)
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May 14, 2016 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics

I approached this book with some trepidation. It's book about macroeconomics - the large scale economics of concern to countries and governments. Plus it is written by an economist working for the Financial Times, which in itself is not an easy read. It seemed likely to be way over my head. But the book has had lots of reviews commenting upon its accessibility and humour; so I decided to go for it. In the event I had no regrets. It was excellent.

It is written in the format of you, the reader, w
Kressel Housman
Apr 04, 2014 Kressel Housman rated it really liked it
I’m a fan of Tim Harford a/k/a “the Undercover Economist.” He’s an academic who has thrown his hat into the pop economics genre, but while he does use a conversational tone and give real life examples, he doesn’t dumb the concepts down. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t always understand what he’s talking about. That was especially true of this book, the fourth of his that I’ve read so far. It’s the shortest and written in a Q&A style that anticipated my questions and threw in jokes her ...more
Mar 24, 2014 Edmole rated it liked it
Not nearly as flat out interesting as The Undercover Economist, more of an interesting (fake) conversation about how the big tectonic plates of economies shift. Although, in offering a guide to improving the economy I found it disappointingly heterodox and vanilla, in that there was no suggestion that a different structure to lightly regulated international free markets was available or possible, whereas he was able to offer plenty of fresh insight into small scale economic phenomena in the orig ...more
Josh Friedlander
Mar 04, 2015 Josh Friedlander rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Perfectly balanced guide to understanding the world's economic shambles (includes up-to-date insights on Bitcoin and the Euro crisis) pitched at amateurs but still covering a lot of the essentials. I learned a lot and it never felt like homework. The jokes are awful; Harford is an unapologetic free-market wonk. Still highly recommended for anyone with the relevant interests.
Daniel Taylor
Sep 13, 2013 Daniel Taylor rated it really liked it
Shelves: reference, economics
In his latest Undercover Economist book, Tim Harford puts you – the reader – in charge of an economy and shows you how to make it work.

Harford is a microeconomist, meaning he looks at the impact of individuals and firms on an economy. This time round he tackles macroeconomics, which looks at the broader issues in an economy and their possible causes.

He introduces problems one after the other that affect an economy, and just as you think you’ve got his point and the required solution; he introduc
Jun 06, 2016 Aparna rated it it was amazing
Absolutely Brilliant. To begin with Tim used a very simple situation and built the whole idea using that as a seed. If only economics could be taught in colleges like this, I probably would've paid much more attention to the lectures. Must read for anyone interested in business. In fact would even recommend it to those who are about to join B-school. It will make you appreciate economics even more.
Jurij Fedorov
May 08, 2016 Jurij Fedorov rated it liked it
Yet another low level macroeconomics book. And it does explain how economists explain and define the basic principles of economics. A good start for people wanting to get into a discussion on the subject.

Very simple book. The language is clear and most examples are clearly explained. Easy to understand and the dialogue with the student character in the book adds an interesting narration to the book. Also pretty much explains the basics and even uses some great examples.

At times more focu
Apr 17, 2016 Thomas rated it really liked it
Monetary policy, GDP, inflation, deflation, and an amazing guy named Bill Phillips are among the various subjects Tim Harford expounds upon for the curious passerby. The book is written in the form of a dialogue, though the conversation is somewhat lopsided and contrived. One fellow is an economics expert and the other is a rather dim bulb who makes the obvious rejoinders without enriching the discussion very much. Despite this, the dialogue form works, and is probably an appropriate vehicle for ...more
Henna Pääkkönen
This was the first book i read by Tim Harford, a columnist of the FT. I saw this at an airport and thought id give it a try since it talks about macroeconomics, a subject i love, and studied at uni. I found the writer humouristic, and i guess he was targeting a reader who had no background in economics at all...Harford spells out practical examples to explain key economic concepts such as inflation, deflation, recession, unemployment, inequality etc etc For sure the author is an expert on the su ...more
Jun 13, 2014 GONZA rated it liked it
I have to admit that, unfortunately, I didn' like this book as much as the first, nor did I find it likewise interesting. I found it all too theoretical and impractical, except for the example of the nanny clearly, because it concerns us, but it is as if, in the wave of the success of the first book, the author had wanted to repeat but he was sensationally short of ideas .....

Devo ammettere che purtroppo, questo libro non mi é piaciuto tanto quanto il primo, né mi ha parimenti interessato. Ho tr
Dennis Mitton
Feb 24, 2014 Dennis Mitton rated it really liked it
It’s odd in economic writing but Hartford makes a genuine attempt to understand and explain economics based on numbers without political bias. In a sea of books purporting to explain why the other guy is wrong and the writer is correct it’s nice, I think, to find an accessible writer focusing on what is provable. Well, arguable.

Hartford has the enjoyable skill for making the difficult sound a little less so. His writing is accessible and his explanations easy to digest. Compared to his other boo
Dave Morris
Dec 28, 2013 Dave Morris rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: Tim Harford is a very good friend of mine. And yet I think I can objectively explain why you might like this book. A basis of our friendship is that we are both curious, discursively argumentative, enthusiastic Gedankenexperiment types. One of the things I look forward to is a lively discussion with Tim over coffees, and that's exactly what reading this book is like. Ah, you may say, but surely there is no discussion here as you don't get to talk back? Well, Tim has that covered ...more
Teresa Fung
Feb 22, 2015 Teresa Fung rated it it was ok
It definitely is not as good as the first undercover economist. The dialogue between a supposed reader and the writer was just silly and the concepts explored and explained were difficult to understand even for someone who had studied first year uni of economics and years of business. However, on the positive side, there are a good source of reference material provided from the footnotes for those that are more interested in areas covered which is good and informative. There were indeed some poi ...more
Frans Saxén
Tim Harford takes the reader on a entertaining and enlightening trip through macroeconomics. In the same style as his Financial Times columns, he guides the reader through issues like unemployment, economic growth, and happiness, to name a few. While the style is a bit idiosyncratic, taking the form of answering a fictitious reader's questions it works very well. Potentially difficult issues are illustrated with well chosen episodes, e.g. the babysitting co-op and POW camp. For those familiar wi ...more
Nathan Albright
Apr 27, 2016 Nathan Albright rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge
Although this book is called an unabridged audiobook, the author clearly makes some comments here that he likely did not make in the original printed version of the book, at one point near the conclusion of the book commenting on the decoupling between energy use and economic growth by pointing out the fact that ebooks or audiobooks are nearly entirely nonmaterial, as opposed to the paperbacks and hardcover volumes that I tend to read most often. The fact that as an audiobook it comes in at 6 di ...more
May 03, 2015 Suhrob rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable pop-science book on macroeconomics. While there are loads of books on micro/behavioral econ, macro is rarely tackled. I follow Tim Harford's blog so I was familiar with some of these essays, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. He really worked hard and mastered popular science writing.

But obviously one has to take it for what it is - a pop-sci book, albeit a very well written one. This doesn't even attempt to be cover some of the major topics of macro. Those areas that are covered,
Aug 05, 2015 Brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to believe that a book about macroeconomics could be such an easy - but also informative - read.

The main conceit of the book is that Harford, the economist, writes it as if he is having a conversation with you, the reader, answering your questions (only written by him) and engaging in a discussion about macroeconomic topics. I found this style both different and effective, because it is the opposite of a textbook or lecture format.

The interesting style was matched with interesting cont
Mar 10, 2014 Sally rated it it was amazing
I am already a fan of this economist's work. In this book he details how complex an economy is. He weighs the risks and rewards of various forms of government action to temper the swings of cyclical and catastrophic influences. It is rich with examples of economic crises all over the world, but most of the focus is on Britain and the US.

It would seem he leans somewhat left if you only read this, but combined with his other books I consider him appropriately centrist. Best of all, he has plenty o
Jan 29, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it
The breeziest, most engaging discussion of GDP and Keynesian economics you could ever hope to read.

I was a bit annoyed that the book raised some interesting questions and then... ended. But I suppose that's life. We don't have all the answers. Tim Harford is literally asking the questions, though. The whole book is written in the style of a Q&A with an imaginary reader. While this could easily have become annoying or cutesy it's done quite well.

Anyway I now feel like I could discuss 'stimul
Matt Kelly
Mar 22, 2015 Matt Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, so while this was a really good book the structure of the book wasn't great. The question form of each new idea was just plain annoying. In saying that, the content was great, I think he presented both sides of the argument pretty well, even though he pushed his point of view most of the time. Great starter for anyone interested in macroeconomics.
Rafael Alves
Jul 27, 2015 Rafael Alves rated it it was amazing
When it comes to a country's economy, everyone is on rapid fire - "the govn. should create more jobs", "they can't take away our rights (a.k.a. govn. incentives and checks)", " govenments ever cut on taxes?" - and since that's all we see, we assume they can't be 'all' wrong. This book will teach you to wield the sword of non-judgement to those coffee talkers in a language that isn't too academic to be far from coffee talk, although more fun and easy than quick on the trigger. You'll s ...more
Michael Lockwood
Jan 19, 2014 Michael Lockwood rated it really liked it
The Undercover Economist Strikes Back is about macroeconomics aimed for the average easy to understand overview of the study of the economy of taken as a whole. This description may make it seem like boring difficult read, but text brims with Tim Harford's wit and skill at explaining complex subjects in regular english. It's a followup to Harford's earlier book The Undercover Economist which was about the subject of microeconomics and follows much the same formula. Written to be a po ...more
Dec 04, 2015 Roopa rated it really liked it
As an introduction to the field of macroeconomics, this book was perfect. It explained the various factors involved in managing a nation's economy, as well as the ramifications of mismanaging many aspects. It presented opposing viewpoints unbiasedly, and then ventured to combine them into a possible solution. It also provided an overview of the 2007 recession and the Greece-euro problem, which was very helpful in coming to understand the current state of the economy, which is presumably the main ...more
Marvin Jared
May 04, 2015 Marvin Jared rated it really liked it
In listening to the audio version for the book on Overdrive platform partnered with Seattle Public Library, I found that I had a better chance of retaining the amount of nuanced information in this book. The details are as interesting, yet not as dense, as Chomsky's 'Manufacturing Consent' in terms of how the "world goes round the merry go round". With less focus from the way Chomsky's book detailed how there is manipulation of information when it is presented to ordinary folks. More so with how ...more
Ignacio Moncada
Jan 02, 2014 Ignacio Moncada rated it did not like it
Desde que escribió 'El Economista Camuflado', Tim Harford siempre ha sido uno de mis escritores favoritos sobre asuntos económicos, no tanto por su teoría económica sino por su forma de exponer sus ideas, su uso de los ejemplos y su frescura. En 'The Undercover Economist Strikes Back', Harford realiza una defensa férrea (aunque encubierta por un estilo aparentemente imparcial) de teorías macroeconómicas que sobradamente se han demostrado falsas y han sido ampliamente refutadas. Una por una, va r ...more
Sep 15, 2015 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the most readable works on economics (macro, specifically) that I have had occasion to listen to. The author used an interesting device of posing a story, then having his muse inject a question in a Socratic sort of way, followed by his answer. His explanation of Keynesian and classic responses to recession and the why of which is likely more appropriate are extremely helpful. Probably most helpful is that he admits that even the very smartest of the lot often get it wrong. This ...more
Sep 14, 2014 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In this book, Tim Harford has a change in style, writing as a dialogue. He also has a change in content, no longer regaling us with tales of odd and interesting ways in which economic researchers have been viewing and reporting the world, but looking more at what might be involved in running an economy; moving from the worlds of behavioural and microeconomics to the much vaguer world of macroeconomics. No concrete conclusions, no definite 'things to do' or 'things to watch' when running an econo ...more
Sep 16, 2014 Avneesh rated it really liked it
For non-economist, great in dept manual of macro economics. The author superbly touched the contemporary issues & changes related to macro economics and how the different crises are impacting this field. Very objective view of macro economics policies and how those are implemented in real life (structural changes as well as during crisis). This book try to clear lot of misconception related to economics, different buzzwords you hear during coffee table talks and the shouting crowd of TV.
Nick Campbell
May 13, 2015 Nick Campbell rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
First, this book is odd to adjust too because of the format. The fake conversation is a bit awkward at first, but once you get into it, it works well for delivering the information he's trying to pass off onto someone interested in economics, but without the sufficient background. If you treat it like the extended letter that someone would send to the Undercover Economist column at the FT, it makes the adjustment easier.

Many of the topics don't delve too deeply into the concepts. They are more
Scott Haraburda
Jul 04, 2014 Scott Haraburda rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Goodreads First Reads Giveaway Book.


An excellent book on macro-economics, written for non-economists. The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy isn’t a book about microeconomics, which involves what an individual does. Instead, it’s about the larger system, such as a country’s Gross Domestic Product.

A very engaging book with entertaining wit, the author was very clear in explaining the dry topics of macroeconomics, such as recessions
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Tim Harford is a member of the Financial Times editorial board. His column, “The Undercover Economist”, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences, is published in the Financial Times and syndicated around the world. He is also the only economist in the world to run a problem page, “Dear Economist”, in which FT readers’ personal problems are answered tongue-in-cheek with the late ...more
More about Tim Harford...

Other Books in the Series

The Undercover Economist (5 books)
  • The Undercover Economist
  • The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: The Prison-Camp Recession
  • The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: The Babysitting Recession
  • The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: Boss-o-nomics

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