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The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  892 Ratings  ·  129 Reviews
For readers of Drive, Outliers, and Daring Greatly, a counterintuitive, paradigm-shifting new take on what makes people and companies succeed

Most new products fail. So do most small businesses. And most of us, if we are honest, have experienced a major setback in our personal or professional lives. So what determines who will bounce back and follow up with a home run? If y
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Viking (first published 2014)
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Jan 27, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have to say I started it expecting a touchy-feely, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" tome full of inspirational stories and ten point lists of Things You Can Do To Turn Your Life Around.

Instead, the book turned out to be a thoughtful, well researched discussion of failure, from medical mistakes to personal job loss to the economic crash of 2008.

As it turns out there is a lot of useful information
Joe Flood
Feb 02, 2014 Joe Flood rated it really liked it
Megan McCardle has failed. By her own admission, she has failed multiple times, from her love life to her career choices. Which makes her the perfect person to write the book on failure.

The Up Side of Down argues that we all must learn to fail a little better, a little faster and to, most importantly, learn from the experience. There is no growth without failure, whether we’re talking economies or individuals.

McCardle bolsters her case with examples from business, medicine, physchology and econo
Jeff Raymond
Having been a reader of Megan McArdle for years now, I figured I would at least find her first book, The Up Side of Down to be enjoyable and compelling. Instead, it turns out that it's a fun, solid book on the virtues of failure and a solid look at failure in society and politics.

Extremely readable and peppered with both personal anecdotes and great examples throughout, it doesn't do much try to recommend a way out of failure, but instead talk about how failure is handled by different people, gr
Aug 10, 2014 Book rated it really liked it
The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle

"The Up Side of Down" is an engaging and interesting book on how failing can lead to success. With a good grasp of economics and the ability to relate her personal experiences into her narrative, columnist and DC based writer Megan McArdle provides readers with an interesting perspective of what it takes to prosper. This provocative 321-page book includes the following ten chapters: 1. Failure is Fundamental, 2. The Virt
Kevin Modlin
Aug 14, 2013 Kevin Modlin rated it it was amazing

The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle is a wonderful book that, as the title explains, shows that making a mistake isn't always bad. The real mistake is failing to learn from the experience. McArdle's blog on Bloomberg often looks at current economic events in a way that dissects the issues insightfully. In the same way this book looks at everything from bankruptcy, business cycles, failed movies, criminal probation, and hospital diagnosis, to poor reportin
Emily Slomski
Dec 27, 2013 Emily Slomski rated it really liked it
Shelves: bsu-spring-14
McArdle has crafted a narrative which tells an important story. This book's thesis is that failure is the most effective path to success. She proves her point through personal accounts, case studies of business, governments, and organizations, and through statistical data. This book was fun to read and I learned an interesting fact every few pages. Most importantly, it has changed the way I view my past experiences and will shape my future perspective as well. This book comes out in stores in Fe ...more
Jul 20, 2014 Daniel rated it liked it
The thesis is useful. Failing is how we all learn. But we adults try to avoid failure, and without it, it's hard to be great. The problem with this book is that it meanders off on innumerable, only slightly relevant, largely libertarian tangents. She argues with 9/11 "truthers," extols the virtues of Hawaii's HOPE probation program, and encourages her husband to play video games when he gets laid off. Sometimes interesting, sometimes not. But definitely not paradigm shifting. But since it's bett ...more
Bimal Patel
Dec 28, 2013 Bimal Patel rated it really liked it
I received this book as a gift from goodreads giveaway and absolutely loved reading it. The author presents a completely valid and yet unacknowledged viewpoint in today's world. It does take multiple failures to eventually achieve success. If by any chance you enjoyed reading the book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, then you will enjoy this book as well.
Feb 19, 2014 Tim rated it liked it
McArdle has a wonderful and enjoyable style of writing. She's a practiced raconteur which is always a blessing when reading a book. Furthermore, I could see myself hanging out with her and truly enjoying a conversation, because her interest and mine are closely aligned, as are our viewpoints.

Unfortunately this book doesn't quite live up to its promise. On the final page of the book, I finally understood the title - which if you think about it, likely meant there were often times where I was wond
Sep 10, 2014 Nathaniel rated it it was amazing
Megan McArdle's new book was a pretty amazing experience for me. First, because she hit the high notes of basically every philosophical, economical, and political topic I have studied and been fascinated by in the last 5 years. Second, because it was a really interesting fusion of those ideas into a general treatise on failure: in our personal lives and as a policy question. And lastly because--in very great contrast to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Matt rated it it was amazing
Megan McArdle has always impressed me with her writing. She has a talent for looking critically at social issues and dispelling the dogma or knee-jerk thinking too often associated with public policy. So it did not surprise me that I found The Upside of Down so engaging and enlightening. Megan's insights are applicable to so many facets of our lives - parenting, education, careers, public policy (in many areas), financial management, self-analysis - I am hard pressed to think of an audience that ...more
Mander Pander
Dec 20, 2013 Mander Pander rated it did not like it
Shelves: gr-first-reads, 2014
(Non-obligatory disclaimer: I won this book as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. The publisher sent it to me in return for an objective review.)

I hope for many great things for Megan McArdle; if the events included in her book are unvarnished portrayals of her life, she has accumulated enough sadness and hardship already.
This is an abysmal book. My understanding from the cover is that it is supposed to be about taking the worst breaks and using them to create the greatest turnabouts. Wh
Apr 07, 2014 Joy rated it it was amazing
There's more to "learn by failure" than the canned nonsense about how we need to get back up on the horse.

This is a book about how essential it is for individuals, businesspeople, and citizens to analyze--really look at--the things that don't work, or didn't work . . . in our jobs, our family lives, and in the policies our leaders pursue.

Ms. McArdle does a nice job of distinguishing the mind-set about unsuccessful enterprises here in the U.S. (where having been part of a start-up, even one that
Jeff Keehr
Nov 25, 2015 Jeff Keehr rated it liked it
This is a disorganized book, but in spite of that I enjoyed it. She begins by talking about how we need to make smart mistakes in order to grow and learn. By smart, she means that taking crazy risks and losing horribly is not a formula for improving your life. But planning and hard work will pay premiums if you take a calculated risk. This is what small business owners do. She talks about a lot of topics and I often don't see how the topics are connected but she still pulls it off. She mentions ...more
May 29, 2014 Joe rated it it was ok
Something about this book just wasn't enjoyable for me. I wanted to like it and was interested in learning more about risk-taking and removing stigmas from failure in order to better understand paths to success, but..I dunno...I just wasn't feeling this book. It started out strong, but with each of the following anecdotal tales she relays I was getting taken further and further away from what I was interested in. McArdle's very unbiased and her stories/explanations/explorations come from a wide ...more
Sep 16, 2016 Robert rated it liked it
Economics slanted psychological biases. Narrator sounds like Kaname Tsunemori from anime Psychopass, which deals with themes of free-will and determinism in a political context.

The book discusses failling heroically in about ten different contexts, two of them are nursing and car-manufacturing.

Most interesting sentence in the book:

"Most of the time you can get away with launching a terrible product, or with not washing your hands, but one time in a thousand, you will kill a person, or a company
Bett Correa-Bollhoefer
May 05, 2014 Bett Correa-Bollhoefer rated it really liked it
I was expecting another book but what I got was also good. Megan's voice carries an almost unrelated group of topics which all touch on failure. She does draw lessons on how we can use failure to reach success, but the reader must focus very hard to turn the ideas into topics we can apply to our own lives.
Jens Fiederer
Mar 05, 2014 Jens Fiederer rated it really liked it
This book is significant on both a personal and a public policy level, with the emphasis on the personal. Good anecdotes and lively presentation make the point that the ability to recover from failure allows people to take the sort of risks that improve society as a whole.

Recommended theme song:

Tubthumping by Chumbawamba ("I get knocked down, but I get up again...")
Mar 02, 2014 Deborah rated it it was ok
An interesting look at the recommended way to fail well: Quickly and with resilience.
May 17, 2014 Kay rated it it was amazing
Okay, so full disclosure: Megan is a friend of mine and we went to each other's weddings. But that shouldn't detract from the fact that this is a really well-executed book.

Few business or politics books actually come with a framework that make you re-see the world through a different lens, but McArdle does just that, and argues her framing convincingly. After all, who can't find the idea of spectacular failure actually becoming the key to success? It's too irresistible -- particularly from the
Gil Rosenberg
Jun 13, 2014 Gil Rosenberg rated it did not like it
This is the first book I have read where the actual content of the book have little or nothing to do with the title. I still can't figure out what why the first and second chapter (half of the 2nd)were included in this book. Lots of anecdotes, studies, examples,facts and figures but there are few examples of failing well despite failing. It is patch writing at its worst. That is taking a lot of various pieces of stuff and patching it together. No originality at all, just lots of cutting, pasting ...more
Sep 13, 2013 Dan rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I am a longtime reader of Megan McArdle, so I have encountered a lot of the ideas and themes in this book. It is an excellent distillation of the issues that animate her in her blogging, and for that reason, it's easy to recommend. Particular highlights would be the chapter on medical error and on Dan Rather. And really, McArdle is at the top of her profession; no one in the industry writes more persuasively and clearly on such a breadth of policy topics.

With that said, I don't think the book co
Oct 20, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I almost didn’t get past the dust jacket of this book, due to the subtitle, “Bouncing Back in Business and in Life”. Not another self-help tome, I thought. I dipped into a couple of chapters and paragraphs to see if I could garner a feel for the book - page sixty seven, according to Frank Skinner, is roughly where an author is hitting their stride, or not. If that’s an interesting page, the book could be a keeper.
Unfortunately I can’t remember if it was Page 67 I read, but I glanced at enough to
Feb 06, 2014 Marietje rated it really liked it
Like some of the other reviewers I entered the give-away for this book thinking that it was more a psychological "Gve Them New Hope" approach. I could not have been more wrong, when I leafed through the pages, it looked like most of it was about economy. Yikes! This is a subject I have been avoiding ever since one semester of it in high school. Grudgingly I started reading. It turned out to be much more entertaining than your boring economy classroom textbook. The main reason is that Megan McArd ...more
Jun 07, 2014 Haris rated it it was amazing
The Up Side of Down is a tour of failure: failure in love, business, and policy. The message is simple: making it easy to recover from failure is a good thing for the world, and especially the economy. She sprinkles stories of her own personal lows into discussions of policy issues that deal with failure, like bankruptcy, welfare reform, and probation for criminals. It’s not a self-help book, though it does remind you to learn from failure and move on rather than let it cripple you. Instead, it’ ...more
Malin Friess
Apr 25, 2014 Malin Friess rated it liked it
This book was flipped from a beach chair and was found up side down in Crescent Lake. It was quickly retreived and allowed to dry in the sun. I thought the book was still readable with just slightly bloated ends and discolored pages. It was returned to the Lomas Library here in Albuquerque and a few weeks later I received a note for a $27 dollar fine. I paid the fine (consider it a donation as I use the library frequently) and they were kind enough to "give" me the book back.

Megan McArdle writes
Titus Fortner
Mar 16, 2014 Titus Fortner rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the first non-fiction book I've read completely cover to cover since... Stephen Hawking's book back in high school.

This review will be somewhat biased. I've religiously read Megan's blog for about 5 years. Of anyone who spouts opinions on the internet, her pragmatic, libertarian-leaning approach resonates with me the most. When she took a break from her blog several years ago, I got very excited that she must be writing a book, and when it was announced I immediately pre-ordered it.

The c
Sep 30, 2015 Denise rated it really liked it
McArdle is one of my favorite columnists, and this book is essentially ten long columns edited together around the theme of failure. Every time I finished a chapter I made a nuisance of myself, telling anybody in range about the new, interesting stuff I found out. I may even buy a copy to give away.

I especially enjoyed her musings on how praising your kids wrong can ruin their lives. People who think success comes from talent and intelligence ("You're so smart!") are afraid to fail and never le
Mar 15, 2014 Katherine rated it it was amazing
This is now up there with The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable as books I think are must-reads for people who: think they're smart, are in charge of people who think they're smart (teachers, parents, amangers), have considered an MBA or are getting one or have one, etc.

It's not perfect--I see Dan's point about how there isn't quite the overarching narrative to make the case for the title as it is, vs. his alternative title of Failure: Why it is Inevitable, Dangerous, and Absolutel
Dec 21, 2014 Ryan rated it it was ok
This book was up and down for me. But a few good stories and takeaways.

Fave clips:
Learning to fail well means overcoming our natural instincts to blame someone - maybe ourselves - whenever something goes wrong.

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.

Our brains are "causality machines": you see something happen and your brain creates a causal story that accounts for it. This can be extraordinarily dangerous.

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“the people who dislike challenges think that talent is a fixed thing that you’re either born with or not. The people who relish them think that it’s something you can nourish by doing stuff you’re not good at.” 2 likes
“Work finally begins,” says Alain de Botton, “when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” 2 likes
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