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The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  5,391 ratings  ·  291 reviews
THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST showed how ordinary economics explained everyday curiosities, such as the price of a cup of coffee and the traffic jam on the way to the supermarket. THE LOGIC OF LIFE shows how the new economics of rational choice theory explains much, much more.

Drug addicts and teenage muggers can be rational. Suburban sprawl and inner city decay are rational. En
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 25th 2008 by Little, Brown (first published January 1st 2008)
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Dustin Allison
I've been trying to increase my understanding of economics lately, and have found myself reading a lot of books like this one. From 'The Undercover Economist' to 'Freakonomics' I feel a lot more informed about the world, but also better equipped to view my surroundings from new perspectives.

This book is no exception. Harford has a knack for delivering complex information to the everyday reader in an entertaining way. Most importantly, he deals with issues that are relevant to the average person
Mar 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The explanatory ambition of this book is stunning--Harford offers rational actor explanations of changes in sexual activity, racial segregation in cities, professional poker, the number of people in parks at different times of day, the productivity of cities, the industrial revolution, colonization, and even why human beings eventually triumphed over neanderthals!

Along the way you get informative sketches of major 20th century economists and game theorists and their theories.

I was most impress
Oct 11, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I like this type of book, but sometimes it feels like pseudoscience. What the heck! It was insightful to be introduced to Kahneman and Tversky in a book like say Against the Gods, and then to have it rebutted in the first few chapters of this book.

While I may enjoy it, it is going to leave me a little like freakonomics, i.e., a good book but not quite a classic.

After reading it, I must say it is looking like a lesser book than freakonomics. Afterall, freakonomics was the first in this genre.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing. Very shallow and simplistic.
Fairly early in the book I reached the statement that the author's morning coffee habit and an addiction to heroin are basically the same thing, just different in a matter of degree.
If I had the book from the library I would have given up at that point, but having paid for the book I soldiered on, unfortunately, hoping for something better to turn up. No such luck. The book ends with a ridiculous speculation about why the Neanderthals went extinct
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
You might feel the book interesting but there were many instances I would find myself saying "Really? You are claiming those to be comparable in a book espousing the role of rationality?" ...more
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers who can identify the wild jumps in logic, yet still enjoy the book
Recommended to Carly by: the author's radio programme and other book--that'll teach me to theorize ahead of the evidence.
**edited 01/18/14

Tim Harford, you're breaking my heart, and more importantly, you're undermining my faith in quantitative economics. I am a passionate fan of your BBC radio show, "More or Less." What could possibly be more entertaining than a topical radio programme that uses statistics to fact-check the politicians, especially if it occasionally measures things in whales and/or Wales? Sure, I don't have the same faith in rationality that you do--well, not without completely bending the meaning
Andy Turner
Interesting book which raises various psychological issues in its exploration of rational decision making. Some of the issues raised are set in context with geographical examples, which I like.

The author, Tim Harford, is a self proclaimed economist and he has a website:

I thought the book was calling for a closer integration of economics into social science research to develop a clearer understanding of the way things work. Maybe this is happening, but nevertheless, I won
Harford books are well-written, engaging, and funny. If you loved the Freakonomics books, are a Malcolm Gladwell fan, and want more, I wholeheartedly recommend these.

The Logic of Life is a great read, with a thesis that I like, although it isn't breaking news. Basically, Harford points out that, even when people seem crazy and stupid, they're usually acting rationally and responding to incentives.

It definitely reads a bit like a collection of articles that was tweaked to make into a book. The
Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
A grandiose title that tells you this book is a little more ambitious than "The Undercover Economist". Harford writes with passion and urgency, defending rational choice theory as a useful framework for predicting in the majority of cases how the majority of people behave. Because people change their behaviours in response to incentives (and these include non-financial ones), rational choice theory also lends itself well to policymaking.

Someone needs to write about how those incentives can or s
Review for The Logic of Life
Author Tim Harford
ISBN: 978-1-58836-682-5

“The logic of life: the rational economics of an irrational world”

My chief beef with economics has always been based on 2 simple observations:
(1)Men and women are not rational creatures
(2)Economics is horrible at forecasting future events because of irrational behavior

My conclusion then is that economics as a field of study is flawed and there are no “laws of economics” because the field is so full of potholes there can’t be.
Chapter Seven, "The World is Spiky" was my favorite. Main points included that "ideas in the air"/exchange between people are greater in big cities with more diversity in professional areas, as well as racial populations. So cities like NYC and LA are preferable to cities with big companies like Seattle or small firms in concentrated field like Boston. Technology only aids the interactions, doesn't make geography moot. ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a wonderful book. too smart. it actually covers almost all topics in life

(a) sex and oral sex
(b) game theory and poker - my personal favourite
(c) marriage
(d) work
(e) neigbourhood
(f) politics
(g) revolutions
(h) speculations (2 thought experiments)

and etc

its central theme is rationality, i.e. why human choices are mostly rational when we are in our comfort zone.


should have read this book earlier!
Azita Rassi
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I listened to the audiobook, which had a very good performance, but the subject matter really requires “reading with the eyes”, preferably a group reading with a chance to discuss all these interesting ideas.
Jun 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the chapters of the book are interesting (game theory, marriage and divorce) but others look like wild guesses. In many cases, he presents
events as causal when in my opinion they are only correlated.

(view spoiler)
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
One of my complaints about mainstream economic thinking is that everything rational is defined by monetary value or obvious pleasure. This leaves many of the harmful and dangerous activities we regularly partake in as being written off as irrational. Finally an economist starts from the premise of how that thinking is wrong, vs what is wrong with the supposedly irrational person. He begins with identifying scenarios that are typically thought of as irrational and then searches for the underlying ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very weak book on rational choice theory. Backed up with some primitive comments on game theory. Only chapter 6 on rational racism is worth a read really.
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ever since Stevens, Levitt and Dubner broke into the scene with their enormously popular Freakonomics, there has been a multitude of popular economics books. Books that uses the tools of economics -- the study of incentives, laws of supply and demand, trade-offs -- and apply them to everyday life. The result is often a fun, counterintuitive explanation of how the world works. Dubner and Levitt's most memorable contribution being attributing the decreasing crime rates in the U.S. to legalizing ab ...more
Mark Russell
A frequently fascinating, tightly reasoned entry in the gonzo economist movement which has become all the rage in the last ten years.

Now for the mandatory comparison to Freakonomics: Though not as hyped or flashy as Levitt & Dubner's growing franchise, like them Harford applies the methodology of economics in answering questions about social values and human nature. And in many instances, The Logic of Life is more challenging and meticulously researched than his genre's more popular counterpart.
Mohammad Ali Abedi
I’m fascinated by using data to understand things. I’ve been doing it for myself for a while now. Either looking at datas for countries to figure things out, looking at opinion polls to better understand societies and people, or look at my own personal data, to figure myself out.

The book does the same thing. It looks at various data from different moments of time, and attempts to come at various conclusions. By relying on data as much as possible, a person can make sure that conventional wisdom,
H. Blacksten
Apr 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an educational and entertaining dissertation on "rational economics," a newer branch of the "dismal science." It purports to show that much of what we often judge as irrational behavior is not, at least not from the actor's perspective. Which is not to say that it is good for the larger society. The book is a non-technical in that it has no equations or charts, but it delves into some subtle concepts in economics and game theory. A real pean to Thomas Schelling, the Nobel Prize winning e ...more
Jun 06, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a classic example of my low intellectual ambition, self-confidence, and industry. It is an undergraduate introduction level course that I’m taking just to feel smug about having heard everything before and interjecting periodically with an obnoxious ‘actually…’ or ‘furthermore...’ or ‘have you considered…’. I usually pick light reading for my running-playlists but this was not even excusable as run-light, just because there’s so much overlap with all the other popular economics and ...more
Mar 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An economist proves that people are more rational than we think

Economists no longer just propose fiscal policies, forecast business growth, investigate interest rates and assign value to financial assets. Now they also conduct lab experiments, research teenagers’ sexual activities, analyze prostitutes’ condom usage, hypothesize about what happened to the Neanderthals, explain crime waves and develop winning poker strategies. Look under the bed or out the window, and you will probably find an eco
Jan 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Of all the pop economics books I've read (at least 3!) in the last few years, this is my current favorite. Asserting that people act rationally -- conventional economic wisdom for 300 years -- is unconventional again, and this book does a nice job of putting that in some perspective.

It's most notable for its survey of economic work that identifies off-beat, or less-visible "incentives" that cause people to behave as they do. It also provides a useful contrast to the economics laboratory studies
Feb 10, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book looks to be interesting, in a similar vein to Freakonomics.

BUT: I'm on page 4 of chapter 1, and my hackles are already up. Why? Because of the term "regular sex" being used interchangeably with "penetrative sex," specifically excluding "oral sex" as being "regular". It's a little better than if the term "normal sex" was used... but not by much. It seems all the more strange since part of the author's point is that the performance of oral sex is increasing - making it even more "regular
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book

I heard Tim Harford on Start the Week a month or three back - I can't remember what he said now but it was interesting enough for me to order his book from the library. When the book turned up I wasn't convinced that I was going to find it that enthralling but I ended up loving it.

This is all about how the world is shaped by pretty much everyone making rational choices about the world around them and yet we end up with some things, like rough neighbourhoods or overpaid bosses, that don't appear

Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book I wish I owned, The Logic of Life is a great follow up to The Undercover Economist, the author's previous effort. In this book, Tim Harford examines how rational choices make the world go round. Fascinating examples abound including how teenagers recently (and rationally) prefer oral sex to old fashioned sex after weighing the risks and benefits of each. And how the 2000 World Series of Poker Champion used game theory to sew up his victory. There is enough intellectually challenging mate ...more
Kuhajeyan Gunaratnam
We are rational sometimes/most of the time than we think. This hidden rational choices surfaces everywhere in a life, why is your boss is overpaid, how rational racism deprived the African Americans and why divorce rates seems to be overwhelming? Tim offers some plausible explanations for this. Most notable thread that runs along the book is, how game theory influence in our life choices, most of the time invisibly.

Content is somewhat interesting, but I thought book lacked real grip of message.
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
All in all a solid book. It uses Game Theory and Research by Economists to provide some interesting insights into our everyday life. Especially the beginning is well researched and solid. As the book progresses, the author tackles more and more complex and big subjects. E.g. it progresses from "why do CEOs get so much money which appears to be out of contact with reality?" to the question of "how will cities develop in the future?" and "where did the european growth of the last 2-3 centuries com ...more
Void lon iXaarii
The author is back undercover, with another brilliantly written well researched book of analysis of everything all around us. Fascinating analysis of incentives and realities in our every day life, ranging from neighborhood issues, teen sexuality and gambling through racism, real estate and big scale social changes. Fascinating stuff. Even knowing about this very interesting way of making sense of seemingly random life elements I'm again blown away by how many things he's able to explain and rea ...more
Dr. Lloyd E. Campbell
This is one of those books written by an economist who longs to be a sociologist. The subtitle of this book; "Rational economics in an irrational world," more accurately reflects the content than the main title does. Two chapters particularly interesting to me are "The dangers of rational racism" and "Is divorce underrated?" The chapter on rational racism makes sense as to why racism is so difficult to change and the chapter on divorce points out how the self-reinforcing loop leading to divorce ...more
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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

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