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

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  636 ratings  ·  109 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
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Viking (first published 2014)
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Flash Boys by Michael LewisSmall Move, Big Change by Caroline L. ArnoldLeaders Eat Last by Simon SinekThink Like a Freak by Steven D. LevittCreativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Business Books 2014
13th out of 30 books — 51 voters
Zero to One by Peter ThielCapital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas PikettyThe Up Side of Down by Megan McArdleLessons of Hope by Joel KleinThe First Civil Right by Naomi Murakawa
Austrian Economic Reads of 2014
3rd out of 19 books — 3 voters


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Community Reviews

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Judy
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
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Joe Flood
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
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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
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Book
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
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Emily Slomski
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
Bimal Patel
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.
Nathaniel
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
Joy
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
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Daniel
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
Matt
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
Tim
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
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Mander Pander
(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
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Kevin Modlin

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
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Joe
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
Bett Correa
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.
Ryan
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.

Experiments
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Haris
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
Kay
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
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Katie Johnson
This book had a nice balance between the author's own life experience and short anecdotal stories from recent history-- everything from GM and the 2008 bailouts to current unemployment rates and jobseeking, America's unique system of filing for bankruptcy, and the entrepreneurial spirit of individuals in America which distinguishes it from every other country.

Other books have been written about failure before, but I really just enjoyed the thoughtful discussion of the necessity of failure and ho
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Marietje
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
Jens Fiederer
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...")
Rich Bennett
5 days ago, I found out that I would not be getting tenure at the university where I have been serving as an assistant professor for the last 4 years. I was devastated and felt like a complete failure that would now be lucky to land a job at the local McDonald's. During the weekend and following spring break following that Friday, I read a lot of websites about losing tenure and came across this book. While it doesn't address how to deal with individual failure exclusively, it was a big help in ...more
Daniel Jaindl
The Up Side of Down was a fantastic read! I was not familiar with the author when I first picked up the book, but the thesis appealed to me as someone interested both in entrepreneurship and in the learning process. The adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" never appealed to me because there are things that do make you weaker if you don't recover from them properly, and Megan McArdle does a splendid job of explaining the difference between failing and failing well.

I would especially
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Olivia
I greatly enjoyed this book, for its interesting anecdotes and it's compassionate premise. I partially agree with Mander, although this is by no means a 1 star book : I would have liked more analysis into what practical tools you can use to tell which paths are failing due to lack of experience vs just being wrong. That may be putting a heavy burden on the author though - no one is an expert in all fields nor can anyone anticipate all of the ways something can possibly fail. The overall message ...more
Natalie Keating
This book had an interesting premise and great introduction that intrigued me. Unfortunately, it did not live up to its promise. It seemed like the author really, really wanted to write a book because she was at a certain stage in her career and felt that as a journalist, it was time to write a book. So, she took a bunch of articles she'd written—good articles, I might add—and strung them all together in one book. Though she intended to have a clear thesis, the thread was lost more than a few ti ...more
Jacqui Allen
This book wasn't too bad. It was interesting enough to read but a very macro view that was not really applicable to a personal situation (at least for me).

It discussed larger topics such as the US prison system, the financial collapse, US bankruptcy rules etc.

Thought it was a little too generous to the architects of Wall Street's demise (short-term) pretty much stating "at worse they were guilty of insufficient imagination" to imagine a total financial meltdown. Sorry but I heartily disagree w
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Steve Carroll
Loved it. I've been reading McArdle for many years on her blog and this book definitely touches on some her common themes but wasn't at all what I was expecting (in a good way!). First up, this book is not particularly partisan at all. I found it pretty inspirational actually. The basic idea is that in our attempts to create a society without risk we are actually slowly destroying the things that make us successful as a society. We raise kids who are so hovered over that they never actually have ...more
Karen
An easy and informative read that proceeds sensibly from topic to topic. People with views to the left and right of McArdle's will likely still find things with which they can disagree without disputing the central thesis . . . which is, after all, hardly controversial; we all know that rebounding from our mistakes influences our future success. But McArdle lays out and examines the elements of failure in an entertaining and interesting way, making each chapter a complete work that could stand a ...more
Deborah
An interesting look at the recommended way to fail well: Quickly and with resilience.
Chris Aylott
McArdle has chosen a well-worn theme for her first book: failure is good for you, if you have the sense and resources to learn from it. As a result, there isn't a lot of new material here. In fact, McArdle seems to get a lot of her material from the same sources that Nate Silver got his book from.

That said, she's a sprightly writer and has a great story to tell when she digs into her own personal life. If you need a reminder not to double down on a lost cause, this is a book well worth reading -
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“Learning to fail well means learning to understand your mistakes, because unless you know what went wrong, you may do the wrong things to correct it.” 1 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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