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

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,227 ratings  ·  154 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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 ·  1,227 ratings  ·  154 reviews

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Jan 27, 2014 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 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
Jul 20, 2014 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
Aug 10, 2014 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
Feb 19, 2014 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
Mander Pander
Dec 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014, gr-first-reads
(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
Kevin Modlin
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own

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
Jun 04, 2014 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
Natalie K
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
Emily Slomski
Dec 27, 2013 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
Bimal Patel
Dec 28, 2013 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. ...more
Sep 10, 2014 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 07, 2014 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
Apr 07, 2014 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 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 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 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
Jens Fiederer
Mar 05, 2014 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...")
Bett Correa-Bollhoefer
May 05, 2014 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. ...more
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
An interesting look at the recommended way to fail well: Quickly and with resilience.
Sandra Ross
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, this was a pretty good book. McArdle makes a good case for all the reasons why learning to fail well makes us more successful in the long run (a big reason is all those lessons we should - and if we don't, then we've failed at failing - learn from falling flat on our faces).

One of the things that she does an excellent job of addressing is the Millennial problem of not being allowed to fail at all for the first 25 years (or however long Dad and Mom let you hang out for free in the baseme
Leslie Graff
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
This wasn’t exactly the book I was thinking it was going to be. It’s much more a sociological study of “failure” than a personal self-help guide. There are definitely things to be learned at the personal level but overall, it seemed like a number of connected essays than a cohesive work. I found myself putting it down after a chapter and losing the train of thought by the next chapter. It’s a fine book, just not particularly engaging for me.
I did have a few points that seemed of relevance to me:
Ghizlane Eddiba
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've learned a lot reading this book. I understood other cultures, I understood some human behaviors, I understood why failure is a most for success. but I did not like that the author gave large parts of her book to the examples that will explain her ideas. These examples could be shorter.

Some of the key elements I've taken from the book:
Failure is the result of doing something very right: trying something that you've never done before.
We have made it impossible for children to fall very far- a
Books constructed from multiple articles typically fall flat for me, but the writing was good enough that despite the trying to hard to have a narrative thread that ties these disparate topics together and despite the author's libertarian, rah rah capitalism and America perspective, I liked it.
It was interesting to look back on things like the financial crisis or the 9/11 truther movement through the lens of cognitive bias. Not that it was totally new to me, but it's interesting given the serio
Kira Huiqi Ho
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Many books nowadays like to talk about people’s journey to success, and people overcoming great odds to get to where they are.

Megan McArdle chose a different approach instead. She talked about the importance of failure in her own personal journey to a better “woke”-ness.

The book started well, and the first few chapters were enlightening. There were certain concepts I previously had a general idea of, which the author articulated beautifully, and helped me to understand them better.

But somewhere
John Glasgow
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read from a self-improvement perspective as well as for public policy lessons. The author does a good job of mixing her personal experiences with research and the book has a lot of clear takeaways for somebody reflecting on the misfires both personal and professional in one's own life and how to react to those, and also for considering how organizations can react to failure in better ways, or how communities can approach failure to allow its members to learn from them and move forward. ...more
Xindi H
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Picked up this book at random at my local public library, as I'm sort of in that phase of life when nothing seems to go right. The topic of failure is broken down nicely, with the first half of the book focusing on how failure should be viewed and the second half on how to deal with failure. It's not as instructional as it sounds, as several chapters each discuss almost exclusively one recent social/economic event, which is often only loosely tied to the topic that the chapter is supposed to be ...more
Nov 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Very in-depth and well researched book , the problem for me was that the author was all over the place , it was little hard to draw conclusions between the examples she was giving and the point she is trying to make , it could have been much better , but she is just narrating examples and leaves you to make your own conclusions and it felt very incoherent overall.

I guess the point she is trying to make is to take manageable risks , don't sell the farm and always be on the lookout for signs of f
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
While the book was interesting and easy to read with many stories of failure, it ultimately failed to address "failing well" or to present ways to turn failure around or recover from failure and move from it. That's what the book's description indicated it would be about, so I was disappointed in the end. But, I did enjoy the first few chapters. Beyond that, Ms McArdle's political leanings are a bit too apparent, which not only detracts from the stories, but makes one question the conclusions sh ...more
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Megan McArdle is a journalist and writer based in Washington, D.C.. She writes mostly about economics, finance and government policy from a libertarian perspective.

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Oh hey, we're nearly halfway through 2021! We can't really believe it either... Traditionally, this is the time when the Goodreads editorial...
52 likes · 9 comments
“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.” 4 likes
“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.” 2 likes
More quotes…