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Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  996 ratings  ·  160 reviews
A lively history seen through the fifty inventions that shaped it most profoundly, by the bestselling author of The Undercover Economist and Messy.
Who thought up paper money? What was the secret element that made the Gutenberg printing press possible? And what is the connection between The Da Vinci Code and the collapse of Lehman Brothers? 

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the
Kindle Edition, 334 pages
Published August 29th 2017 by Riverhead Books (first published July 6th 2017)
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Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I am a sucker for Tim Harfords popular economics books so when I saw this at the airport it was an easy purchase to decide upon. It didn't disappoint, delving into arcane corners of modern life and illustrating how mundane products and processes help to shape our world. Worth a read.
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book with great information and unexpected events that led to structure our modern economy, its vey easy to read with 50 inventions and each invention is between 2-3 pages which is far from boring.
Fascinating stories with a lot of information; if you don’t have time and want to listen to the podcasts, you could download the audio from BBC Radio 4. Please see the following URL:

This book does not merely tell the history of the inventions, but also the economical and somehow sociological impacts of that invention throughout the time, from the dawn of invention till now. I highly recommend it.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exellent, exactly the style and the quality i like for my commutes and chores at home.
Mike Zickar
"It was okay," the label for a 2 star review seems about right here.

I learned a fair amount in this quick tour through 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy. I felt, however, that the book would have been more enjoyable if he would have focused on fewer inventions and spent more in depth on individual inventions. Just as the author got into an interesting story (and there are many in here), it was time to move on to the next invention. I was often left wanting more.
Peter Mcloughlin
Lists can be a bit dicey but for the most part, the author picked important inventions that shaped the modern economy. I might quibble here and there and may not be as sanguine with capitalism as the author but I agree with most of his picks. Fairly good book on the important stuff that has been invented.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Word for word match to the series provided on BBC radio. It does have an index and excellent notes, plus an introduction and afterword, but it hasn't got any diagrams, pictures or timelines. If you've heard the radio series, it's probably not interesting to you. If you haven't, it's a good take on inventions that have impacted the economy.

My favorite - cuneiform.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The barbed wire, passports, robots, infant formula, TV dinners, the pill, the barcode, tally sticks, ikeas iconic billy bookcase….what do all these things have in common? how have they shaped modern society?

When I read a book, I usually take a little notebook, a pen, and some sticky notes I like to use to keep track of all those quotes that make me go “ah!” at a given page.

Looking at my surprisingly-still-pristine copy, I can count thirty-three sticky notes: this book is filled with mind-blowing
Myles Cowper-Coles
A fun fast paced book with some interesting insights into how the modern economy evolved. The 'things' that Tim Harford looks into are necessarily the ones you expect, and even the familiar ones are looked at from a different angle. While unlikely to change your views on modern economics, its definitely and enjoyable and interesting read.
Daniel Frank
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had so much fun listening to this. A quick and easy book, filled with tons of fascinating stories.

Highly recommended!
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having been a literature major, and being technologically illiterate, I can’t really explain why I picked this book up as I was shelving books at the library. Maybe it was reading Steve Jobs, and maybe it’s my recent trend towards Apple products, but I picked the book up and started reading and fell in love.

The reader may at first read Harford’s title and amuse that the book is just a list of fancy products and what they do. But upon reading this book Harford’s aesthetic goal is far more relevan
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book about the 50 "not-so-obvious-inventions" that shaped the modern economy. If you know the BBC program, then you won't read anything new I guess.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good mix of fun and information. The author, who is an English economist at Oxford. It is what Freakonomics could have been. Harford picks out 50 inventions, divided into a number of categories and then gives a short story on the invention and its significance. The list is an odd one - from the s curve (which prevented indoor privies from smelling), to the TV dinner, to Intellectual Property; So from the tangible to the intangible.

Some of the stories are quite interesting - for ex
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Based on the recent Radio 4 series, this hugely enjoyable book examines fifty things (products, systems, ideas) that have had a significant impact on the modern world, from barbed wire and passports to double-entry bookkeeping and index funds. On the surface the emphasis is on how these things have shaped the modern economy, but of course each story also tells us something important about how society works and changes, how innovation happens, what ‘development’ means, and how technology and peop
The  Conch
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We are surrounded by thousands of gadgets, items, materials etc. Here, author only chooses 50 path-breaking inventions that have immense contribution for entire human civilization. The list of invention is not limited only to scientific but also conceptual like paper money, use of willow sticks for record keeping of loan, banking system etc.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one doesn't quite reach the qualities of the Undercover Economist. But then again, what does, right? :) It's a nice supplement book and Harford does have the gift of being able to explain economic stuff in such great way that even a non-economist understands it. And he also gives you the connections between stuff you haven't been looking for.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly engaging read! Short, thoughtful vignettes about unexpected subjects (the author intentionally passes over some of the obvious picks)
Uday Bhaskar
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easy to follow for a lay person.
นรินทร์ โอฬารกิจอนันต์
Absolutely the best book I read this year
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So interesting!
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the best chapters are M-pesa, Haber Bosch process, and Billy bookcase. if you like it try Felix Martin's money and Steven Johnson How we got to now.

one invention he missed was the Hole. when stamps were invented no one had letter boxes so there had to be campaigns to explain to people they needed holes in their doors for letters
Simon Howard
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable set of brief stories about the varied impact of inventions on economies. The book sometimes felt a bit superficial, but I suppose the "50 Things" format will always suffer from that. Many of the stories are well known and familiar, but the breadth of stuff covered is very impressive, and Harford occasionally takes the discussion of an invention in an unexpectedly illuminating direction. I particularly enjoyed the Epilogue's description of the decreasing cost of artificial light over ...more
Ronald J.
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent, breezy history of 50 inventions that shaped our economy. Some are obvious (paper, lightbulb, electricity), but some are not. All contain fascinating historical nuggets and personal stories of some of the inventors. A very worthwhile read.
Alex Zakharov
Cute little read - 50 bite-size essays on inventions, personalities, economic tradeoffs, and unexpected side effects. Hartford fuses human stories, market stories and historical vignettes, and in his hands modern economy doesn’t sound like the mind-numbing exercise of interpreting irrelevant statistics that nobody trusts.

Here is a sampling of the themes:

- Barbed wire as a lubricant of American territorial expansion, seller feedback as a lubricant of trust.

- Underappreciated role of welfare stat
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy (2017) by Tim Harford is a history of fifty very important technologies that have had a huge impact on the modern economy. It's a bit like James Burke's superb TV shows Connections and the Day the Universe changed but for the loyal listener set. Chapters from the book were first put into a podcast series that is also very interesting and well done.

Harford was a professional economist before becoming a writer for the Financial Times and then a presenter o
William Schram
When discussing inventions that shaped our modern society, it might seem like a daunting task to choose a certain number. You might miss one that seems essential or include an example that is useless. With Tim Harford’s Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy, I suppose fifty was the sweet spot to his writing. Starting with the Plow in all of its different iterations, I would say that the book has an unusual structure. Usually, with such a book you would expect the Introduction first and ...more
Nancy Mills
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun book for readers of any level. It's both very enlightening and very light reading, but I mean that in a good way ... author Tim Harford explains how things work without getting so technical it makes your head hurt. Not only does he discuss the invention of commodities that truly changed society, but he has focuses on HOW they've changed our lives, beyond the obvious.
Some of these inventions, once they caught on, wound up having unforeseen negative effects. Leaded gasoline, which s
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book in a small bookstore simply from curiosity. I thought to myself how could this possibly be interesting? The term modern economy is one that usually sends me screaming anywhere else. But I figured it might be an informative read and as a gift or my father. It turns out that I had vastly underestimated this book in terms of informative value (and hopefully underestimated the value it would have as a gift for my fellow bookworm of a father).

This book hit the trifecta out of th
Feb 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Esta novela nos cuenta toda la historia de los inventos secundarios gracias a los que los inventos importantes existen hoy en día y son como son, nos habla de inventos tanto palpables como abstractos, de esta manera el escritor busca que los lectores podamos comprender mejor esos inventos importantes de los que siempre hemos oído hablar.

El autor comienza explicándonos como un invento tan sencillo como el arado fue el principio de la civilización dando pie a la economía moderna y a la vida modern
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: society
I was aware of his radio series, and based on a recommendation of said series, I thought I'd save myself some time by reading the book rather than listening to 50 quarter-hour slots. As you'd expect from a Harford book, this is easily understood, although the restriction of similar-length pieces could perhaps have been relaxed for the book (I suppose it could have been relaxed already, but it doesn't read that way).

Harford's strengths are his accessible writing style, and an enthusiasm for the i
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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
“As societies switched from foraging to agriculture ten thousand years ago, the average height for both men and women shrank by about six inches, and there’s ample evidence of parasites, disease, and childhood malnutrition. Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, called the adoption of agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” 0 likes
“The food surplus enabled larger populations and societies with specialists—builders, priests, craftsmen, but also specialist soldiers.” 0 likes
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