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Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,717 ratings  ·  239 reviews
9 hours and 15 minutes

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
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Audiobook
Published August 29th 2017 by Penguin Audio (first published July 6th 2017)
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Ray
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.
mahermosly
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.
Ashok Krishna
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many books have been written about all the great inventions that make our lives as comfortable as they are today. In fact, we take for granted most of them - inventions that help us travel to any part of the globe within hours, to communicate with people in any part of the world at the touch of a button, to process/store food without having to run behind it everyday, to change the landscape around us at will, to state a few. This book speaks about many such inventions too, but with a ...more
Elena
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.
Lucy Kate
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy is a charming collection of anecdotes. It contains the kind of overarching ideas you’d expect from a book on inventions - whether inventions are more likely to come out of government intervention or are better left to the market, when the benefits of an invention do not make up for negative repercussions on those who lose out on its creation, etc. These ideas are, for the most part, subtly littered throughout, but are more fully sketched out in the ...more
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
...more
A Man Called Ove
This was a better than expected read. While no list can be fully satisfying or comprehensive, both the history and the implications of each invention were narrated very interestingly. Sometimes this felt like a “new and improved” book of Malcolm Gladwell.
Picked it up to read a chapter or 2 while taking a break from work. Could also listen to it as its available as a podcast from BBC. Will be reading more by the author. Have listened to a few such books in podcast form by BBC now and will explore
...more
Raluca
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Harford doesn't pretend to select the 50 most important inventions ever, nor does he try to discuss the chosen inventions in full detail. What he does is explain and reprise, which each new bite-size account of world-shaping things and ideas, the concept of externalities. The stories themselves are persuasively written, and juuust enough to get you thinking about the topics. And if you want more, there's a reference list, which I for one plan to use to further increase my already never ending ...more
Peter (Pete) 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.
Thom
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.
Elvira
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
...more
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!
Richa Bhattarai
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trivia fan gets on a rollercoaster ride through history, into economics tangled with social science. Loved this, but read it in chunks, because it is so dense with information and ideas.

Harford introduces us to 50 things, which, as he confesses, do not touch upon many iconic ones. But they give us a glimpse of how tiny innovations can lead to biggest changes in the way the world lives and trades. For eg, a move away from leaded petrol slashed violent crime rates by 50%, while simply pouring
...more
Joshua
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
...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Before this, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a book about economics (and I know I’ve been bored to tears by fantasies more focused on economics) for fun before. And, actually, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy was a lot of fun.

Harford goes through fifty inventions that have had effects on the modern economy, be they good or terrible. It’s part economics and part history, and it was really, really interesting. Often, sadly, it’s the ones that worked to our detriment long term that
...more
Bastian
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.
Drtaxsacto
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
...more
Simon
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
...more
The  Conch
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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.
Libor
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.
นรินทร์ โอฬารกิจอนันต์
Absolutely the best book I read this year
David
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.
Cheryl
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So interesting!
Mindaugas Cekauskas
Light fun read, which brought go me another perspective on everyday things, most of which you hardly ever notice.
برَّاق 10:10
A great insightful book of the most fundamental inventions that eased the life we are living today. From historical debut to the logistical means, political, and governments position to implementation.
Iamreddave
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
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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 ...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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