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Dear Undercover Economist: Priceless Advice on Money, Work, Sex, Kids, and Life's Other Challenges

(The Undercover Economist)

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  561 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Throughout history, great philosophers have been answering profound questions about life. But do they know why your socks keep disappearing from the dryer, or how to choose the quickest line at the supermarket? Probably not, but Tim Harford does. . . .
In Dear Undercover Economist, the first collection of his wildly popular Financial Times" "columns, Tim Harford offers
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 25th 2009 by Random House Trade Paperbacks
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 ·  561 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fabulous read. It is a collection of agony aunt questions and responses. But, this is an agony aunt is different. Tim Harford uses economic theory to answer everyday questions - from should I quit my job, to should I buy extended warranties on my car. Always witty, often hilarious and sometimes snarky, this book is a wonderful read.
Sep 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book probably gets about 3.5 stars from me, with a slight rounding up. This book is a collection of advice columns written by the Undercover Economist for the Financial Times over a period of years, essentially attempting to highlight the economist's view of the world (ruthlessly rational, challenging assumptions about social etiquette or common sense) by applying economical reasoning to typical "everyday" problems that people might have. The answers are often couched in somewhat economic ...more
Mar 05, 2011 rated it liked it
In Dear Undercover Economist, the first collection of his wildly popular Financial Times columns, Tim Harford offers witty, charming, and at times caustic answers to our most pressing concerns - all through the lens of economics. Does money buy happiness? Is "the one" really out there? Can cities be greener than farms? Can you really "dress for success"? When's the best time to settle down? Harford provides brilliant, hilarious, unexpected, and wise answers to these and other questions. Arranged ...more
Logan Hughes
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thrift, non-fiction
This collection of Tim Hartford's "Dear Economist" advice columns from The Financial Times is just really fun. I love advice columns, and I love economics, so it's a perfect marriage. Hartford's tongue-in-cheek advice uses human-scale problems and concerns, like dating and chores, as a launching point to introduce economics concepts, theories, and research.

I found this book a lot easier to devour, understand, and retain than The Undercover Economist. The advice-column format means that concepts
Grant Schweppe
Jan 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book left me disappointed, built off the interest of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything I thought that this seemed interesting. As I started to read through the "chapters" I was getting less interested in what the book had to offer. Given the format of a 200 word response to each question, the amount of economics was very limited. Although it did mention a general theory of why something happens, I would not even feel satisfied if I had personally wrote ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely amusing and very manageable due to the bite-size format, but ultimately unmemorable because of all the theories and pieces of research that are thrown in for the sake of a cute quip. Or maybe you're supposed to read up on all of them, but doesn't that defy the bite-size purpose? Still, could whet one's appetite for Tim Harford and it's definitely a better choice for that than The Logic of Life.
May 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
I usually really enjoy what I refer to as pop-culture economics books.

However, I felt this collection of Q&A falls short of its competition (Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics, anything by Gladwell, etc). The question submissions claim to be legitimate, but to me, they seem ridiculous, almost banal, that I found it difficult to read.

Bottom line: I suggest you skip this one, unless you are a true economics junky.

Jake Pescador
is it wrong to fake orgasms? - asked a letter-sender among others with their own choice of life's mysteries. using signaling game theory, harford advised against faking orgasms and (for the guy) foreplay. nerdy maybe but interesting for sure.
David R.
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
Fine stuff if you enjoy seeing the response of an economist reacting to silly questions (were they all real??!) about daily life. Many of the responses were offputting.
Apoorv Purohit
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another one of good reads where an Economist gives answers to so many things which pertain not directly to economics but do as you peel off layer by layer...
Good Read...
Bd Drop
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book that covers a broad variety of topics. The questions are very applicable to every day life, and the answers are humorous and insightful. I am planning on buying this book.
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was really funny, specially the first chapter.
Rukesh Dutta
It was not what I had expected when I took up the book.
Ameg Rauna
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simple and straightforward analysis of the economy
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
alot of fun,

gives alot advice to break down everyday issues into calculable value to best solve problems rationally, sometimes to humorous conclusions.
Aug 28, 2012 rated it liked it
The content:
This book is a compilation of Harford's Q&A pieces from his weekly advise column in The Financial Times.

What I like about Dear Undercover Economist:

- I've studied about some of the research (eg. performance pay for window cleaners) and economists (eg. Gary Becker) that Harford mentions, so this book acted as a nice review for me before the semester started.

- Harford's advises are always embedded in some economic theory that are often hilariously, interestingly, or
Renette Francisco
Sep 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who would have thought an advice column by an economist would work?

There's this brilliant but cheeky economist who has a column in the Financial Times where he answers readers' questions about losing odd socks, splitting a bill, waking up late, having an affair, applying for leave during Christmas season - all using economic theories and studies. This book is a compilation of all the best letters and his responses.

I wish this book (and Freakonomics) came out when I was still in college, getting
Guy Grobler
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book for anyone who enjoys reading Harford and for anyone who wants a book with some economic theory but not to much theory. The book is a collection of letters and responses sent to Harford's column "Dear Undercover Economist" in the FT. The chapters are built according to topic of letter - love life and dating, family life, career and etc. Some of Harford's replies to his writers are hilarious when looking at the question posed to him (especially in the dating and love life ...more
Aug 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Since I haven't read it what I'm reviewing here would be its potential - based on the amusing interview of its author I heard on my way to work this morning.
His view on the best solution to whether to put the toilet seat up or down:
'From a straight efficiency standpoint, the way to prevent people from having to move the seat up or down more than absolutely necessary, is for them to just leave it as it is when they are finished. For all they know they will be the next one back in the bathroom.
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I'm a fan of Tim Harford, having enjoyed the original Undercover Economist and Adapt, as well as being a regular "More or Less" listener. This format didn't really seem to work though. The replies are too short to cover the economic concepts properly. Worse, the concepts often seem to have been shoehorned in. I realise that's partly for humorous effect, but to be honest I found it to wear thin rather quickly.

There are a few genuinely funny and insightful replies. However I would
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, non-fiction
If you subscribe to the Financial Times, there's no need to get this book. It's a compilation of Harford's columns from there.

He basically takes serious questions (broadly: how should I raise my children, how can I have a successful relationship, how can I get rich, etc.) and answers them with an economics-based joke. As a former econ major, I thought it was hilarious. A little on the light side, sure, but a good coffee-table book. If you don't enjoy economics (or academic wittiness), don't pick
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Have you ever imagined understanding basic theories of economics, finance and human psychology without having to deal with technicalities? Have you ever imagined economics being a cool topic of conversation? Well, most of the world has not. But this book will change the way people look at economics. Tim Harford successfully manages to show how the world moves in the eyes of an economist. What we see as daily routine, habits or just plain luck, they see as a combination of market forces, market ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm a huge fan of behavioral/pop economics, and thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you've read his FT columns regularly, this is obviously just a collection, but was well-organized. The last chapter was particularly amusing in that it provided economic answers to questions such as "why do I always lose socks in the laundry". I thought The Logic of Life fell far short of his first, so this was a pleasant surprise. I also love the phrase "small utility maximizer" as a synonym for child.
Dec 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Imagine Dear Abby’s column had been high jacked by your caustic sister-in-law. Some of the questions posed are so ridiculous that I was impressed with the author’s candid and economically relevant responses. And, of course, the book made me laugh.

For a full review visit
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
an interesting look into selected write in questions from the public for Tim's quirky answers such as whether to fake orgasm, whether to get more response by posting own photo on dating sites, whether having an affair is considered as financial options, how to be happy at work, why kids FB friends are more than parents, etc...some of the responses are lame, but some are mostly sarcastic..worth an one day read..
Adam Gravano
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
The Undercover Economist is a pithy, concise columnist. He aptly popularizes otherwise obscure or abstruse economic research on everyday issues. While economics is certainly not always the tool one should be using to explain human behavior, it can be a refreshing occurrence to use it in what seem to be unrelated matters.
Muhammad Fadel
Apr 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
A good book which gives us insight from Hardford's wide perspective. Harford simply use everyday's life to explain how economics work, and how we see problems, or phenomenon in different way. Recommended for fresh students to get more understanding on the implementation of economics theory.
Aug 30, 2009 rated it liked it
The advice Hartford gives is frequently not practical (there's an awful lot of bribery, for instance) but it does make for an entertaining read. You don't need to be a student of economics to understand or enjoy the book.
Daniel Cornwall
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked the advice column tone of the letters in this book. Down to earth way of explaining theories in economics and game theory in context where people want to listen. Still dragged a little in parts.
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
nice collection of letters written to the "dear economist" column on FT - an irreverent look at anything and everything from the economist's perspective - some hilarious ones there - all economics is not boring!!
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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

Other books in the series

The Undercover Economist (6 books)
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  • The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: The Prison-Camp Recession
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