Monday, March 14, 2011

"Dear Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford

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 by topic, easy to read, and hard to put down, Dear Undercover Economist lends an outrageous, compassionate, and indispensable perspective on anything that may irk or ail you - a book well work the investment.

I'd read "The Undercover Economist" a few years ago, and it wasn't too bad a book, a bit hard to get through at times, but still informative. I saw this title and thought it might be a better choice, seeing as how it's written as letters rather than chapters full of information. And it is - to the extent that it was much easier to decide when to close the book at night and go to sleep.

Even with the shorter format and such, I still had a difficult time getting through this title by Harford. Perhaps I was spoiled by "Freakonomics" - another book that attempts to use common, everyday life to explain the weird world of economics. I think the authors there did a brilliant job of not only explaining but entertaining, and as anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone knows (esp. when trying to teach children), it's so much easier if you can keep your audience entertained.

The only really cool thing about this book was one of the letters in the "how to fool a wine snob" section. No, the letter itself isn't exciting - it's the author. George Pollitt of Buckinghamshire, UK, submitted a question about his favorite pub table getting too crowded. Why is this important? Well, "Pollitt" happens to be my family name, and I'd been told by my grandfather and my dad down the years that "Pollitt" is very common in England. Not on par with "Smith" or "Jones" here, but probably along the lines of "Mason" or "Carpenter". And here's the name! And no, I do not know George Pollitt, or at least, I don't believe I do. I've never heard his name mentioned in the family tree. But it sure was neat to see my family name appear in a book!

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