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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Dismal anymore
This is a really good introduction to Economics.

As someone who's picked up Economics mostly by reading the business pages of the Independent it's been very useful.

The chatty style belies the fact there's lots of information to be learned from this book.

His central two points are that scarcity dictates price (supply and demand) and that...
Published on 2 May 2006 by A. I. Mackenzie

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105 of 112 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad
I picked this up at the airport and nearly finished in two flights. It's an easy reading explanation of an economist's take on some everyday things and some big issues (like globalisation).

Some of the early stuff (about coffee shops etc) is really good fun. You might not be shocked by it but it is a very effective way of explaining some key economic theories...
Published on 20 July 2006 by tomsk77


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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Dismal anymore, 2 May 2006
By 
A. I. Mackenzie "alimack" (Glasgow, Scotland.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Undercover Economist (Hardcover)
This is a really good introduction to Economics.

As someone who's picked up Economics mostly by reading the business pages of the Independent it's been very useful.

The chatty style belies the fact there's lots of information to be learned from this book.

His central two points are that scarcity dictates price (supply and demand) and that prices are set according to the information available to both buyer and seller.

Along the way you'll find out why your morning coffee is priced the way it is and why it's hard to get a decent second hand car.

Although it's hard to believe in a book about economics, I found this to be a bit of a page turner and finished it in a bank holiday weekend.
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105 of 112 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad, 20 July 2006
This review is from: The Undercover Economist (Hardcover)
I picked this up at the airport and nearly finished in two flights. It's an easy reading explanation of an economist's take on some everyday things and some big issues (like globalisation).

Some of the early stuff (about coffee shops etc) is really good fun. You might not be shocked by it but it is a very effective way of explaining some key economic theories in a very accessible and interesting way.

I was also quite impressed by his explanation and perception of the stockmarket. This is something that I have read quite a bit about and deal with through work and I found myself nodding in agreement with him - that share prices are largely random but sometimes there is a brief opportunity to do something logical and make money, therefore fund managers spend a lot of time money and effort trying to find that 1 in 100 chance. (I still think active fund management is on balance a waste of money but that's another argument). I also liked (though I've heard a version of this before) his comparison of arbitrage in markets to picking a supermarket queue - if one is obviously shorter people join it very quickly.

I thought the section on second-hand car dealers, which goes on to discuss firms marketing insurance products, was also very interesting. Especially the way that providers try and communicate their trustworthiness through marketing etc. Again that confirms to me my perception of how the fund management industry pitches itself to clients.

There were a couple of points where I diverged significantly from him. First on tax, where he suggests that sales and income taxes discourage effort. This is something I have argued back and forth many times and I just don't buy it. I don't think most people most of the time think about tax and therefore I don't think it influences their behaviour significantly.

Secondly I think he is a bit too starry-eyed about globalisation. I agree with the general proposition that trade is good (not bad) for developing nations. But it is not an unqualified good. Yes it provides income and employment, and yes for many people in these countries working in a trainer factory is preferable to a lifetime argicultural labour. But that is not always the case.

Similarly I found his defence of free trade against the arguments that it leads to enviromental damage pretty unconvincing. There are plenty of people with lots of business experience who are much less sanguine about the ability of markets to inherently deliver the right results. See Adair Turner's Just Capital for example.

Finally a point on the writing style. Generally this is very clear and readable. but I find the whole 'undercover economist' thing a bit annoying. either use it or don't use it. in the book he seems to forget that he has been using it and only drops it in every 30 pages or so. why bother?

those whinges aside it's worth a read.
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102 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lighter side of economics?, 6 April 2006
This review is from: The Undercover Economist (Hardcover)
It is because of the success of Amazon that high street booksellers need to provide that little bit more to entice their customers. So we now have bookshops full of stationary, furniture and coffee. When you're next out shopping and want to grab a coffee, head over to the bookshop. Whilst you are there with your Lotsamoccacaféchino, take this book from the shelf and begin to read it. You will find it connects with you immediately.
I don't know much about economics, at least I didn't when I picked this up. But I have wondered what all the fuss is about, especially when I try to keep up with the Budget, camapigns against poverty, and what's happeneing to my pension. The Undercover Economist not only makes economics easier to understand but it is doesn't clutter my mind with macroeconomic theory, fiscal rules and all that stuff.
So as you read the book, soon you will find yourself ordering more coffee, but you'll have a much better understanding of the sophisticated system that you are engaging in, and how you're being ripped off.
The book covers economics in ten interesting chapters - each with a different theme through which it introduces the reader to new understandings of the world of economics. This book will unveil to you a host of neat little theories that explain how every day life works, from why bookshops sell coffee, to world poverty with plenty in between.
What really marks this book from the rest is its humour. There are very few funny economic books and the Undercover Economist is one of them. It reveals that the grey subject matter, so long understood as the dismal science, can really be a lot of fun - if only economics lecturers would be a little less serious about it.

So read this book whilst you enjoy your second coffee: this is OK for Amazon because you can still order the book online. It's a book you'll want to keep. Is there a sequel on the way? Because whilst I learnt alot, and was pleasently surprised at times when I laughed out loud, it didn't cover pensions.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars clarity is golden, 1 Sep 2006
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This review is from: The Undercover Economist (Hardcover)
I have read a number of these economics for the man in the street tomes over the last couple of years, and along with Landsburg's somewhat out of date and rather more complex Armchair Economist this one stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Harford seems to have mastered the art of making somewhat complex considerations appear extremely natural. If all economists in the media could express themselves so clearly and with such a judicious choice of examples the public would surely be better informed and more engaged with the most important issues of the day.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Undercover Economist, 2 April 2006
This review is from: The Undercover Economist (Hardcover)
This book is capable of performing a minor miracle: reforming the hopelessly economically disinterested. Embarrassing though it may be, I will confess to never having been able to develop the slightest interest in economics. It is always perfectly clear (well, almost always) what economists are talking about, but it is rarely clear to me why they are talking about it. When my son gave me a copy of The Undercover Economist, I was not looking forward to reading it, but Harford captured my attention immediately and kept me enthralled all of the way through the book. He chooses examples (and beautifully and compellingly explicates them) that reveal how economics work in your life; why it matters to understand it. He explained things that had always puzzled me, and stunned me by explaining why things that I had always believed were not actually true. I think about principles from this books surprisingly often. I have since given The Undercover Economist to many friends and students who are equally economically challenged, and they have all had the same experience. I cannot recommend the book highly enough.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Economics is the New Rock 'n Roll, 5 April 2008
By 
Marcus Dyson "DoctorDee" (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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With the release, and runaway success, of Freakonomics publishers were faced with an interesting new phenomenon: The possibility that a book on economics could be interesting and could connect with the "common man" and as a result that it could sell in large numbers. Overlooking that Freakonomics was a book about statistical analysis, the hunt was on for other accessible economic texts.

As a result, a book as tedious and confused as Tim Harford's Undercover Economist has been allowed to reach the public.

To be sure, the book starts well - the opening chapters make for an interesting and informing introduction to economics, and form a promising introduction to the book. But pretty soon things begin to go awry. The chapter that explains why it is impossible to purchase a good second-hand car seems to ignore the likelihood that very many readers will have purchased perfectly good second-hand cars. From here on, Harford's credibility is damaged, and when he goes on to explain why countries are poor, and why globalisation is good without any of the earlier chapters credible and transparent economical theory to back up these assertions, he becomes trite and boring.

The Undercover Economist has its moments, Harford is a likeable and easy-to-read author, and the section on the 3G Wavelength Spectrum auctions is fascinating, and goes some way to explaining what seemed like an impenetrably confusing fit of behaviour on the part of these companies. But overall, after the first 25% or so, the book begins to drag, and fails poorly to live up to the promise of the early chapters, or to the marketing blurb on the cover.

The heartless survival-of-the-fittest neo-cons among reviewers find his book insufferably 'leftist' while the socialists find its claims that unrestricted capitalism is good for everyone intolerable. I just found it increasingly dull, and quite prescriptive. It didn't educate me and leave me to draw my own conclusions, it harangued me and expected me to share its conclusions without explaining adequately to me why I should.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Til Hartford did not write that book when he was 10 !!!, 31 Mar 2013
By 
Patrick Darmon (Paris, France) - See all my reviews
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The book is excellent, I read it when it was actually published some 6-7 years ago BUT not 40 years ago ... so what is the point of this "4Oth anniversary edition" ? Unless you refer to hartford birthday - which is ridiculous - there is no reason to publish such an anniversary edition !
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What we all knew about economics, but didn't know we knew, 29 Jun 2010
By 
R. F. Stevens "richard23491" (Ickenham UK) - See all my reviews
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Tim Harford reminds us how to look at the world around us with a more detached and perhaps more cynical view. Economics are an everyday necessity, but many of us forget just how we use them in each transaction we make. In this book are many examples of how very simply one can improve ones own transaction analysis - choose to make a better deal. It is common sense, should we bother to think about it!

However, the book is also quite repetitive, and I found that after sailing through the first hundred and fifty pages I put it down and did not find the urge to pick it up again for nearly a year. While very interesting, it is definitely not gripping reading. More to the point, if stuck on a beach for a few days, or snowed in on a ski trip (eg my first encounter with Tim Harford's later and better book The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World), then it is an ideal companion in an ideal environment for one to be able to assimilate the whole book and digest it more easily. If competing with the normal distractions of daily life then the book tends to fall by the wayside, even though it could well be helpful in mastering and maybe even minimising those distractions.

I'm not an economist, but I am a realist. I've always tried to look at the big picture; what goes in here? what comes out there? does that make sense, or is it a con? This book reinforces my prejudices, or rationality - take them how you will. I think it could be shorter, or perhaps the examples could be told in a lighter vein, maybe the theories could be laid out a bit more clearly. I'm told by those who claim to know better that some of his economic theory is shaky, but as written here it seems to make sense to my muddled mind.

There is a Notes section devoted to giving the references chapter by chapter and why he chose the ideas, and also a comprehensive Index at the end of the book. But it would have helped the reader grip the themes if there had been a more detailed Table of Contents showing the sub-headings of each chapter.

I'm only giving it three stars because it is not gripping enough, and his thoughts should expressed in a clearer fashion - as he does in his other book I mentioned above (which is much closer to deserving five stars).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overall, it's not that bad, 24 May 2010
At the first glance, I did believe that the experience of reading this book would not be very bad because it is just one of the numerous casual readers on economics after all. Also, I am quite a keen reader on this subject to a certain extent, so I believe I can withstand any odd approach (unless it is extraordinarily odd).

In total, I can say the book is ordinary, well-written, well-organized, etc, but not that exciting at all, at least not as exciting as the preface has told me. I am a little bit disappointed actually. The topics covered, Ricardian rent, perfect market, efficiency, asymmetric information, etc, are quite common nowadays. Even go back in time to when this book was written, 2006, these topics are not that unusual at all. When being taken into comparison with Freakonomics, it is definitely not freak either.

Despite the not-that-exciting content and several oversimplifications, this book remains a so-so reader that deserves reading if and only if you haven't ever studied economics or haven't studied it for long. Overall, it's not that bad, but also not that exciting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what it claims to be...utilise market forces and buy something else, 25 Feb 2010
By 
Ruth Bennett (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book has been marketed as a British "Freaknomics", but it is really a completely different beast.

In reality it is a basic introduction to free market economics and it does a reasonable job of that. Mr Harford is not so undercover when it comes to his unfailing belief that global free trade is a good thing; his consideration of any counter-argument is curtly dismissive.

There is an interesting chapter about the auction of "3G" mobile phone licenses which is worth reading, but the rest falls far short of the illumination that the quotes on the back of the book promise. I can see little evidence of any unique insights, and neither is the writing style sufficiently polished to make up for this short-coming.

If you are looking for a basic introduction to economics then perhaps this would be OK. However, I was disappointed to find that it was not the book that it was trying desperately to be.
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The Undercover Economist
The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford (Hardcover - 6 April 2006)
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