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Words of wisdom from the world of economics
on 20 August 2009
Most of us will be familiar with the agony aunt format of newspapers and magazines: correspondents share their woes with a concerned, no-nonsense columnist who offers suggested ways of dealing with said woes. These can range from the heartbreaking to the laughable, and are addressed with varying levels of solemnity, depending on the the agony aunt's brief and inclinations.
In the Financial Times, the format is slightly different. Rather than offering homilies or pseudo-psychological buzzwords, the agony aunt -- or perhaps uncle, in this case -- uses current economic theories to clarify just what letter-writers are concerned about and provide a close analysis of which solutions offer the greatest benefit. Dear Undercover Economist is a collection of the best, most informative, or at least the most amusing, letters from his file.
In essence, it offers a variation on Harford's goal in his previous books, of making economics accessible to, and as far as possible entertaining for, the general populace. He once again achieves this with aplomb, and the book is a worthy addition both to his works and my shelves.
Unlike The Undercover Economist or The Logic of Life, though, the bite-sized format offered by the letters and responses in this latest book make it very easy to dip in and out. In line with the space constraints of a newspaper column, issues are addressed in a couple of hundred words rather than a chapter or two, which through the course of the book demonstrates just how broad a sweep economics can have -- and how specifically it can help us weigh up pros and cons in a given situation. Should you need insight into a problem of your own, input will be easy to find, too, thanks to letters being handily grouped by category.
In addition, since our FT agony uncle is not always the most diplomatic of souls in writing his replies, there are more than a few chuckles to be had during the reading. What more could anyone interested in the field ask?