What does 19th century farming have to do with your frothy latte?


The Undercover Economist presents the world—yours and mine—through the scrutinizing lenses of a curious economist. Not a thrilling prospect on the surface for most people but when you get through this book—and believe me, you will have no trouble getting through it—you may never want to take off those lenses.  

 The book begins in the most universal of urban locations, the coffee kiosk, and takes us through a real-world crash course in economics minus the academic jargon. Author Tim Harford tackles small questions (how far would you walk to save 30p?) and some not so small questions (is globalisation a good thing?) with wit and aplomb, revealing bits and pieces of economic principles that unwittingly guide our everyday actions and interactions.  

 If you ever wondered why supermarket ‘value’ brands look so unattractive, why it is virtually impossible to find a decent second-hand car, or how Shanghai catapulted itself to stunning modernity in mere decades, The Undercover Economist provides surprisingly simple, yet not simplistic, explanations. Harford takes us from the world’s most expensive home (£70 million in London’s West End) to the world’s worst library (just outside the city of Bameda, Cameroon) and back again in time to realise that economics is, simply put, about people and their choices. While relying on solid theories, he demonstrates that the study of economics is inextricably tied to the study of human behaviour. He exposes us in a fascinating light—as “players in an intricate game of signals and negotiations, contests of strength and battles of wits”—revealing patterns of cost-weighing behaviour that crop up in the most unexpected of circumstances.

 If this book has a weakness, it is perhaps only a slight tendency to confound certain political points of view with moral correctness. This however, is a subtlety that does nothing to detract from either its credibility or its entertainment value. 

 So…what does 19th century farming have to do with your frothy latte? And how does the £2.55 you paid for the latte relate to immigration policy? The answers, you may find, lie in London’s Green Belt.


According to...

The New York Times--“This is a book to savor.”

 The Herald-Sun (Australia)--“A blessedly simple introduction to this dazzlingly complex world”

David Bodanis (Author of Electric Universe and E=MC2)--“Reading the Undercover Economist is like spending an ordinary day wearing X-ray goggles.”

Steven D. Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago; author of Freakonomics--The Undercover Economist is a rare specimen: a book on economics that will enthrall its readers. Beautifully written and argued, it brings the power of economics to life. This book should be required reading for every elected official, business leader, and university student.”

London Book Review--“…intellectually engaging and goes a long way to showing that economics is not some dry academic discipline but is a vital tool for understanding the world as it is (and not necessarily as we would like it to be).”