I must admit that when I picked up Tim Harford’s latest book, The Logic of Life, I wondered whether there was really room for another popular economics book. In the wake of the success of Freakonomics, we had seen Tyler Cowen’s self-help book, Steve Landsburg’s ode to the counter-intuitive, Robert Frank’s collection of student analyses, Ian Ayres Supercrunchers, and even Tim Harford’s first book, The Undercover Economist. There apparently is even going to be a book on economics and parenting. Was there room for something new?
Well, it turns out that there was. The Logic of Life picks up where Freakonomics left off — that is, recent research into interest economic phenomena that does not come from the ‘lab’ of Steve Levitt. It is a series of essays around some themes including poker tournaments, divorce, workplace politics, neighbourhood effects, racism, geographic agglomeration, voting and long-term economic growth. But the research documented is hardly the dry stuff that you might normally expect. Instead, it covers the interesting — also known as ‘freaky’ — topics that have caused economics to adorn the newspapers and blogs with surprising regularity.
In that respect, there is nothing new in this book. What is new is how well exposited it is. Moreover, there is nothing ecclectic about Harford’s choice of topics. It is exactly what we would students to be reading to understand the power of economics using examples of recent research. The research is given context and it is explained in a way that has the important quailty of ‘not being wrong’ and being appropriately qualified. With this book, Tim Harford has established himself as perhaps the world’s leading economic journalist. If you read one economics book this year among the stack recently produced, this would be it.
But there is another thing that comes from this book. The research documented shows an interesting trend. Chicago economists coming up with theories (in some cases decades ago) that are being tested by younger East Coast economists. What has caused this in the sociology of academic economics is an interesting question that i have no answer for.
Finally, a reminder to all Melbourne residents out there that Tim Harford will be speaking at MBS in just a couple of weeks time. Click here to register.