Tim Harford

Author, The Undercover Economist
Columnist, Financial Times

The economics of everyday life.

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Biography

Tim Harford is a renowned behavioral economist, author, Financial Times columnist and BBC radio and TV presenter. His most famous book, The Undercover Economist, has been translated into 30 languages and sold over a million copies; his new book, The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, was described as “the holy grail of macroeconomics” by the New Statesman. He has won numerous awards for journalism and is recognized for conveying complex ideas with a witty and irreverent touch.

Tim’s 2010 book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure explored how complex problems — such as counterinsurgency, climate change, financial turmoil and the innovation slowdown — should be solved. It was a Bloomberg book of the year.

Tim is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s “Pop Up Ideas” and “More or Less”. More or Less won a Royal Statistical Society award for excellence in journalism in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Tim won the Bastiat Prize for economic journalism in 2006 and was runner-up in 2010. He was named one of the top three economics commentators in the UK by Editorial Intelligence, and one of the UK’s top 20 tweeters by the Independent. He has been an economist at Shell and at the World Bank, and a member of the Financial Times editorial board. He is now a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, a member of the Royal Economic Society council, and a senior columnist at the Financial Times.

What the critics say

“Perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world” – New Statesman
“Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell” – Alex Bellos
“Our Chief Economic Storyteller” – The Independent

Credentials

  • Author of the million-selling The Undercover Economist and other bestsellers
  • Multiple award-winner for BBC radio series and Financial Times columns
  • Visiting fellow at Oxford University; former Shell and World Bank economist
  • Speaking includes: TED Global 2011, PopTech 2012, Sydney Opera House 2012, Wired 2012, Royal Economic Society annual public lecture 2013.

Books

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back

How to Run — or Ruin — an Economy

Tim Harford

A provocative and lively exploration of the increasingly important world of macroeconomics, by the author of the bestselling The Undercover Economist.

Thanks to the worldwide financial upheaval, economics is no longer a topic we can ignore. From politicians to hedge-fund managers to middle-class IRA holders, everyone must pay attention to how and why the global economy works the way it does.

Enter Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford. In this new book that demystifies macroeconomics, Harford strips away the spin, the hype, and the jargon to reveal the truth about how the world’s economy actually works. With the wit of a raconteur and the clear grasp of an expert, Harford explains what’s really happening beyond today’s headlines, why all of us should care, and what we can do about it to understand it better.

Riverhead Hardcover (January 16, 2014)

Reviews

A chatty, witty guideThe Wall Street Journal
Economics made accessibleThe National

Praise

“What Harford has achieved with his new book is nothing less than the holy grail of popular economics."
New Statesman

“Every Tim Harford book is cause for celebration. He makes the ‘dismal science’ seem like an awful lot of fun.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point”

“With fascinating examples and vivid explanations, Tim Harford succeeds in turning macroeconomics into a gripping read.”
— Simon Singh, author of “Fermat’s Last Theorem”

“Harford manages to explain the topic with beguiling clarity and in the effortlessly breezy style that has characterised his previous books.”
The Times

“Our Chief Economic Storyteller”
The Independent

“when the author is as clear-thinking and easy to read as Harford… he has mastered the art of dealing with this subject without the use of a single diagram or mathematical equation.”
The Sunday Times

“Harford’s writing is astonishingly accessible.”
The Independent on Sunday

“he succeeds in giving lucid, accessible and ideologically balanced explanations… Anyone who really wants to understand the concepts of macroeconomics will be delighted with it”
The Sunday Business Post

Adapt

Why Success Always Starts with Failure

Tim Harford

In this groundbreaking book, Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, shows us a new and inspiring approach to solving the most pressing problems in our lives. When faced with complex situations, we have all become accustomed to looking to our leaders to set out a plan of action and blaze a path to success. Harford argues that today’s challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinion; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt.

Deftly weaving together psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, physics, and economics, along with the compelling story of hard-won lessons learned in the field, Harford makes a passionate case for the importance of adaptive trial and error in tackling issues such as climate change, poverty, and financial crises — as well as in fostering innovation and creativity in our business and personal lives.

Taking us from corporate boardrooms to the deserts of Iraq, Adapt clearly explains the necessary ingredients for turning failure into success. It is a breakthrough handbook for surviving — and prospering — in our complex and ever-shifting world.

Little, Brown (June 2011)

Video

Adapt Trailer

Reviews

Adapt or ….?The Enlightened Economist
The Joy of Making MistakesForbes
Living with MistakesThe New York Times
On failureThe Washington Post
AdaptMarginal Revolution
Knowing you're wrong is more important than being rightCanadian Business
Google Gets It, HBOs Didn't: Success Begins with FailureBloomberg.com
AdaptFinancial Times
Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with FailureThe Guardian
ReviewManagement Today
AdaptPublishers Weekly
Media Spotlight: AdaptMortgage Strategy
Learning from mistakes for successCity A.M.

Praise

“Tim Harford has made a compelling and expertly informed case for why we need to embrace risk, failure, and experimentation in order to find great ideas that will change the world. I loved the book.”
— Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality

“Tim Harford could well be Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell. An entertaining mix of popular economics and psychology, this excellently written book contains fascinating stories of success and failure that will challenge your assumptions. Insightful and clever.”
— Alex Bellos, author of Here’s Looking at Euclid

“Adapt is a highly readable, even entertaining, argument against top-down design. It debunks the Soviet-Harvard command-and-control style of planning and approach to economic polities and regulations and vindicates trial and error (particularly the error part) as a means to economic and general progress. Very impressive!”
— Nassim N. Taleb, distinguished professor of Risk Engineering, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and author of The Black Swan

“Harford’s wide-ranging look at social adaptation is fresh, creative and timely.”
— Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing

“This is a brilliant and fascinating book—Harford’s range of research is both impressive and inspiring, and his conclusions are provocative. The message about the need to accept failure has important implications, not just for policy making but also for people’s professional and personal lives. Adapt should be required reading for anyone serving in government, working at a company, trying to build a career, or simply trying to navigate an increasingly complex world.”
— Gillian Tett, author of Fools’ Gold

Dear Undercover Economist

The very best letters from the Dear Economist column

Tim Harford

Are there tangible benefits in flossing? Is it wrong to fake orgasms? What does the perfect online dating ad look like? Should we bother doing the ironing? Is it really impossible to buy the perfect Christmas gift? (Other than this book, of course.)

Economists might not be the first people you would think of to give you advice on such diverse areas as parenting, the intricacies of etiquette or the dark arts of seduction. But for years bestselling author Tim Harford has been doing just that: answering the most challenging questions in his brilliant column, where he uses the tools of economics to give practical advice about everyday dilemmas, conundrums and concerns. From family rows and the stock market to buying socks or speed dating, you'll find within these pages a witty — and of course rational — explanation for almost everything you ever wanted to know about life.

Little, Brown (August 25, 2009)

The Logic of Life

The Rational Economics of an Irrational World

Tim Harford

Life sometimes seems illogical. Individuals do strange things: take drugs, have unprotected sex, mug each other. Love seems irrational, and so does divorce. On a larger scale, life seems no fairer or easier to fathom: Why do some neighborhoods thrive and others become ghettos? Why is racism so persistent? Why is your idiot boss paid a fortune for sitting behind a mahogany altar? Thorny questions–and you might be surprised to hear the answers coming from an economist.

But Tim Harford, award-winning journalist and author of the bestseller The Undercover Economist, likes to spring surprises. In this deftly reasoned book, Harford argues that life is logical after all. Under the surface of everyday insanity, hidden incentives are at work, and Harford shows these incentives emerging in the most unlikely places.

Using tools ranging from animal experiments to supercomputer simulations, an ambitious new breed of economist is trying to unlock the secrets of society. The Logic of Life is the first book to map out the astonishing insights and frustrating blind spots of this new economics in a way that anyone can enjoy.

The Logic of Life presents an X-ray image of human life, stripping away the surface to show us a picture that is revealing, enthralling, and sometimes disturbing. The stories that emerge are not about data or equations but about people: the athlete who survived a shocking murder attempt, the computer geek who beat the hard-bitten poker pros, the economist who defied Henry Kissinger and faked an invasion of Berlin, the king who tried to buy off a revolution. Once you’ve read this quotable and addictive book, life will never look the same again.

Random House (January 15, 2008)

Reviews

The Method in our MadnessFinancial Times
Romeo v. JulietThe American Spectator
Those Sweet Mysteries of Life, DecipheredThe New York Times
Harford Vs. FriedmanForbes

The Undercover Economist

Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor — and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!

Tim Harford

The Undercover Economist is a bestseller in Korea, Canada, Spain and Israel.

An economist's version of The Way Things Work, this engaging volume is part field guide to economics and part expose of the economic principles lurking behind daily events, explaining everything from traffic jams to high coffee prices.

The Undercover Economist is for anyone who's wondered why the gap between rich and poor nations is so great, or why they can't seem to find a decent second-hand car, or how to outwit Starbucks. This book offers the hidden story behind these and other questions, as economist Tim Harford ranges from Africa, Asia, Europe, and of course the United States to reveal how supermarkets, airlines, and coffee chains — to name just a few — are vacuuming money from our wallets. Harford punctures the myths surrounding some of today's biggest controversies, including the high cost of health-care; he reveals why certain environmental laws can put a smile on a landlord's face; and he explains why some industries can have high profits for innocent reasons, while in other industries something sinister is going on. Covering an array of economic concepts including scarce resources, market power, efficiency, price gouging, market failure, inside information, and game theory, Harford sheds light on how these forces shape our day-to-day lives, often without our knowing it.

Showing us the world through the eyes of an economist, Tim Harford reveals that everyday events are intricate games of negotiations, contests of strength, and battles of wits. Written with a light touch and sly wit, The Undercover Economist turns "the dismal science" into a true delight.

Oxford University Press, USA (November 1, 2005)

The Market for Aid

Michael Klein and Tim Harford

Tim Harford and Michael U. Klein

In an accessible style Michael Klein and Tim Harford analyze some of the hot topics in the aid industry today. They argue that the aid industry is changing, old models of aid are under pressure, and both donors and recipients will ask more and more of aid agencies in the future. The chaos of competition and the search for new ideas are frightening to some and risk harming the people whom the industry is supposed to benefit. Yet at the same time there is a tremendous opportunity for harnessing competition to improve performance and find better ways of helping the poor. Klein and Harford argue for rigorous methods of evaluation and creative use of the private sector to produce a more effective aid industry in which new experiments are encouraged.

World Bank Publications (June 2005)

Topics

Tim tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Tim favours a strong narrative style of presentation, illuminating his argument with memorable stories. Some of his current popular speaking topics include:

Storytelling masterclass

What do we mean when we talk about "a good story"? Tim looks at different ways of grabbing media attention, from viral clickbait to genuine long-form storytelling. As he tells stories about stories, he lays out the tools and the ethical traps of powerful storytelling.

Innovation and Experimentation

Make More Misstakes: Why solving problems in a complex world is impossible without a process of trial and error; the three big barriers to successful experimentation.

Ideas that Matter: What we call “innovation” actually encompasses two very different activities. Do innovative organisations have to choose?

Finance and the economy

Preventing financial meltdowns: We already know how to prevent catastrophes in complex systems: here’s why investment bankers need to talk to safety engineers.

The economic outlook — what the economists aren’t telling us: Tim gives an informed but subversive macroeconomic overview, laying out the key economic issues while pointing out the overconfidence of previous economic forecasters.

How to run — or ruin — an economy: An inspirational speech about the amazing life of Bill Phillips — a founder of macroeconomics, a war hero, and a man with something to teach us about tough economic times today.

Management

Management lessons from the war in Iraq: It was most important turnaround of the last decade. Here’s what it takes to change a failing organization from the bottom up.

Do you believe in sharing? Weaving together the contrasting stories of two environmentalists who disagreed about the most fundamental question in social science, Tim offers a hopeful but unorthodox view of the corporate responsibility agenda.

Big data and data visualization

Misinformation is beautiful: From the graphic pioneer (and famous nurse) Florence Nightingale to today’s multidimensional, animated big-data visualisations, Tim argues that we’re at risk of making the same statistical errors as ever — only more beautifully.

The Big Data trap: Big data is an amazing opportunity — but it may also be a trap. Beginning in a Prussian forest in 1763, Tim’s whirlwind history of big data argues that while data leads to knowledge, it does so at the risk of breeding serious overconfidence.

Just for fun

Trust me, I’m an economist: Drawing on his cult “Dear Economist” column and his BBC TV series, Tim gives a humorous after-dinner speech on love, sex, death and tax evasion.

Videos

Trial, Error and the God Complex | TEDGlobal

Preventing financial meltdowns | Pop!Tech

Get Adobe Flash player

How to support innovations that matter | BBC Radio 4 Pop Up Economics

Feedback

A major international financial institution:
Dear Tim — Your keynote was brilliant and most appropriate for the occasion. People are still discussing it! We really appreciate your participating in the conference.

A technology periodical:
Tim — you were a highlight. A natural storyteller with no need for props. Thanks for being part of the experience - really appreciate your work.

A specialty biopharmaceutical company:
We enjoyed Tim’s presentation and he has a great style which we were able to blend into our specific focus and make this a lively and interactive session.

He was a nice person to deal with and our team enjoyed his book.

A global academic publisher:
Thanks again for your involvement… you did such a wonderful job and we were so proud to have you there.

A leading US newspaper:
Harford has a knack for explaining economic principles and problems in plain language and, even better, for making them fun.

An economist:
Smart, charming, penetrating, and wise.

A leading body in the UK for taxation professionals:
I got very, very positive feedback from the members… everyone found it thought-provoking and enjoyable. You pitched it exactly right.

An economist:
Your performance was quite brilliant.

Articles

— Financial Times Magazine
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— Computer Weekly
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— BBC News Magazne
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— The Independent
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— Medium
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— FT Magazine
— FT Magazine
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— Wired
— FT Magazine