In brief: Fifty chapters devoted to ideas and inventions that made the economy of today from the iPhone to the oral contraceptive pill and air conditioning.
The good: Interesting insights into the history of these items.
The not-so-good: Some things I really wanted to know more about!
Why I chose it: Looked interesting.
Publisher: Little, Brown (Hachette)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy is a book that I wouldn’t seek out. I found it while browsing in a bookshop I trust for great recommendations. It’s a book you can dip in and out of as it’s divided into chapters for each ‘thing’ that are relatively short. This was good in some ways – brevity is appreciated when you’re not really into the thing (for me, that’s cuneiform and tradable debt). For things that I was really interested in, the chapters weren’t quite long enough at times (think the cold chain, video games and the iPhone).
However, it can’t be disputed that Tim Harford and his team have put a lot of work into summarising the invention, problems and impact of each item that had an impact on the modern economy. These range from the light bulb to radar, Google to the S bend. Each item makes you pause and think about how it has revolutionised the world for good or not so good (e.g., leaded petrol). It’s also a good taste of items you might want to read more about. For example, I wasn’t aware that the inventor of TV dinners was a woman. Nor was I aware of the financial issues of the inventor of the diesel engine, who has saved me money on fuel economy!
Overall, it’s an interesting idea in a book format that’s good to read in small chunks as there’s no real need to remember the chapters before. Harford writes clearly and concisely, and I’d love to read more from him where subjects are explained in more depth.