Ben Wiltshire (Whitchurch High School), reviews Tim Harford's 'The Undercover Economist'

Participants in Worcester's Bookshelf project are all in year 11, 12 or 13 at UK state schools. They are asked to review the book in no more than 300 words, as well as to respond to the three prompts at the bottom of the page. Here Ben Wiltshire, who is studying at Whitchurch High School, reviews Tim Harford's book, The Undercover Economist:


The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford is the perfect book to enable you to find an area of economics that catches your imagination. In the book, Harford discusses a wide range of topics and effectively applies it to the real-world, as the reader would experience it. Harford goes in depth on the principle of scarcity, something many school curriculums should, but don’t do.


The book is limited slightly, by the lack of focus on any one area. Although it plays into the light-hearted feel of the book, the lack of detail is occasionally problematic. To gain enough knowledge on most topics that Harford discusses, another book is needed. This doesn’t necessarily reduce the value of the book, as that is not its purpose. However, it does limit it significantly.

Harford expresses very theoretical aspects of economics in a way that is applicable to the real world, such as game theory. Game theory is inherently mathematical and abstract, however Harford successfully applies the concept to something tangible, the auction over 3G contracts. Although this is not an everyday experience for (most) readers, it makes the concept seem clearer and more real than before.

Harford’s book is gratifyingly unopinionated, which sets it apart from most economics books. However, when Harford does express his opinion, his views are conveyed in the same, unbiased, factual tone. This was an issue for me. As the book is designed as an introduction into economics, the typical reader may not be able to distinguish the arguments and opinions from the facts.

Overall, The Undercover Economist is an excellent read as an alternative to its heavy, academic counterparts. Economics is a wide spanning discipline but Tim Harford’s book allows you to navigate it and find an area that really inspires you to learn more.


Something I agreed with in this book was...

Harford’s support of free trade as a driver of both growth and development.

Something I disagreed with in this book was...

The suggestion that a real person would calculate the maintenance costs of speed bumps, when deciding whether to drive to work or not.

Something I learnt from reading this book that I didn't know about this subject before was...

That you could use optional extras as a way of identifying economic agents with a consumer surplus.