Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy

“Packed with fascinating detail… Harford has an engagingly wry style and his book is a superb introduction to some of the most vital products of human ingenuity.”

The Sunday Times

“It’s great fun to dip into… Harford succeeds in teaching… without resorting to technical terminology and intimidating charts and tables. Such a feat requires a kind of inventiveness in itself.”

The Wall Street Journal

A Sunday Times Business Bestseller Amazon Top 20 Business Book of the Year A Bloomberg Business Week Book of the Year A Financial Times Book of the Year I’ve tried to paint a picture of economic change by telling the stories of the ideas, people, and tools that had far-reaching and unexpected consequences for all of us. Drawing from the hugely popular BBC radio program and podcast “50 Things That Made The Modern Economy,” I discuss the inventions that have transformed the ways we work, play and live. From the plough to artificial intelligence, from Gillette’s disposable razor to Ikea’s Billy bookcase, I recount each invention’s own memorable story and introduce you to the characters who developed them, profited from them, and were ruined by them. New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences – for example, how the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe. And for a glimpse at some of the inspirations behind the book, check out my history-of-technology reading list.
“His zest for his subjects makes them hard to resist; his lively, humorous style and wide-ranging curiosity make hard topics go down easily.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Britain’s answer to the Freakonomics folk… the book is constantly surprising. It brims with innovations I didn’t know about, as well as ones I thought I knew about but did not.”

The Times

“Remarkably readable… Harford has a talent for seeing the unintended consequences of unconnected inventions… very clever book.”

Toronto Star

“Harford’s richness of detail bespeaks skill both as an economic analyst and as a popular commentator.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Reaffirms his status as one of the great (greatest?) contemporary popular writers on economics”

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

“Harford always seems to ask the right questions.”

The Spectator

“An eye-opening and thought-provoking account that is about as far away from a boring economics book as you can get and still be an economics book.”


“Plenty to savor… prodigious skills as an economic storyteller”

New York Times

“Tim Harford, always excellent, turns his eye towards inventions.”

The Evening Standard

“This is as fun as economics can get.”

Dave Pell, NextDraft

“Fascinating and compelling stories… curious, surprising and memorable.”

Chicago Tribune

“Harford effortlessly leaps across time and continents… fantastically enlightening.”


“Packed full of intriguing details and bizarre facts, this witty and engaging book offers the most fun you’re likely to have when studying the development of modern economics.”

The Daily Mail

“An absolute winner… in Tim Harford’s hands, economics is a living, fascinating journey.”

The Free Lance-Star

“Amazing tales… incisive but illuminating and entertaining.”

IANS Newswire

“This is a lovely book: the kind of thing whose bite-sized morsels add up to a whole meal, but can be enjoyed and shared on their own.”

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing

“Harford is a master at getting from an invention’s origin to its current effect quickly without sacrificing detail, pulling people’s personal histories in to make it more poignant and relatable—taking you, for instance, from Alessandro Volta to Elon Musk in under five pages… he proves to be as good a storyteller as an economist.”


“He is witty and clever and he does his homework.”

The Times

“Britain’s answer to Malcolm Gladwell… it is in the narrative details that even the not-so-monumental inventions begin to sing.”

Business Standard

“Based on history, biography and a splash of economics, Harford’s fresh look is great entertainment, with enough ah-ha wisdom to evoke a “listen to this,” reading aloud of a favorite passage..”

Shelf Awareness

Praise for the radio series:
“Easily some of the best radio of recent years.”

The Times

“I love these fact-filled micro-documentaries, steeped in history… A masterclass in socioeconomic storytelling.”

The Financial Times

“A marvel of brevity, clarity and original thinking.”

The Daily Telegraph

“Superbly informative.”

The Sunday Times

“They are real masterpieces of brevity and audio storytelling… brilliant sideways glances… I’ve been surprised by every episode.”

Monocle Arts Review

“This is what BBC radio is for. The series is utterly compelling and low-key… Just brilliant ideas, told simply. A wonderful, wonderful programme.”

The Times

“50 Things is an education and a delight.”

The Radio Times

“Harford’s script is immaculate and so is his presentation.”

The Times of India

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