The Logic of Life:
Uncovering the New Economics of Everything

Tim Harford

Little, Brown 2008
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
In The Logic of Life Tim Harford offers an entertaining survey of applications of "rational economics" to aspects of everyday life and politics. He presents work on sex and drug-dealing, poker tournaments, divorce and marriage, pay scales, neighbourhood segregation and racism, the role and importance of cities, and even ventures into the rationality of revolutions and the politics of minority special interests such as sugar subsidies. Throw in some biographical snippets about interesting economists, while avoiding any actual mathematics or statistics, and the attraction is obvious.

Perhaps I've been exposed to too much of this material, but many of the results Harford expects us to find surprising weren't: that teenage drug-dealers take into account the severity of the juvenile justice system, for example, is hardly unexpected. Some of the results were new to me, however, and Harford mostly avoids dramatisation or exaggeration.

The bigger problem with The Logic of Life is that it covers too many scattered topics and doesn't really lead anywhere. No theoretical apparatus is developed, so we don't learn methods we can apply in other places. And the background details of the specific studies aren't provided, so we aren't given anything we can connect to our broader knowledge. (In some cases this may be for the best: Harford's grasp of evolutionary biology and history seems fairly shallow.)

Even if the light Harford shines comes unvaryingly from the same angle, however, it can still reveal unexpected details. The Logic of Life has endnotes with references and may inspire readers to examine topics in greater depth. And it's certainly an easy way to pass a few hours.

Note: the subtitle in the United States is The Rational Economics of an Irrational World.

July 2008

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%T The Logic of Life
%S Uncovering the New Economics of Everything
%A Harford, Tim
%I Little, Brown
%D 2008
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9780316027571
%P 272pp