Tim Harford

I first came across Tim Harford when Tyler Cowen linked to his blog some six-seven months back. He used to blog fairly prolifically back then, and I used to enjoy reading it. In the matter of a couple of months, he had upstaged Tyler to become my favourite econ-blogger (that position currently belongs to Arnold Kling of EconLog). I wasn’t long before I bought “The Undercover Economist“.

The Undercover Economist, as I’ve described in the books section of facebook, is in my opinion the best introductory textbook for economics. In each chapter, Harford takes a fundamental concept of economics and explains it to the reader in simple terms, using excellent examples. He starts off with price discrimination, a favourite topic of mine and goes on to cover other basics such as externalities, asymmetric markets, bubbles, etc. His treatment of auctions, using the British 3G auctions as an example, is incredible. The way he describes the auctions is similar to following an extremely tight one-day international on cricinfo.

I bought his latest book “The Logic of Life” during my latest book binge, which happened some three weeks ago. I started reading it yesterday and I’m already more than halfway through it. Now, there is a small “problem”. In order to generate publicity for his book, Harford used to write on his blog stuff that he was using for the book. He wrote an article about love and said “this is going into the love chapter in the Logic of Life”. He was linking to articles which he used for his research. He even ended up putting some parts of his book online.

Now, the problem is that as soon as I reached the third chapter (the one on love and marriage and divorce) there was a sense of? “I’ve read that somewhere”. He had only put parts of this particular chapter online, but it all seemed so familiar that I ended up just glossing over that chapter. In the bargain, I might have missed out on some strong fundaes that would’ve occurred only in the book.

Even in the other chapters, there seems to be some sort of sameness that is spoiling the reading experience. For example, in the first chapter, when I read about rats and quinine and root beer, something somewhere in my head told me it would be about Giffen goods. And about Giffen goods it was!

Oh, and it wasn’t just to do with Harford’s blog. I’m also a regular reader of Marginal Revolution, and the day the book was released in the US, Tyler Cowen started a “Logic of life book forum” on his blog. And I’ve read a number of discussions on that forum (I can’t explicitly recall any particular conversation, though). And all this happened before the book had been released in India, so there was no way I could’ve participated in the forum.

I now wonder if it was a good idea at all to read his blogs before reading the book. I wonder if I should’ve stayed away from Tyler’s book forum. I think I might have enjoyed the book much better had I not been a regular reader of Harford’s blog. And ever since the Logic of Life got published, Harford has suddenly become quiet on his blog (except for one exchange with Bryan Caplan on racism – I’m yet to hit that chapter in the book).? Apart from the mandatory two posts on Saturday morning (Dear Economist and The Undercover Economist FT Column), blogging has become extremely scarce.

Now that I get the feeling that he used to blog only to promote his book, I don’t seem to like his blog that much And that doesn’t prevent me from giving a top rating for “the logic of life”.

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