Tim Harford's third book, Adapt, is much braver than his first two.
The Undercover Economist, his first book, leapt on the post-Freakonomics enthusiasm for popular economics and - alongside Steven Lansberg, Tyler Cowen and others - explained how we can all use economic principles to make sense of our everyday lives. It was clever, fun and accessible: a better introduction than most to demystifying economic theory and making it actually useful to the man complaining about ticket prices on the Clapham omnibus. The Logic of Life, his second, told us simply that logic underlies even our most seemingly absurd decisions. Tim's narrative, that people act rationally even when they seem not to, drew examples and theory from the field of behavioural economics to tell the reader what was again an ultimately comforting and familiar story that helped them make more sense of their own life.
Where The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life were reassuring, Adapt is confrontational.
The Logic of Life told us that we're not as stupis as we look. Adapt tells us that actually in many cases we will work adamantly against our own best interests or those of the organisations we represent. It takes effort and willpower and often a reckless disregard for institutional inertia for experiments to flourish, and while trial and error is shown time and again as crucial to improvement and even survival it is simply a worryingly hard thing for people to accept.
It's a big, important idea, and quite a departure from Tim's previous work. We urgently need to be doing things - at the global level, about climate change and financial reform, as well as at the level of struggling businesses or poor personal choices - that require us to try things out that we know will fail. We are often predisposed not to. Adapt will help us try.
Adapt comes out in the UK on the 2nd of June and you can buy it here.
(Disclosure: Tim is a dear old friend who bribed me for this review with so much wine that he and his wife trounced me at Puerto Rico. Again)