Tim Harford's bite-sized "Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy"
Tim Harford (previously) is an economist with a gift for explaining complex subjects in simple, accessible terms: his latest book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, uses 50 short essays about technologies as varied as Ikea's Billy Bookcase, the plow, and AI to illustrate the ways that the human race has transformed itself, its relations, and the planet.
The book builds on Harford's excellent BBC podcast of the same name, which I've been enjoying ever since I heard about it on Harford's longrunning BBC programme More or Less, which looks at timely news stories with a sceptical, statistical eye, unpicking the numbers in the day's news to present a much-needed dose of technical rigour as well as an ongoing masterclass in the ways that statistics can illuminate or deceive.
As you might expect from the critical nature of More or Less, Harford's looks into inventions are not mere cheerleading for innovation -- each of these crisp, short, eminently readable essays takes account of the good and the bad, the winners and the losers (see, for example the entry on "intellectual property").
Popular economics writers have made a TED Talk industry out of tracing improbable connections and telling just-so stories that elevate market orthodoxy to a moral virtue, but Harford embodies the best of Bayesian thinking, a way of approaching the subject that looks at more than one side of the story, but without landing in a kind of muddled, "Well, you get the good with the bad" view from nowhere.
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.
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy [Tim Harford/Riverhead]
Vlad Taltos is the (anti)hero of Steven Brust's stupendous, longrunning fantasy series (which is nearly complete, a generation after it was begun!); Issue 220 of Dragon magazine (August 1995) included a feature by Ed Stark explaining how to play the human assassin and witch who lives amidst a race of nearly immortal elves, against whom […]
The inaugural Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship were an unqualified success, with competitors from the US, Russia, Japan and beyond converging on Joensuu, Finland to thrash and knit: competitors such as Woolfumes, Bunny Bandit and 9" Needles thrashed to heavy metal music while knitting, for an audience of about 200. The winners were the five-person […]
Young @Pugloca has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist -- the self-described anime and Halflife fan came to Vidcon in this stunning cosplay: an influencer apology video, replete with many, many ads. He was spotted by The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz.
With the rising temperatures on tap this summer, the climate is going to be a frequent topic of conversation, and those conversations won’t be happy ones. Luckily, there’s a way to do a little climate change of your own – in a safe and sustainable way. When it comes to personal air conditioners, EvaPolar is […]
Whether you’re using them for next-level selfies or steady tracking shots, gimbals are a must for anyone who wants to maximize the potential of these powerful smartphone cameras we’re all carrying around. But those smartphones are also supposed to be portable, and let’s face it: Gimbals tend to offset that advantage. Weighing in at just […]
It’s too hot for yard sales, but hey: The internet is here for you. Here are the top ten deals on some of the Boing Boing Store’s best gear, just in time for summer. It’s everything from grills to security cameras to MacBook Pros, and they might be as low as they’re ever going to […]