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Summary

When was the last time you read a grand statement, accompanied by a large number and wondered whether it could really be true? Statistics are vital in helping us tell stories - we see them in the papers, on social media and we hear them used in everyday conversation - and yet we doubt them more than ever.

But numbers - in the right hands - have the power to change the world for the better. Contrary to popular belief, good statistics are not a trick, although they are a kind of magic. Good statistics are not smoke and mirrors; in fact, they help us see more clearly. Good statistics are like a telescope for an astronomer, a microscope for a bacteriologist or an X-ray for a radiologist. If we are willing to let them, good statistics help us see things about the world around us and about ourselves - both large and small ­- that we would not be able to see in any other way.

In How to Make the World Add Up, Tim Harford draws on his experience as both an economist and presenter of the BBC's radio show More or Less. He takes us deep into the world of disinformation and obfuscation, bad research and misplaced motivation to find those priceless jewels of data and analysis that make communicating with numbers worthwhile. Harford's characters range from the art forger who conned the Nazis to the stripper who fell in love with the most powerful congressman in Washington, to famous data detectives such as John Maynard Keynes, Daniel Kahneman and Florence Nightingale. He reveals how we can evaluate the claims that surround us with confidence, curiosity and a healthy level of scepticism.

Using 10 simple rules for understanding numbers - plus one golden rule - this extraordinarily insightful book shows how if we keep our wits about us, thinking carefully about the way numbers are sourced and presented, we can look around us and see with crystal clarity how the world adds up. 

(Published in the US as The Data Detective.)

©2020 Tim Harford (P)2020 Hachette Audio UK

Critic reviews

"If you aren't in love with stats before reading this book, you will be by the time you're done. Powerful, persuasive, and in these truth-defying times, indispensable." (Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women)

"...lucid, witty and authoritative.... Every politician and journalist should be made to [listen to] this book, but everyone else will get so much pleasure and draw so much strength from the joyful way it dispels the clouds of deceit and delusion." (Stephen Fry)

What listeners say about How to Make the World Add Up

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Fascinating stories and insights

I love More or Less so this was right up my street. Well written and narrated by Tim Harford, it kept my attention throughout. I do feel a bit like I can't trust anything I read or hear any more but I have some good questions to ask and ways to think about things

4 people found this helpful

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Climate change

There's good reason to be skeptical about reported use of 'science' and indeed the author gives us many, but early on in the book he gives the impression climate change science is inviolate. In fact the climate change industry/religion is very much motivated to show only one side. Its disappointing to hear this bias, but otherwise a good listen.

4 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

A very accessible, intresting and informative romp through how to assess the myriad of numbers and situations that we are all faced with today. His core message, that we all need to stay curious rather than cynical, is brilliantly conveyed. Well worth your time

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent, engaging and entertaining

An amazing book and expertly delivered. Really goes into the details but stays fun and easy to follow.

1 person found this helpful

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Absolutely brilliant

Full of fascinating stories - I had no idea that Florence Nightingale saved millions of lived by being an amazing statistician for example. Very well read by the author.

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Enlightening - should be on the citizenship curriculum

I like a book read by the author - it’s seems so much more authentic and this is no different.
It’s amusing, interesting, educating and enjoyable all in one. Full of stories to illustrate points Tim Harford sheds light on how we can look better for the explanations behind numbers and the reasons why statistics don’t always show us what we think we’re looking at. I’ve bought it for my son and my Dad, so it’s definitely cross generational.
Thanks. A great listen.

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Lots of interesting content that is well presented

I am a big fan of more or less on Radio 4 and thought this book would be right up my street, and it was.

Some of the examples and case studies I had heard before but that is not surprising. Some concepts that I understand were explained really well and I now understand them better.

Tim Harford reads really well and his narration was outstanding.

In summary, a good book that has a lot of interesting content that is well presented.

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Tim Harford shares wisdom. What's not to love!?

If you've listened to Cautionary Tales, much of this will sound familiar. This book goes deeper however, and pulls things together some more.

Well written and beautifully delivered, it is well worth a listen. Thanks Tim.

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A fascinating and informative read for anyone

I absolutely loved listening to this audio book and whilst I learned a lot of information along the way, really the main thing I grasped was that curiosity and questioning things will help you go far in life! Recommended to everyone.

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interesting and amusing

enjoyable and educational as well as interesting and amusing. Read in Tim Harford's usual tongue in cheek style.