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Summary

The Sunday Times best seller.

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)

"Tim Harford is one of my favourite writers in the world. His storytelling is gripping but never overdone, his intellectual honesty is rare and inspiring and his ability to make complex things simple - but not simplistic - is exceptional. How to Make the World Add Up is another one of his gems. If you're looking for an addictive pageturner that will make you smarter, this is your book." (Rutger Bregman, author of Humankind)

What listeners say about How to Make the World Add Up

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    3 out of 5 stars
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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.

6 people found this helpful

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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

5 people found this helpful

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Ten reasons to read ten rules

1. You don't need to be a stats nerd to enjoy this. I came to it from Harford's podcast 'Cautionary Tales' which is superb both in its presentation (Harford) and content.
2. You do need it to remind yourself how perfectly decent stats can be misrepresented and if ever we needed to know that, we need to know it now.
3. You also need it to see how to avoid traps of your own - how you feel about something influences how you judge stats about it so note that first.
4. It's fun.
5. It's real world.
6. You don't get homework.
7. I listened on Audible and now I've bought the paperback. Can't give a better recommendation than that.
8. I need three
9. more rules
10. because - ten.
There.

4 people found this helpful

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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.

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

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110% Perfect

An informative and entertaining take on a potentially dry subject. Tim's voice couldn't be more suited to it.

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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.

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Karl Thoroddsen
  • 21-04-22

Annoying political commentary

Interesting book about the value of statistics, ruined by the authors inabilty to keep his own bias and political opinions out of it.

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  • Or
  • 07-12-21

must read

this is a must read for those who care about anything. basically, a sobering yet hopeful look at the world.

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  • Darren Kelk
  • 22-07-21

great book to spark the thinker in us all

This book is excellent content, both inspiring and practical. Suppose you are a casual nerd looking for lots of critical well-present data. This is for you. Suppose you are a serious engineer of data infographics and reports. This is for you. Suppose you are the typical person, the one who is at the exact mid-point of the bell curve. And suspect data is being used to make you think and feel in a way designed by some else. This is for you. Suppose you are the rest of the bell curve. This is for you.