Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

by Tim Harford
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

by Tim Harford


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Look out for Tim's next book, The Data Detective.

A lively history seen through the fifty inventions that shaped it most profoundly, by the bestselling author of The Undercover Economist and Messy.

Who thought up paper money? What was the secret element that made the Gutenberg printing press possible? And what is the connection between The Da Vinci Code and the collapse of Lehman Brothers? 

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy paints an epic picture of change in an intimate way by telling the stories of the tools, people, and ideas that had far-reaching consequences for all of us. From the plough to artificial intelligence, from Gillette’s disposable razor to IKEA’s Billy bookcase, bestselling author and Financial Times columnist Tim Harford recounts each invention’s own curious, surprising, and memorable story. 

Invention by invention, Harford reflects on how we got here and where we might go next. He lays bare often unexpected connections: how the bar code undermined family corner stores, and why the gramophone widened inequality. In the process, he introduces characters who developed some of these inventions, profited from them, and were ruined by them, as he traces the principles that helped explain their transformative effects. The result is a wise and witty book of history, economics, and biography.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735216143
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 265,014
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Tim Harford is an award-winning journalist, economist, and broadcaster. He’s the author of the bestselling The Undercover EconomistMessyThe Undercover Economist Strikes Back, Adapt, and The Logic of Life. Harford is currently a senior columnist at the Financial Times and host of the BBC Radio 4 program More or Less. He has been named Economics Commentator of the Year (2014), has won the Rybczynski Prize (2014–15) for the best business-relevant economics writing, and has won the Bastiat Prize for economic journalism (2006). He’s a visiting fellow of Nuffield College at Oxford University and lives in Oxford with his family.

Table of Contents

1 The Plow 1

Introduction 7

I Winners and Losers 13

2 The Gramophone 15

3 Barbed Wire 20

4 Seller Feedback 26

5 Google Search 31

6 Passports 36

7 Robots 41

8 The Welfare State 46

II Reinventing How We Live 53

9 Infant Formula 55

10 TV Dinners 60

11 The Pill 65

12 Video Games 70

13 Market Research 74

14 Air-Conditioning 78

15 Department Stores 83

III Inventing New Systems 89

16 The Dynamo 91

17 The Shipping Container 96

18 The Bar Code 102

19 The Cold Chain 107

20 Tradable Debt and the Tally Stick 112

21 The Billy Bookcase 117

22 The Elevator 121

IV Ideas About Ideas 127

23 Cuneiform 129

24 Public-Key Cryptography 134

25 Double-Entry Bookkeeping 139

26 Limited Liability Companies 145

27 Management Consulting 150

28 Intellectual Property 155

29 The Compiler 160

V Where Do Inventions Come From? 165

30 The iPhone 167

31 Diesel Engines 171

32 Clocks 176

33 Chemical Fertilizer 181

34 Radar 186

35 Batteries 191

36 Plastic 196

VI The Visible Hand 201

37 The Bank 205

38 Razors and Blades 207

39 Tax Havens 212

40 Leaded Gasoline 217

41 Antibiotics in Farming 222

42 M-Pesa 227

43 Property Registers 232

VII Inventing the Wheel 237

44 Paper 239

45 Index Funds 244

46 The S-Bend 249

47 Paper Money 255

48 Concrete 260

49 Insurance 265

Conclusion: Looking Forward 270

50 Epilogue: The Lightbulb 277

Acknowledgments 283

Notes 285

Index 309

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