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Review: Fifty things that made the modern economy

I've long been a fan of journalist and broadcaster Tim Harford (aka. The Undercover Economist). Harford's skill is making economics and related topics understandable/readable/listenable for you and me.  His latest book is Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy, published by Abacus and based on the excellent BBC series of the same name.

As the title implies, Harford tells the reader something of the often-quirky history of 50 important inventions which have had a profound impact on the world today.  These are not "The Top 50" - more like a curated selection among many important developments. Some are obvious, such as the plough and its impact on food production.  Others perhaps less so; for example, copyright and the limited liability company.  And Harford makes no bones about leaving out some of the more obvious, such as the computer, while extolling the significance of Grace Hopper's computer language compiler, and the wonders unleashed by computer software.

It's an eclectic mix that takes the reader down unexpected paths.  Each short chapter is entertaining and informative, ideal for a few minutes' read before turning the bedside light out (or wherever else you ingest such mind fodder).  One or two were a little too brief for my taste, but that's a minor quibble and the extensive Notes section at the back gives ample follow-up references.

50 Things was a success as a radio programme and the book is already a bestseller and Book of the Year, according to the Financial Times and Bloomberg.  I predict there will be a follow-up series and book - 50 More Things That Made The Modern Economy.  Here's my suggestion for inclusion: cooking.  Cooking gave humanity access to a vastly expanded range of food sources and, probably by happenstance, led to ceramics, metal-working, brewing and, ultimately, industry and science.  I look forward to reading about that and the other 49.

Disclosure: Isambard receives commission from Amazon if you buy after clicking on the link. That has no bearing on my review.