“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra
Tim Harford must have been oblivious to the aforementioned quote while writing ‘The Logic of Life’. Problem with ‘The Logic of Life’ when compared with Harford’s previous book ‘The Undercover Economist’ is the choice of topics. There should be no argument as far as the flow of the book is concerned. Both the books have a common premise that there is more to the world than we see. Both have a collection of disparate chapters that intend to validate the premise. Where ‘The Undercover Economist’ does it in riveting style, ‘The Logic of Life’ entangles itself in anecdotes, lengthy descriptions of characters and gross generalizations. Then there are chapters such as ‘Is divorce underrated?’ and ‘A million years of logic’ that state some pretty obvious and oft-repeated instances.
I had high expectations from ‘The Logic of Life’. However, as soon as I started to enjoy the book, Harford’s appetite for played-out content tempered my enthusiasm. Harford very promisingly lays the framework for the rest of the book in the first chapter called ‘Introducing the logic of life”. He argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, people are sufficiently rational. He convincingly proves his theory through research-induced examples of prostitutes capitalizing on the use and non-use of contraceptives and of criminals being alert to the trauma of imprisonment.
Where the first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book, subsequent chapters ‘Las Vegas’ and ‘Is divorce underrated?’ turn out to be mighty average. Harford harps on Game Theory and reasons for the increase in divorce rates respectively. If the author’s choice of topics didn’t bamboozle me enough, his bland explanations certainly did. There is nothing in these two chapters that can shake the readers out of the slumber induced by long-winded lectures on Von Neumann and Thomas Schelling.
Next three chapters – ‘Why your boss is overpaid?’, ‘In the neighborhood’ and ‘The dangers of rational racism’ form the meaty part of the book. Harford’s account of Tournament theory, Schelling’s Chessboard model and statistical discriminations is both enlightening and thought-provoking. Of the last three chapters – ‘This world is spiky’, ‘Rational revolutions’ and ‘Million years of logic’, only ‘Rational revolutions’ makes for a novel read. Unlike ‘The Undercover Economist’ which had me drooling over it, ‘The Logic of Life’ left me with mixed feelings. In the end, I’d say it’s a mixed bag of a book. Buy the paperback version and before you buy, suspend your critical faculties and treat it as Tim Harford’s first book.