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Publisher's Summary

Everything we know about solving the world’s problems is wrong. Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting - improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again.

In this groundbreaking new book, Tim Harford shows how the world’s most complex and important problems - including terrorism, climate change, poverty, innovation, and the financial crisis - can only be solved from the bottom up by rapid experimenting and adapting.

From a spaceport in the Mojave Desert to the street battles of Iraq, from a blazing offshore drilling rig to everyday decisions in our business and personal lives, this is a handbook for surviving - and prospering - in our complex and ever-shifting world.

©2011 Tim Harford (P)2011 Hachette Digital

What listeners say about Adapt

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good, but not as good as Messy

Playback glitchy. Waffly at times. Narration volume varied with accent - sometimes too soft to hear in the car.

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  • Kazimieras Celiesius
  • 08-08-2022

Aged but still very insightful

This book is great for anyone who enjoys the Cautionary Tales podcast. If expands on a lot of stories touched upon there (and I presume a lot that will be featured in future episodes). The thesis is presented clearly and the stories that support it are very interesting. Narrated well, this book is excellent for walks.

The author draws on examples from nature, experiments, disaster stories and complicated social and business issues to demonstrate how flexibility, experimentation and unexpected strategies can lead to good outcomes. Conversely lack of them can lead to bad ones.

My only criticism (if it can be called that) is that time has unfortunately made some of the statistics and stories a bit dated (particularly ones related to climate change and strategies of dealing with it). But this is a very small caveat for an otherwise insightful read.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Judy Corstjens
  • 23-07-2011

A rising star

Tim Harford gets better and better, now with a whole thoughtful book exploring the concept of evolution as applied to markets and other complex systems. He is really becoming the UK's Paul Krugman with his colourful analogies that bring to life economic concepts for the lay person - Coco bonds as airbags and 'economic Bulldogs' for the unintended consequences of well intended policy. So why only four stars? Well, most unfortunately, Tim (who, as we all know, is himself a highly competent presenter, well able to read his own book) delegated this task to some actor who decided to deliver various lengthily quoted passages in the supposedly appropriate accent. So Adam Smith appears with a rich scottish burr, and various Americans with a transatlantic drawl. This is irritating and unnecessary (and probably inaccurate) but tolerable. It becomes unbearable when we have third world economists such as Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen bank). The narrator can't actually face the horror of putting on a faux-Bengali accent so he does a sort of 'humble peasant voice' instead. Made me squirm. Tim - read your own books - please.

12 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Elizabeth
  • 25-09-2011

very disappointed Tim Harford fan

I think I am in the minority here, as the book has an average of nearly 4 stars from other readers.
I loved the Undercover Economist, which I read, rather than listened to, and I am a big fan of More or Less on Radio 4. But I just can't get through this, I have given up at chapter 4. Perhaps it is unfair to give a book a negative review when I haven't finished it.
First of all, as a previous reviewer said, the narration is awful. He sounds to me like he is narrating the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I keep expecting him to say something like "So long and thanks for all the fish". The accents are annoying, but I could probably live with that. I just think he has the emphasis all wrong and it's changing the meaning. He says things deadpan that sound to me like Tim Harford meant them to be ironic, and then uses what I take to be his ironic voice to say things that sound like they should be serious.
Then, I get the feeling that this book is intended for an American audience. Where the Undercover Economist started with examples of coffee stands on Waterloo Station, this one starts with the variety of products in Walmart, and President Obama. . I've just got up to a discussion of the Haditha massacre in Afghanistan. I really don't think Tim has any authority (in the academic sense) to be writing about this, and I've given up. I might look out a written copy from the library, if they've been allowed any money for new books, so I can flick through and see if improves.

14 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jeremy
  • 08-04-2012

Clever, entertaining and well narrated!

What an interesting and unusual book, and read in a clear, straightforward style. I have to disagree with the previous reviewer about incorrect inflection. Judge for yourself, but I found the no-nonsense narration easy and enjoyable to listen to.

"Adapt" is a practical application of complexity theory to modern life. As such it challenges many common sense assumptions. Failure is often the prelude to success, because it involves experiment, which allows us to learn, if we can recognise, admit and understand our mistakes.

The case examples are interesting, from the "toaster project" to the overturning of Rumsfeldt's disasterous central planning of the Iraq war, to the building of the first Spitfire through the persistence of a maverick civil servant and the generosity of an eccentric female philanthropist. Perhaps there are a few too many military examples. However, I really enjoyed this audiobook.

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  • Chris
  • 09-02-2018

Don't bother

This is one of those books written because someone wanted to write a book (or get paid for writing a book), rather than because they had something important to say. After ten plus hours of patiently waiting through endless rehashed stories, anecdotes and studies borrowed from other (better) books in the field, it seems the punch line is that Darwinism applies to everything and we should all find ways to take risks, experiment, learn from the results and adapt. As if that was a remotely insightful revelation. Save yourself the waste of time and just read Black Box Thinking instead.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • R
  • 19-07-2012

Fantastic read

One of the best books I have heard / read. For me a convincing tour de force.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Marc
  • 14-11-2011

Economic concept for this age

If you are a manager or run a business, you should read this. There is some really original thought here (i.e. not yet seen in Godin or other "guru" books) and Harford pulls together a lot of other leading edge thinking into a comprehensive page turner. The evolutionary mechanism described is apt for our current economic climate and Harford illustrates how it can be applied on various levels of work and management related processes.
The only part I disagree with and preventing 5 stars is his reference to Google as being visionary in regard to business practices - it's easy to try new things if you can blow billions!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 13-12-2019

I wish Tim Harford narrated this book :(

This could be a great book - but I'll never know because the tone and style of the narration is a terrible match to the content and tone of the book, and totally put me off! Tim Harford is an engaging speaker, there is a lightness to the way he explains even the most complex subjects, if only he'd narrated this book. Unfortunately the narrator used has a drool, serious and supercilious tone which is as off putting as his hissing sibilant sounds.

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  • Gregory
  • 10-08-2019

Worth a read, but repeats a bit much in the middle

Good book, the first and last third parts especially, the middle third was a bit dull though.

would recommend, but once you finish the first third you know everything as the examples just repeat the principle.

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  • Guy Brewer
  • 01-11-2017

ditch the accents

fascinating account, slightly marred by the jarring accents of the narrator - no need for them.

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  • Edg
  • 23-02-2017

is a cracker if your in to this sort of book

he tends to dwell on examples a bit long, but it's fascinating and charming written.

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