I Read It So You Don’t Have To

I Read It So You Don’t Have To: ‘The Data Detective’

An economist gives a psychological tour through the messy business of numbers

Kaushik Viswanath
Published in
3 min readMar 1, 2021
Animation by Julia Moburg for Marker

I Read It So You Don’t Have To is a new series that gives you the TL;DR on a new business book you want to read—but will never have time to.

What did I read?

Tim Harford’s new book The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics (published in the U.K. as How to Make the World Add Up)

So who’s this Tim Harford?

He’s a columnist at the Financial Times, a BBC radio host, and the author of several previous books, the most recent of which is Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy and the most popular of which is probably 2005’s The Undercover Economist.

Give me the 30-second sell.

Following in the tradition of books that seek to improve how we use numbers to decipher the world — think Jordan Ellenberg’s How Not to Be Wrong, Charles Wheelan’s Naked Statistics, and Charles Seife’s Proofiness — Harford’s new book is an entertaining tour through the many ways in which we can learn to ask the right questions when snuffing out data and statistics. How do you separate useful stats from misleading ones? What might get left out of what seems like a surprising data point?

What will I learn, in a nutshell?

Over its 283 pages, the book is structured around a series of ten “muscles” we should develop when encountering data in the wild, like noticing our emotional reaction to a claim rather than accepting or rejecting it because of how it makes us feel. The deep dive is as much about psychology as it is about numbers — less about the stats themselves than how they get presented to us: what kinds of numbers are more likely to get published in journals, reported in the media, and grip our attention, how we understand them, and how they affirm or challenge our preconceptions. It fits into the genre of books spawned by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which aims to educate us about the ways in which our biases and beliefs shape how we interpret…



Kaushik Viswanath

Previously: Creators & Marker @Medium and business books at Penguin Random House.