The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers that Rule Our World

Zachary Karabell. Simon & Schuster, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-5120-1
How did we get to the era of Big Data? Karabell, president of River Twice Research, a political and economic analysis firm, mines little known tidbits in the history of economics to explain how individuals, companies, and countries came to rely on statistics like unemployment, inflation, and gross domestic product to describe the wealth of nations—and why these traditional concepts may no longer be up to the task. Statistics about working people during Industrial Revolution fueled the labor movement, while Great Depression put terms like "unemployment" into the everyday lexicon of Americans. Yet these one-size-fits-all indicators can't really handle the intricacies the 21st century global economy. A low national unemployment rate means little to jobless people in states where higher rates prevail, nor can it predict events like the reelection of a president. Karabell proposes crafting "bespoke indicators" that harness unique data sets that users can deploy to answer questions about economic life. This slim, entertaining volume also unpacks the contributions of a host of colorful, if obscure, individuals who contributed to the field. In Karabell's hands economics is no longer "the dismal science." More storyteller than analyst here, he succeeds in livening up how "the economy" came to be for the general reader, minus the complex jargon and blizzards of numbers that can mar such books. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 03/10/2014
Release date: 02/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4516-5125-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-4516-5122-5
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