The one-sentence summary

Context is absolutely crucial: what appears to be a reason for something rarely is.


An economist and inquisitive journalist explore the hidden side of everything. They find links and patterns in all sorts of strange areas by asking unconventional questions such as:

1. What do estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan have in common?

2. Why do drug dealers live with their mothers?

3. How can your name affect how well you do in life?

By using information about the world around us we can get to the heart of what is really going on. We need to be much more inquisitive and not accept received wisdom.


  • If you follow the thinking behind the whole book, you will never take anything for granted again
  • What appears to be a reason for something rarely is – instead it is often a twisted piece of received wisdom that everyone blindly accepts
  • Take an example: parents prevent a child from going to play in a house where the parents own a gun, but allow them to visit another friend who has a swimming pool. In fact the odds are 1: 11,000 of drowning and 1:1 million of gun death
  • We are all terrible risk assessors, and as a result, we often make very dim decisions which fly in the face of the facts
  • There is a massive difference between correlation (two things appear to be linked) and causality (one actually causes the other). We need to distinguish between the two to make sensible decisions


  • In the broadest sense, the book has nothing to do with business
  • However, the enlightened mind can take the principles and apply them to the discernment of truly relevant data, and the kind of inquisitiveness that is essential for any successful strategy