Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist

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Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist

Buy Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Reference
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An indispensable guide to the world in sound figures unaccompanied by any narrative - the figures speak for themselves.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846681233

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We live in a world where every pundit seems to have some figures with which to persuade or possibly bamboozle us. Occasionally the people using the figures don't fully understand what they're saying but that rarely stops them using them with an air of authority. Sometimes statistics are tainted by political spin and for people who need to know the truth it's increasingly difficult to find reliable information – with one exception. The Economist's Pocket World in Figures 2009 has no political axe to grind and offers no narrative to accompany the figures it presents – the statistics speak for themselves.

The statistical information is presented in a clear and user-friendly way and with plenty of relevant comparisons. It kicks off with the natural facts – figures which don't change from one year to the next – the largest mountains, islands, deserts and lakes and the longest rivers. They're useful but what is more interesting are the figures which relate to people and the way that they live. Last year it was the quality of living which interested me but this year the financial crises we're enduring took my thoughts to other areas.

Inflation is an obvious starting point and even if you disregard Zimbabwe's eye-watering 24,411% rate there's still a wide range. Congo-Kinshasa has a dreadful 21.3% and even more developed countries such as United Arab Emirates suffer 14%. Predictably the countries with the highest inflation rates are often the less developed or those with other difficulties. At the other end of the scale Japan is not the best with its 0.1% rate – Burkina Faso actually has a minus rate.

Iceland has been more in the news of late than for many years. I think it was cod last time around. Did you know that they have the second highest level of car ownership in the world with 632 per thousand population? The United Kingdom has 451. Contrast this with Bangladesh where only one person in every thousand has a car.

Iceland also has the second highest level of mortgage debt in the world at 102.1% of Gross Domestic Product – worryingly higher than the UK at 82.8% or the USA at 79%. In contrast Sweden's mortgage debt is 41.3% of GDP presumably because of different attitudes to home ownership.

The figures are not just restricted to the worthy or the frightening – there's the quirky too. The Economist's Big Mac index has a serious side as there's a suggestion that the countries with the lowest prices for a Big Mac when converted from the local currency into dollars could have the most undervalued currencies. This year the lowest price is still in China where the price has risen only slightly from last year. Going back to an earlier subject, the country with the highest price – and possibly the most over-valued currency is Iceland, where a Big Mac costs the equivalent of $7.61 – or more than five times as much as it costs in China.

For most major countries there's a double-page spread giving a country profile – a snapshot of the people, the economy, structure of employment, energy, inflation and finance, exchange rate, trade, balance of payments, health and education and finally society. This is when my one quibble with the book came to light. 'Iceland' I thought – but unfortunately there's no profile for the country.

It's wonderful background for the professional person visiting or dealing with a county. No briefcase should be without a copy.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you're interested in the way in which figures can be used to confuse or bamboozle then we can recommend The Tiger that Isn't by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot.

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Buy Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pocket World In Figures 2009 by The Economist at Amazon.com.


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Ruth Price said:

It says "possibly the most over-valued currency is Iceland" - now it seems that that would have been useful to know before the last couple of weeks! Any other gems we should know about while the economy implodes?

Sounds a very useful little book.

Sue replied:

It's a marvelous book, Ruth - there are gems on every page.