The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success is true to its title, flipping an entrenched view of success on its ear. Author Megan McArdle argues for the value of failure, not just in business but law enforcement, job hunting, even love. Writers like to toss around the Samuel Beckett advice to “fail better,” but what does that mean in practice?

McArdle, a popular business blogger who landed her dream job (and her husband!) through a series of missteps and adaptation to the unexpected, talks to experts in multiple fields about failure in theory, then illustrates with examples from current events and her own life. When solar manufacturer Solyndra was tanking, no one was able to admit defeat and pull the plug on federal spending. Failure to heed the warning signs led to far worse consequences for everyone involved.

An innovative probation reform program in Honolulu shows how a failed system’s mistakes can point toward a solution. People in the program are drug tested and given the instruction to come forward if they violate their probation. Speaking up leads to a shorter sentence—and saves taxpayers a fortune by eliminating mountains of paperwork. 

McArdle, an outspoken libertarian, may rankle some readers with her contrarian opinions, but she makes her points with clear prose and dry humor. Entrepreneurs, the unemployed and even the lovelorn will find sound advice here.

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