Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

Book Review: "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of EverythingFreakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been recommended to me several times over the past few years. I've always been interested in checking it out, so I added it to my library hold request list and when it became available, I jumped on it.

The first thing I'll point out is that the book is really only about half as long as the Kindle progress bar indicates it is. About halfway through, I found myself surprised to be reading the Epilogue, even more surprised when the Epilogue wasn't very long. It turns out that the second half of the book was devoted to Q&A with the authors, reprinting several newspaper columns by the authors, reprinting a book review, and a very extensive index of searchable terms specifically formatted to be useful in an eBook. When I had finished the book, most of the supplemental material wasn't interesting to me (the review and columns pretty much rehashed a lot of the info that was in the main text, e.g.). So all in all, it turned out to be a quicker read than I expected.

The book itself presents what I'd classify as "pop economics" (and I don't think I'm alone in that classification). That is, the authors use economic theories to address questions that are more interesting than what economics is usually used to address, and they do so in a non-threatening, non-academic fashion. For example, they present a case study related to drug trafficking to explore why if drug dealing is such a lucrative business, drug dealers still live with their mothers. One of the most "in your face" theories they present deals with how legalized abortion in the US in the 1970s is the primary cause for the dramatic decrease in crime in the US in the 1990s. The way the authors took outlandish and bizarre questions, broke them down into pieces that could be reasonably studied, and followed the trail wherever it led them made for compelling reading. I was especially intrigued by the chapter dealing with cheating, where they examined how teachers can (and do) cheat for their students on standardized tests and how cheating is apparently rampant in the sport of sumo wrestling.

More than anything, this book shows that it's worth actually taking the time to think about things, and to think about them in unconventional manners. Ask questions, don't necessarily accept that the questions can't be answered, or accept the standard pat answers. But instead, really think about the questions and explore all sorts of possible solutions. I'm not an economist, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time thinking about questions like they ones explored in this book. But I do spend a lot of time in the course of my job thinking about all sorts of questions that can stand to be examined in unconventional ways. So in addition to being an enjoyable read, this is the kind of book that helps me think about the way I think. I like that.

Should you read this book? Absolutely. The case studies are generally interesting, no matter what field of work you are in. Additionally, the writing style is compelling, keeping what could otherwise be tedious material fresh and fun to read.

View all my reviews
Tags: books, reviews

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