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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 12, 2005


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Product Details

an excerpt from Chapter 1 [20kb PDF]
  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (April 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006073132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060731328
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,817 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: they could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from inner-city Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt's search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn't really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it's wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt's controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives, which could make this book a hit. Malcolm Gladwell blurbs that Levitt "has the most interesting mind in America," an invitation Gladwell's own substantial fan base will find hard to resist. 50-city radio campaign. (May 1)
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Customer Reviews

I think the authors tried to "fill" the book too much.
Russ
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything written by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.
Russell Johnson
I enjoyed the book; it is fun to read and interesting throughout.
Michael Erisman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

282 of 305 people found the following review helpful By Bearette24 VINE VOICE on April 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Steven Levitt, an economist at U Chicago, is less interested in numbers and more interested in why people turn out the way they do. He examines the influence of incentive, heredity, the neighborhood you grew up in, etc.

Some of his conclusions are less than earth-shattering. For example, African-American names (DeShawn, Latanya) don't influence African-American test performance. As a second example, Levitt compiled data regarding online dating websites and concluded that bald men and overweight women fared badly. Not rocket science.

However, Levitt livens up the book with some controversial discussions. He believes that the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s can be traced to Roe v. Wade. He thinks that the children who would have committed crimes (due to being brought up by impoverished, teenage, single mothers) are simply not being born as often.

He also writes about the man who more or less singlehandedly contributed to the KKK's demise by infiltrating their group and leaking their secret passwords and rituals to the people behind the Superman comic book (Superman needed a new enemy).

Interestingly, he also discusses how overbearing parents don't contribute to a child's success. For example, having a lot of books in the house has a positive influence on children's test scores, but reading to a child a lot has no effect. Highly educated parents are also a plus, while limiting children's television time is irrelevant. Similarly, political candidates who have a lot of money to finance their campaigns are still out of luck if no one likes them.

In the chapter entitled "Why Drug Dealers Live With Their Mothers," Levitt explores the economics of drug dealing.
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139 of 160 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book succeeds at analyzing sociological developments in a way that is entertaining because Steven Levitt, an economist who strays from convention, has a knack for unpeeling layers and layers of assumptions and myth and showing the real causes behind trends. He shows, to name some examples, how our names affect our career paths; how abortion and the crime rate are related; how a man used his cunning to humiliate the Klu Klux Klan rather than rely on conventional methods; how easy it is to identify the role of public school teachers when they help their students cheat on standardized tests; why drug dealing is only lucrative for the dealers at the top of the pyramid; the myth that real estate agents are looking for our best interests.

The book, co-authored by Stephen J. Dubner, is breezy and anecdotal, which is an effective format for presenting a lot of sociological trends without being dry or losing the scintillating reportage in dense prose.

The lesson of this book is that we should be leery of trusting society's common assumptions or common wisdom. In other words, the book encourages us to keep our mind alert and break out of the mold in the way we see things. By looking at social trends with a fresh eye, the book succeeds at making economic trends a fun, adventurous endeavor.

If I were to criticize the book, it would be that it is too short. It's barely 200 pages and if you take out the blank chapter pages, the charts, the lists, and so on, it's really closer to 150 pages. Because the material is so current and topical, the method of "freakonomics" presented here would make a good format for a monthly magazine. My guess is that there will be many sequels.
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515 of 608 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Kwong on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The scientific fidelity of social science is a topic of heated contention in academics. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have successfully brought this debate to the mainstream in the form of their joint book, Freakonomics. But do they make a strong case for validating statistical analyses of an infinitely complex human society?

As any statistician will tell you, one of the major pitfalls of their field is the confusion of correlation and causation. Just because X and Y have similar trends does not necessarily mean that X caused Y or that Y caused X. Numerous times throughout the book, Levitt and Dubner chastise various experts, pundits, and conventional wisdoms for failing to observe this basic tenet. Yet so tempting is this trap that the authors fall right in along with their targets.

Take, for example, the chapter on parenting. A full six paragraphs are devoted to warning about correlation versus causation, the caution of which is thrown immediately to the wind with a set of highly dubious stabs at the causes of various correlations regarding parenting. The data in question comes from Levitt's regression analysis of numerous factors which conventional wisdom believes may play some role in the academic outcome of children. So, for example, correlations were found between a child's test scores and the number of books the parents have in their house, but not how often the parents read to the child. So far, so good. The authors then conclude from similar datapoints that it is the nature of the parents' lives that influence a child's scores, not what the parents do. Granted, it has a certain logical appeal, but it amounts to no more than an educated guess. What's wrong with that? you may ask.
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