on January 4, 2010
I had to laugh as I read some of the negative reviews. Listen people, it's not intended to be a TEXTBOOK, nor is it written like one, thankfully. I've read both books. Super Freakonomics is a good exercise in critical thinking (something that is becoming sorely lacking in the age of American Idol, thanks to our putrid public schools and Playstation parenting); it makes you think about a lot of "truths" that we take for granted. For example, this book actually made me change some of my thinking about global warming. The book is super-interesting, and full of information that you'd be hard-pressed to find in your typical daily reading; and, it "sexes-up" the fields of microeconomics and behavioral economics. One of the points (relentlessly made) is how we (especially our governments) seem to prefer complex, costly solutions to problems, when cheaper, simpler solutions often exist, and the book does a great job of providing many examples of this. Is it a definitive tome on the many topics it covers? No - again, it's not a textbook, but it was definitely worth the time I spent reading it - I hated putting it down.
on January 1, 2010
Superfreakonomics is the follow-up to the wildly successful Freakonomics, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This edition is more of the same. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one. If you didn't, then you probably won't. If you haven't read either, read the first one. This one is interesting, mostly, but the last chapter was a bit of a drag for me. There are some fascinating theories, statistics and illustrations. For the fans of their New York Times blog, however, there's not much that's new. The first book was a novelty, and a fascinating interdisciplinary one. This book is clearly a concerted effort, and it's enjoyable, but I recall random trivia and interesting points rather than the overarching themes. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will I still talk about it at dinner parties in five years as I still talk about some of the theories in the first one? Well, I will reference one specific chapter.
In short, I loved it, although not quite as much as the first one.
on October 21, 2009
I gave a positive review to the first Freakonomics. That book distilled some 10 years of academic research by Mr. Levitt, and it was already stretched a bit thin. Levitt does not have another 10 years of research to convert into a second book, so instead we get a collection of magazine articles with cutesy "counterintuitive" angles to them. I know a popular book like this can't be expected to be completely rigorous, but what I've learned about Levitt since the first book has left me less willing to take him at face value. For example his famous study of the link between abortion and crime was later shown to suffer from a programming error in which he neglected to properly normalize a series of crime statistics. When the error was corrected, the trumpeted correlation went away. Levitt responded by re-jiggering his assumptions in a complicated way so he could keep his original conclusions intact. He certainly doesn't make his readers aware of how much subjectivity is in his analysis, and he gives short shrift to legitimate alternate interpretations. Without the penumbra of credibility Levitt enjoyed from his work in econometrics, he's just another moderately amusing magazine writer who shouldn't be taken too seriously.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It sheds light on why I bothered studying for a degree in economics at university. Yes, economics can be fun. It's a pity it gets such a bum rap. Why should it be called the "dismal science"?
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have written an amusing and readable book. It's full of anecdotes and whimsical stories without ever seriously veering from the science of microeconomics which is its basis. The two Steves have researched an array of topics from street prostitution, to hospital deaths in the 19the century before opining upon global warming and how it might be resolved if, indeed, it is a problem. It's this final point that I particularly loved. Global warming has become a modern religion. It has its own dogmas and turns a blind eye to anyone who questions the "rules". I am quite confident that, in due course, global warming will be solved but it won't be by the naïve and cack handed solutions that greens put forward. It will be economics that comes to the rescue. This has always been the history of the world and I see no reason why this should change now.
Perhaps the most pleasant feature of "SuperFreakonomics" (and its predecessor "Freakonomics") is that it brings economics away from the realm of stuffy ivory towered professors and their arcane theories and formulas. Instead, economics is presented as something to enjoy. This is the book's real strength. I can only hope that this technique has introduced economics to a wider audience.
However, before finishing up, I find myself wondering which of the "case studies" amused me the most. I think it was the story about travel in New York City and how horses caused more deaths per capita than cars. It's ironic then that the car is seen as the work of the devil by some when, in fact, it has been a great liberator of the human race. Yes, "SuperFreakonomics" is a great read. Read it and enjoy.
on November 15, 2009
Sequels disappoint; don't ask too much of this one. Perhaps you cannot blame authors for wanting to cash in on their popularity, but if Super Freakonomics had been written before Freakonomics, few people would have bought it. The authors are trying very hard to shock and amaze, but the organization is scattered and the research seems questionable.
Their standard formula is to begin with a counterintuitive statement and before your very eyes show you how clever they are. I, for one, do not see how prostitutes are patriotic, and thought that the comparison between Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo forced and unconvincing.
There are many excellent reviews here already, so I will concentrate on an issue that bothers me. The authors propose taming hurricanes or typhoons. I live in a mountainous jungle that is hit by several typhoons in a typical year, and I can see very clearly how typhoons clear out the deadwood, flush clean streambeds, fill up the water supply, and even spread species (which explains how I spotted a snake from our mountains very far downstream along the bank of the river in downtown Taipei). Without typhoons, Taiwan would not have enough water to drink, so every year everybody hopes we get some typhoons: mild typhoons are nicer, but even strong typhoons are necessary.
This August Taiwan was hit by a medium typhoon that dumped nine feet of water on the mountains in three days, burying villages and killing many people. Recent catastrophes of this nature are due not so much to typhoons as to investors (not locals) chopping roads into mountains, planting betel nut trees, and other human activities. So what we need is not fewer typhoons, but more care in dealing with the mountains.
Every year we usually get several typhoons larger than Katrina, but they do little damage, because people have the sense not to build below sea level. Also, everything that can blow away, blew away long ago. Again, my point is that disasters from typhoons or hurricanes are due in large part to short-sighted human development, not the weather.
But suppose people started controlling typhoons. IMHO, that would be a real can of worms. Say Taiwan needed water, but the Philippines and Okinawa did too. A great tug-of-war would result, as each tried to channel the typhoon home. The opposite would hold true, too. If Taiwan didn't want a typhoon, it would have to go somewhere, but where? The neighbors might not want it, either.
The authors seem to have forgotten the Butterfly Effect. Even something so negligible as a butterfly flapping its wings may have far-reaching effects. Unless we can guarantee the long-term consequences of fiddling with typhoons, I say, Let's not!
The authors seek provocation and titillation at the cost of deliberation and far-sightedness. It may sell books, but many of their ideas need a lot more thought.
on April 25, 2010
This easy-to-read book, a sequel to Freakonomics, is intended to illustrate a variety of economic concepts, especially to the lay person. I'll mention and describe a few of these in a minute, but first it's important to understand what this book is and is not. First, this is a sequel, so if you enjoyed the original book more for its unorthodox style than its underlying message that people respond to incentives, then that same style incorporated into this book may not seem as fresh to you. On the other hand, if you enjoyed the interesting data mining examples in Freakonomics, you will find many more in this book. Second, this book is not a formal economic analysis of anything. If it were, it would likely have plenty of equations with lots of Greek letters, and it wouldn't be particularly interesting for most people to read, unless you have a very detailed and specific interest in the subject. Finally, because the book is intended to be entertaining for all those people who associate economics with the expression "dismal science," the authors use a very lively style and choose unconventional, though real world, examples to illustrate their points. (By the way, the term "dismal science" comes from some of the less-than-cheery conclusions of some early economists, like David Ricardo, who thought worldwide population would grow exponentially while agricultural output grew arithmetically, until starvation became a limiting factor to population growth.)
So economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner set out to explain how prostitutes practice "price discrimination," which refers to the way sellers charge different customers different prices for essentially the same service. Perhaps a more common example would be a car manufacturer that slaps a few upgrades on a basic car, brands the (somewhat) upgraded car differently (think Buick versus Chevrolet, for example), and then charges a significantly higher price for a not-that-different product. This strategy, when practiced successfully, allows manufacturers to capitalize on the willingness of some people to pay more than others for essentially the same product.
The list of economic concepts that are illustrated by various interesting examples is long. There is the concept of "externalities," where some of the costs (or benefits) of the production of a good or service cannot be easily reflected in its price. A common example is the cost of pollution that flows downstream from a paper mill, for example. Other concepts--and these are all important ones for citizens to understand when they vote for politicians seeking public office--include "creative destruction," revealed (versus declared) preferences, comparative advantage (upon which much of world trade is based), the principal-agent problem and others.
The book incorporates a fling with some controversy, including its coverage of global warming, although most of the discussion is more informative than controversial. Did you know, for example, that sulfur dioxide that makes it through the lower levels of the earth's atmosphere (the troposphere) all the way up into the stratosphere can spread out and essentially blanket the earth to the point that it contributes to global cooling, not warming. That's why when a major volcanic eruption sends sulfur high into the atmosphere the earth actually cools somewhat. The authors introduce and discuss at some length a company, Intellectually Ventures, founded by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft under Bill Gates. Myhrvold and his associates are actually working on ways to combat global warming (and to help limit the strength of brewing hurricanes) through simple, truly unconventional procedures.
In conclusion, if you are looking for strict and precise science, I'd suggest that look elsewhere. However, if you would enjoy a sometimes lighthearted, yet fundamentally reasonable, approach to understanding what economics means to the average person in everyday life, this is a good choice.
on November 15, 2010
I love this book. It is a fascinating look at real data that often tells us a very different story than we are quick to believe. No, it is not a foundational bastion of absolute certainties, but it was never intended to be. This book offers a different way of looking at common everyday issues and poses the idea of "maybe it's not like you always thought it was." It is funny, poignant, quirky, curious, odd and in some cases quite practical (e.g. the Realtor chapter). It's also a quick read, keeps the readers attention throughout.
I loved it.
I particularly like this edition better than the first (Freakonomics) because it saves each punchline for just the right place. The first book, gave you all of the really exciting and interesting punchlines right up front, then gave you chapters detailing each example further into the book. The result was that by the time you got half way through, it became somewhat boring. You already knew what the answer was, so you lost the thrill of surprise and the joy of wondering and speculating and trying to figure it out along the way. This book plays it just right, with a fascinating punchline punctuating each chapter.
on December 28, 2012
--Well written, breezy, often funny.
--Strong essays on prostitutes, realtors, and altruism/apathy
--Simplistic solutions to big problems aren't supported by facts
--Section on Intellectual Ventures reads like a press release
Enjoy chapters 1-3; that's where facts and sound arguments offer compelling stories. Chapters 4 & 5 and the rest of the book disappoint. By the time they swoon like love struck teenagers over Nathan Myhrvold, former Microsoft tech guy (and who Forbes recently called "the world's leading patent troll") and now head of the investment firm Intellectual Ventures, you know that the authors shouldn't have tackled huge problems like hurricanes and global warming without marshaling more and better information.
Although it's nearly 300 pages, there's really not much value past page 130, except their notes section which expands on many of the stats presented in the book. And the "Bonus Matter" --a rambling q&a and the transcript of a podcast, should've been left out.
Not as good as their first book, Freakonomics, but the first three chapters are worth reading.
on December 20, 2013
The first book "Freakonomics" was highly enlightening and a fun read. This book follows that up with more interesting regression analysis written in a very reader friendly way. If you want to impress people with great conversation starters this book has plenty. If you just want to look at the world slightly differently this book is great. If you are simply interested in cool facts this book will provide a lot. I have truly enjoyed this book.
on March 17, 2014
Once again, I revisited the twisted world of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. In many ways, Superfreakonomics is more of the same…the application of economic models to data in order to solve common questions. One of the more interesting differences in this installment is the emphasis on cheap and simple solutions to some of life’s complex problems. A few of the main topics discussed were simple solutions for global warming, the effect television has on the way women in rural India are treated, how to spot a terrorist by examining their financial records, etc.
My favorite part of this book were the discussions on simple and cheap solutions to problems. For example, for only a fraction of what we pay out in hurricane damage each year, a water circulation device could be created and used to cool the surface temperature on the oceans, decreasing the intensity of hurricanes. This solution would continue to allow topical storms and low grade hurricanes to bring the much needed moisture to maintain the ecology of these affected areas of the world, yet it would prevent the storms from reaching the level four and five intensities which bring mass destruction or property and lives. The science behind this device is so logical and easy that even I understood it! So why don’t these cheap & simple solutions get put into action? Because they are cheap and simple. There isn’t enough money to be made off of them.
Just like Freakonomics, the writing was fast-paced. The topics seemed to bounce around a lot, but they always connected back the original thread. This writing style keeps the reader from getting too bogged down in the data and allows them to see the big-picture. The beauty of these books is that any person on the street could pick them up and not only follow the ideas, but enjoy what they read. I’m so happy to see writers making economics accessible to the masses, because it really can be incredibly interesting.
Overall, I give Superfreakonomics…
Innovative Ideas – 5 bookmarks
Accessibility – 4 bookmarks