209 of 234 people found the following review helpful
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.
70 of 81 people found the following review helpful
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.
488 of 600 people found the following review helpful
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.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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.
81 of 104 people found the following review helpful
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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
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.
160 of 218 people found the following review helpful
"People respond to incentives, although not necessarily in ways that are predictable" is the unifying theme claimed by Levitt and Dubner's latest book. They go on to state that their reports rely on accumulated data rather than individual anecdotes, opinions, and anomalies.
Levitt and Dubner's first exposition concludes that walking drunk leads to 5X deaths/mile as driving drunk. Validity, however, requires both walking and driving drunks be equally intoxicated. My experience with ambulatory inner-city 'down and outs' is that they are probably far more intoxicated than the average drunk driver - an important distinction. Then its on to concluding that rural Indian families with cable TV had lower birthrates and were more likely to keep their daughters in school, and reporting that Indian penises are generally too small for standard condoms (why do we need to know this?). As for agents, prostitutes using an agent (pimp) earn more and are beaten up less, while home-sellers using an agent (realtor) get little or no monetary value - though their homes did sell about three weeks faster. Their rhetorical question: "Why is a street prostitute like a department store Santa?" "They both take advantage of short-term job opportunities brought about by holiday spikes in demand." Milking their salacious topic one more time, readers also learn that the demand for prostitutes is far lower now than 60 years ago - in large part because of the feminist revolution and 'giving it away for free.'
The book then turns briefly to education, covered in their original "Freakonomics" through detailing teacher-led cheating on pupil standardized tests. This time the authors sort of make amends for any prior slight to teachers by attributing a decline in female teachers' IQ (in 1960, about 40% scored in the top quintile, with only 8% in the bottom; in 1980 less than half as many scored in the top grouping, and over twice as many in the bottom) to increased opportunities for women in business, law, etc. (The authors' point is that teachers should be paid more.) Meanwhile, U.S. test scores reportedly fell by about 1.25 grade-equivalents. (I have followed pupil test results for three decades, and have never heard such an allegation before. Prior reports have always been 'improvement at the lower grades, stagnation or slight decline at the 12th grade.')
Ramadan calls for a daytime fast from food and drink for its entire month - certainly not conducive to productivity for those doing outside manual labor. Worse yet, babies in utero during that period are more likely to exhibit developmental aftereffects, with the strongest effects occurring when fasting coincides with the first month of pregnancy and when mother lives where summer daylight hours are longer. If you want to be a major league ballplayer, having a father who did so increases a son's chance of following this path by 800X.
Cancer patients make up 20% of Medicare cases, and consume 40% of its drug budget. Chemotherapy, per "Super Freakonomics" is remarkably ineffective for many cancers, especially lung cancer. Patients often discontinue treatment due to severe adverse effects. (Maybe those 'death panels,' once renamed, aren't such a bad idea.)
The September 11, 2001 tragedy was funded for little more than $300,000. Preventing a repeat is an obvious priority for many nations. Levitt and Dubner report that a British bank fraud expert has found that (university) students with first and last names of Muslim origin, making an initial deposit of about $4,000 followed by small withdrawals, not conducting transactions on Friday (mandatory prayer), renting, having a mobile phone, and not having life insurance are much more likely than others to be a terrorist - and suggest such an individual would reduce his odds of being detected by eg. buying life insurance. (I'm amazed at the 'benefits' of a free press to terrorists. First bin Laden learns to stop using his cell phone, now front-line terrorists learn to buy life insurance, make withdrawals on Friday, etc.)
The chapter titled "Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism" begins with a recounting of the notorious Kitty Genovese murder in Queens, NYC during 1964 - thirty-eight eyewitnesses supposedly did nothing to help. Later investigation, also covered in the book, sharply reduced the number of supposed witnesses, and suggests slow police response may have been part of the delay. What any of this has to do with economics, though, escapes me. Moving on, "Super Freakonomics" recounts how childbirth death rates one hundred years ago were 50X those today, and how a concerned Dr. Semmelweis at one hospital linked the deaths to doctors failing to wash their hands after autopsies, ordered correction, and thereby saved hundreds of lives in just the next 12 months at that hospital. (Unfortunately, Dr. Semmelweis' insight was not immediately adopted worldwide, and thousands more lives were unnecessarily lost as an unintended consequence of doctors trying to improve through performing autopsies.) The 'good news' is that Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles recently boosted hand-washing rates to nearly 100% after culturing the germs on its doctors hands and displaying the result on hospital screen-savers. Again - an interesting but fairly well known story, with dubious connection to economics. The authors, however, do present a very good explanation of why many/most economic experiment participants are likely to bias their responses and the researchers' conclusions.
On to global warming, reporting that methane is 25X as potent a global warming gas as CO2 and that some experts contend most global warming may be the result of unintended consequences of good environmental stewardship - reducing air pollution that formerly reflected sunlight. Further, proposed efforts to limit CO2 would have too little impact, and be too slow to take effect. The authors support Nathan Myhrvold's (former Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer) and associates' proposal to disperse about 34 gallons/minute of sulfur dioxide into the troposphere 18 miles up through each of possibly several light-weight pipes suspended by balloons. Upward flow would be facilitated by lightweight suspended motors, and in a worst-case scenario, cost $150 million to start up and $100 million/year to operate. (Jet stream winds of up to 240 mph, airline objections, and temperatures of -60 degree F. notwithstanding.) The authors also suggest eating kangaroos (they do not produce methane) instead of cows would be a major help in reducing methane. Perhaps these are all valid recommendations. However, the stakes are enormous, and the possibilities of failure or unexpected consequences must also be taken into account.
Next, pages of hair-splitting rumination on seat belts vs. car seats for those aged 2 - 6 - no need to read, just keep the car seats, trust me. Finally, the book concludes with a brief summary of experiments with capuchin monkeys and coins serving as money. One result was the first witnessed case of monkey prostitution! (Again, why are the authors so interested in prostitution and sex?)
Bottom Line: "Super Freakonomics" is an easy read, though not an in-depth analysis and does not represent unassailable or even always useful conclusions. Much of the material is tenuously related to economics, at best. Finally, while the authors may be qualified to discuss and make micro-economic recommendations, I'd look elsewhere for important science advice.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2011
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and for the authors of the blockbuster series "Freakonomics," the pictures, graphs and charts contained in their new illustrated edition are proof of that concept big-time.
"SuperFreakonomics: *The Super-Deluxe, Super Illustrated Edition Thereof," (yes, that's its title!) prides itself on comparing and contrasting empirical data grabs against information from seemingly unrelated categories to create thought-provoking mash-ups of information (Prostitutes vs. Santa Clauses, as an example) designed to turn traditional thinking on its ear. By actually illustrating the results of these concepts, the two authors have created an easy to use, in-your-face analysis of trends from health care to highway safety to make the reader re-think popular misconceptions while learning all manner of obscure but interesting information about the world around them. It's much the same as the original version, but this time with pictures - lots of pictures (and graphs, charts, diagrams, etc.)
Global warming vs. meat consumption, a better model for ER facilities, drunk driving vs. drunk walking, and product price discrimination are but a few of the myriad topics covered in this colorful, 281-page edition. While looking at the past as well as possibilities for the future (e.g. cooling the earth with a `chimney to the sky'), it's sometimes hard to discern if the authors are serious or pulling a mickey with certain aspects of their analysis. (They even openly admit that "many of our findings may not be all that useful.") But this, of course, is the appeal of their books. Are they serious? Perhaps only time will tell. In the meantime, Levitt and Dubner have succeeded wildly in getting their readers to think and to look at problems from a host of different comparative points of view.
Early in the book, they have a list of topics that the book doesn't cover. (Average ratio of Facebook friends to real friends, why songs you like least are the ones you remember the most, salad dressings that never caught on, the actual price of all the tea in China.)
Sounds to us like a blueprint for Volume Two. (or is it Three?)