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Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 12, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell Reviews Think Like a Freak

In one of the many wonderful moments in Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ask the question: Who is easier to fool—kids or adults? The obvious answer, of course, is kids. The cliché is about taking candy from a baby, not a grown man. But instead of accepting conventional wisdom as fact, the two sit down with the magician Alex Stone—someone in the business of fooling people—and ask him what he thinks. And his answer? Adults.

Stone gave the example of the staple of magic tricks, the “double lift,” where two cards are presented as one. It’s how a magician can seemingly bury a card that you have selected at random and then miraculously retrieve it. Stone has done the double lift countless times in his career, and he says it is kids—overwhelmingly—who see through it. Why? The magician’s job is to present a series of cues—to guide the attention of his audience—and adults are really good at following cues and paying attention. Kids aren’t. Their gaze wanders. Adults have a set of expectations and assumptions about the way the world works, which makes them vulnerable to a profession that tries to exploit those expectations and assumptions. Kids don’t know enough to be exploited. Kids are more curious. They don’t overthink problems; they’re more likely to understand that the basis of the trick is something really, really simple. And most of all—and this is my favorite—kids are shorter than adults, so they quite literally see the trick from a different and more revealing angle.

Think Like a Freak is not a book about how to understand magic tricks. That’s what Dubner and Levitt’s first two books—Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics—were about. It’s about the attitude we need to take towards the tricks and the problems that the world throws at us. Dubner and Levitt have a set of prescriptions about what that attitude comes down to, but at its root it comes down to putting yourself in the mind of the child, gazing upwards at the double lift: free yourself from expectations, be prepared for a really really simple explanation, and let your attention wander from time to time.

The two briefly revisit their famous argument from their first book about the link between the surge in abortions in the 1970s and the fall in violent crime twenty years later. Their point is not to reargue that particular claim. It is to point out that we shouldn’t avoid arguments like that just because they leave us a bit squeamish. They also tell the story of the Australian doctor Barry Marshall, who overturned years of received wisdom when he proved that ulcers are caused by gastric bacteria, not spicy food and stress. That idea was more than heretical at first. It was absurd. It was the kind of random idea that only a child would have. But Dubner and Levitt’s point, in their utterly captivating new book, is that following your curiosity—even to the most heretical and absurd end—makes the world a better place. It is also a lot of fun.


“Utterly captivating.” (Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times bestselling author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and David and Goliath)

“Over nine entertaining chapters [Levitt and Dubner] demonstrate how not to fall into hackneyed approaches to solving problems and concretely illustrate how to reframe questions.” (New York Daily News)

“Compelling and fun.” (New York Post)

“This book will change your life.” (Daily Express (London))

“Good ideas... expressed with panache.” (Financial Times)

“An interesting and thought-provoking read.” (The Horn)

“Their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally --- to think, that is, like a Freak.” (

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (May 12, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062218336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062218339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (900 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're a fan of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, you'll love this book. Here's why:

Like many other people, after reading both of the Freakonomics books, I felt like I learned a ton, but I wasn't sure how it would apply directly to my life.

And that's okay. They weren't writing a self help book, and I read their work because I was genuinely curious in understanding how the world works.

But this book departs from their usual method of explaining how the world works and instead shows you how you can better live in the world.

And that's why I believe this is their best book yet.

Here's a little summary of what I learned:

1. In one chapter, the three hardest words in the english language, they talk about one of the main problems that plagues people today - the inability to say "I don't know." And they show you how it's a deadly combination because "cocky plus wrong" is a recipe for disaster. They then show you how to avoid making this mistake. They even give a word for word script you can use.

2. In another chapter, "WHat's your problem," they share the story of Kobayashi and how he became a professional hot dog - and food eater. They walked through his entire process and how he went on to eat 50 hot dogs when people thought eating 30 was impossible. And even though they're talking about hot dogs, you'll see how this can apply to everyone.

As an example, back when I started creating videos for Social Triggers TV, a friend of mine told me they were filming about 6 videos a day. And I thought, "Well, I'm new at this ther's no way ill get there." And I would film 3 videos a day.
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130 of 142 people found the following review helpful By Guyzen on May 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading this book. The way that the writers can intertwine different stories to make valid points is remarkable. It really does a good job of proving by observation how some things in life seem irrational, but ultimately make a lot of sense.

The only problems that I have with the book are the length, just over 200 pages, and it rehashes a lot of stuff that they go over in other works. This book is easy enough that you can probably read in one or two sittings and it is very captivating throughout. I really enjoyed the anecdotes they use to bring across the point of the book that everyone can benefit by thinking differently about the world (i.e. think like a freak).

One of the main things that I liked is how they describe the way children ask questions and are so curious about everything. Children don't have a set worldview and are eager to learn by asking a lot of questions. Parents often dismiss these questions when it might be valuable to see the world through a child's eyes and challenge set it stone opinions or thoughts.

The writers also make a good point about how the three hardest words in the English language are "I don't know" and how it should be okay to say these words. By applying these words to our lives, we will first of all lie a lot less and more importantly be able to demonstrate a willingness to find out answers to questions we simply don't know.

As I stated before, I wish that this book was longer, but I really did enjoy all that was written and would recommend "Think like a Freak" for those interested in challenging their current worldview and seeking to approach life in a creative way.
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66 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Jakester on June 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I really like these guys. Their first book, Freakonomics, was worth the hype. The second book felt it was riding on the coat-tails of that success. I'm puzzled about how to think of this third one. It just wasn't very interesting. Or particularly insightful. Or even very entertaining.

I read it on an eReader, so was somewhat surprised when I came to the end of the regular about 2/3 of the way through the book. The remaining 1/3 was detailed, boring endnotes. (And I usually LIKE reading these sort of endnotes with additional insight.) After a few moments consideration, though, I was glad it was over.

Dubner has done a superb job evolving the podcast/radio show from a shadow of the first book to a high quality production with compelling stories, guests, and viewpoints. I'd skip this 3rd book and just tune into the podcast.
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Format: Hardcover
In their latest book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner cite several examples of people who trick guilty parties (i.e. those who prey upon people who are ignorant and/or gullible) into unwittingly revealing their guilt through their own behavior. Here are three examples:

o Two women appealed to King Solomon, both claiming to be the mother of a newborn. Unable to decide, he ordered the child to be cut in half and divided equally. One woman embraced the idea. He knew immediately that the other woman who begged him to let the other have the child was in fact its mother.

o Rock star David Lee Roth of the Van Halen group has a 53-page list of technical and security requirements. One in the Munchies section specifies "M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)." Immediately upon arrival, he checks the jar. "If he saw brown ones, he knew the promoter hadn't read the rider [to the otherwise standard contract) -- and that 'we had to do a serious line check' to make sure that the most important details hadn't been botched either."

o So-called "Nigerian scammers" send millions of email messages each month to millions of people throughout the world. (It's called the "Nigerian scam" because more than half of the messages invoke Nigeria than all of the other emails combined.) I have received 3-5 each week in recent years. The "Beloved friend" message is always illiterate and ludicrous. Stupid, right? Not so fast. According to Levitt and Dubner, the Nigerian scammers know that almost everyone who receives a message will ignore it. But if only one in a hundred recipients provides the requested bank information....

"The ridiculous-sounding Nigerian emails seem to be quite good at getting the scammers' massive garden to weed itself.
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