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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, provocative and very readable, April 17, 2007
This review is from: Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Hardcover)
This is an excellent, very readable book by a couple of guys who like to go against the grain.

Steven D. Levitt is the economist who teaches at the prestigious University of Chicago school of economics, and Stephen J. Dubner is the talented wordsmith. They come off a little on the self-satisfied side here, but who can blame them? They have a surprise best seller in a new edition.

What really powered this book to national attention was their argument that the sharp nation-wide drop in crime starting in about 1990 was not due so much to having more cops on the beat, or smarter, better policing, or to having so many criminals in prison--as most of us thought--but instead the reason the crime rate dropped is that Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973!

Arguments about this unintended (to say the least) consequence of making abortion legal raged as soon as this book hit the stores (or maybe before) and are raging still. Personally, put me down among those who find the argument persuasive. But I don't want to rehash all that now. Instead let me point to some other topics in the book.

Most interesting is the chapter entitled "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?" The authors tell the story of Sudhir Venkatesh who was working on a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago. He was sent to do some sociology in Chicago's poorest black neighborhoods and ended up spending several years learning about the crack business at the street level complete with--oh, how the economists loved this!--spiral notebooks with four years worth of the crack gang's financial transactions. Venkatesh discovered that the gang worked a lot like "most American businesses, actually, though perhaps none more so than McDonald's." (p. 89) The drug dealers still lived at home with their moms because most of them were making less than minimum wage. Why do a dangerous job for such low pay? Answer: like basketball dreams, the upside potential and the glamour of it! The middle level manager, "J.T.," a university educated dude, was making tax-free about $100,000 a year while the gang board of directors each earned about half a mil per. After J.T. reached his level of incompetence as a member of the board of directors, the gang got busted and he went to jail.

Also fascinating is the information on the socioeconomic and racial status of parents as revealed by their choices in first names for their children. Whitest girls names: Molly, Amy, Claire, Emily... Blackest girls names, Imani, Ebony, Shanice, Aaliyah, Precious... Most common names given to girls of high-education parents: Katherine, Emma, Alexandra, Julia... Boys: Benjamin, Samuel, Alexander, John, William... Low education boys names: Cody, Travis, Brandon, Justin...

But it'll change, as Messrs. Levitt and Dubner explain. Names go in and out of fashion and sometimes come back in. "Susan" was the most popular girls name in 1960. It didn't make the top ten in 2000. "Emily" led the list followed by Hannah, Madison, Sarah...

Interesting is the tale of Robert Lane who named one of his kids "Winner" and another "Loser." Winner Lane went on to become one of life's losers, and Loser Lane (called "Lou" by his friends) graduated from Lafayette College, Pa. and went on to become a police sergeant in New York City. So much for the effect of names--or maybe it's like "a boy named Sue": you overcome your name or you fail to live up to it.

There's a chapter on parenting that also raised some eyebrows, but again I think our clever authors got it right. Basically parenting skills are overrated. What really counts is who your parents are, not so much whether they read a lot to you or bought you Einstein tapes or even if they sent you to Head Start. In the "nature vs. nurture" debate, clearly nature is in the ascendancy.

This, the revised and expanded edition contains a New York Times Magazine article about Levitt written by Dubner before this collaboration, seven columns from the New York Time Magazine, and some entries from the Freakonomics blog on the Web.

Bottom line: an irresistible read and a book biz phenomenon.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 18, 2007 9:45:12 PM PDT
Rem says:
very elaborate review. I have decided to buy this book based upon this review.
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Dennis Littrell
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Location: SoCal/NorCal/Maui

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