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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 12, 2005
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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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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. An Indian, Harvard-affiliated scholar decided to get up close and personal with crack gangs and got some notebooks documenting their finances. Levitt concludes that drug dealers' empires are a lot like McDonald's or the publishing industry in Manhattan - only the people on the very top of the pyramid do well financially, while the burger flippers, editorial assistants, and low-level drug runners don't (indeed, some of them work for free, or in return for protection!)
Overall, this is a lively read, with some obvious conclusions and some not so obvious.
One section in the book talks about the relationship between the number of books a child owns versus the test scores they receive. Many people would guess that the more books a child owns, the higher their test scores would be. That is correct. People would also assume that reading these books often would contribute to higher test scores too. That is false. Dubner explains that while reading books does not seem to have an effect on test scores, having a lot of books does because it indicates well educated parents.
Dubner continues by discussing the effect on names on a person’s success. It is found that people with names such as DeShawn or Latanya do not perform well on test. People may assume that this has to do with the name but this actually has to do with the parents who name their children these names. Overall, it is found that uneducated, single women give their children their unique names, and because of the parent’s education, the child does not succeed in school.
The book questions a lot of controversial topics while also arousing some stunning information. A part of the book is dedicated into studying whether or not elementary teachers alter their children’s test scores, to help their reputation. It was found that some teachers do in fact do this. They were able to compare specific strings of answers in the test of students, and found that they all got these answers correct. It was also found that this strand would be toward the end of the test, where there are harder questions. The teacher assumes that the children will get the easy questions correct, and will only change the questions she thinks they will get wrong. While may seem like it doesn’t affect the students, it turns out it does greatly. It was found the after the year of the teacher cheating, the children perform much worse on tests, than children that had average scores the year before. That means the children whose teacher cheated, had actually hurt them.
The authors are usually cautious at making assumptions, and even criticize people for making them. The one flaw is during an experiment where cookies were left out on a table. The people had to pay when no one was looking. It was found that 13% of people didn’t pay. So, Dubner assumed that 87% of people were good people with good moral. He did not take into affect any of the guilt that the people would feel if they had stolen, or if they thought they were being watched or recorded.
“Freakonomics” is not so much about economics as it is about cause and effect, and correlations between things. It is an interesting read for anyone, and I would highly recommend it.
If you have any sense of curiosity about the world, how it works — you're going to love this book.
This book isn't condescending, isn't pretentious in any way, and isn't assuming; it's like being a part of a group of young explorers, out to find out "what the heck is up with this world?"
To sum it up - this book is straight up awesome.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
any boy from india can tell you teachers cheat all the time