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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.) Paperback – August 25, 2009
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“If Indiana Jones were an economist, he’d be Steven Levitt… Criticizing Freakonomics would be like criticizing a hot fudge sundae.” (Wall Street Journal)
“The guy is interesting!” (Washington Post Book World)
“The funkiest study of statistical mechanics ever by a world-renowned economist... Eye-opening and sometimes eye-popping” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America... Prepare to be dazzled.” (Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point)
“Principles of economics are used to examine daily life in this fun read.” (People: Great Reads)
“Levitt dissects complex real-world phenomena, e.g. baby-naming patterns and Sumo wrestling, with an economist’s laser.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)
“Levitt is a number cruncher extraordinaire.” (Philadelphia Daily News)
“Levitt is one of the most notorious economists of our age.” (Financial Times)
“Hard to resist.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
From the Back Cover
More Than 4 Million Copies Sold Worldwide
Published in 35 Languages
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?
What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?
How much do parents really matter?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports—and reaches conclusions that turn conventional wisdom on its head. Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They set out to explore the inner workings of a crack gang, the truth about real estate agents, the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, and much more. Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, they show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing.
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What I learned: Whether you agree with all of their findings or not, the way that they tackle the questions they have is admirable. The biggest learning point I got from this book is a completely different outlook on answering questions. Instead of assuming something doesn’t have an answer, get creative and get as close as you can. Additionally, the confidence they had in their findings is something worth respecting. If you have done the work and you believe the outcome, trust the work that you have done. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t accept new evidence or look into new potential options, but don’t discount your work until you have a reason to. Overall, this book pushed me to think more like an economist (dare I say freakonomist?) and I believe the thought process used by these authors will come in handy in business decisions as well.
I decided to read this book in order to put an everyday analytical spin to my Managerial Economics course which focused on optimization and decision making on production environments.
It was remarkable reading how Steven and Stephen used regresion (which in my eyes is a complex process) to identify several variables and fixed values to determine how percieved notions and actions truly affect a child's development and academic performance. Simplified the process and taught me a few things about myself along the way.
Who would dare state that the legalization of abortions caused a reduction in crime? The implications are immense on minorities and low income population. But the data proves it.
It as artful how this book takes you into the statistical process and analysis of the data without expecting you to be a numbers person. The nuances and everyday behaviours are broken down and laid out in very relatable language. I will definitely be reading SuperFreakonomics. My respects for Levitt.
Levitt’s teaching style appeals to most people in my opinion as he uses real examples that are fascinating to readers.When teaching new complicated ideas, it's important to make them easily understandable. Levitt does a good job of writing to all readers, not just certain classes of people. In the following quote from the book, Levitt uses this strategy to teach his point. “An incentive is a bullet, a key: an often tiny object with astonishing power to change a situation.” This quote is beneficial in teaching his lesson because this analogy is helpful in understanding what an incentive is. Most people know what incentives are, but not all, which is why he continues to explain it and does not just assume the reader knows. For many High School students, econ can be hard to understand because the ideas are more abstract, so when Levitt uses examples that are known, it's easier to comprehend the ideas.
As far as writing style goes, Levitt does a good job of using complex sentences and words while keeping the writing fairly comprehensive. His audience of people who are econ beginners are easily able to understand the content because he doesn’t dumb down the topics. The following quote showcases his writing abilities as he uses good vocabulary and explanations. "Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work, whereas economics represents how it actually does work."(Pg.13) He relates a word most people already know to an economic topic to teach the lesson. He teaches new econ vocabulary in an easy to understand way through examples. He keeps his examples serious yet difficult while explaining the econ. He maintains new examples every chapter while still relating them to the last. Using real-life current events also helped to teach the information in a new, academic way.
Overall, Levitt did a great job on teaching economy in a fascinating way. Each chapter had a new taste and was captivating to learn about. His examples were new and exciting to read and relate to econ. The combination of complex vocabulary and ideas with his captivating teaching style is what makes Freakonomics a good choice when looking for an educational economy book.
This book, "Freakanomics" is one of the best non-fiction books written and should be required reading for High School economics classes across the US. From the age of 13 up to people who show up on the Today show for the 100 or older Smucker's club, it is a book that can be enjoyed with laughs and insight-fullness.
Top international reviews
Interesting and sensible way of gathering data
Pleasant style of reading very 'digestible'
Incredibly repetitive - the case of decreasing number of criminals is covered at least 3 times! Pretty much every case is covered at least twice.
Authors touch upon 10 or so subjects that I did not find particularly interesting- many are related to race which to me shows how US orientated it is.
The layout is bizarre, seems like an amateurish self-publish booked - someone who decided 'let's make a collage of the materials and add all of them into the book' it start of like a regular book, then it goes through the research published, then articles, then it seems it back to 'a book', then FAQ - very weird and inconsistent.
Trivial matters like the name of babies are killed to death. I am only impressed by the shear determination someone had to go through this data and arrive at conclusion which is 'the trends of names change over time'.
I wanted to like it, the topic is fascinating but it does seem to me that the reputation of the professor is based on his controversial findings that are predominantly race related. Found it more of a sensationalistic than an empirical read.
Rather read Dan Ariely.
Two issues that I find when reading a non-fiction book are firstly the purely academic eye with which an author writes and secondly how much prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the novel. Fortunately, Freakonomics does not have either issue in the slightest. A person does not need to be an economist to enjoy Freakonomics and will find the novel intellectual but fun. The chapter titles, I found to be intriguing and amusing, for example, ‘What do school teachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common?’ and made the reader genuinely curious about the novel. Furthermore, the majority of the novel then proceeded to live up to chapters’ interesting titles and kept the reader turning the page. The content was, overall, superb. The arguments themselves were cleverly written with thought experiments as well as actually facts and figures to support them and the novel also included the experiences of two separate men, one of whom infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and the other which got a close up, inside eye of how a gang works. These chapters were among my favourites.
However, like every novel, Freakonomics is not perfect. Towards the end, the topics began to interest me less as they were discussed in far too much detail and, although it may have been necessary for proving the authors’ theory, I wasn’t that interested in the topic to start off with. Furthermore, the authors omit necessary information in at least one point during the novel. When discussing guns, they state that ‘On a per capita basis, Switzerland has more firearms than just about any other country, and yet is one of the safest’ to support their argument that guns do not cause violence. What they fail to mention are the strict laws about purchasing ammunition for guns in Switzerland, which essentially equates to the guns being unusable without the government’s permission. The exclusion of this information suggests that perhaps they are slightly changing the facts to benefit their arguments elsewhere in the novel. Finally, as a young British girl, parts of this book, whilst incredibly interesting, did not feel highly relevant to me because it was largely based around America. For example, I did not particularly relate to discussions around the Ku Klux Klan and real estate doesn’t interest me much; that said, it probably wasn’t written for my age group anyway. In spite of these shortcomings, Freakonomics is, overall, incredibly good, and the informative and interactive insight that it gives you in to certain aspects of the modern world is well worth the few issues.
Levitt likes to take seemingly random questions - like why drug dealers live with their mothers - to begin investigations into areas that are often hidden from view. So he will look at cheating (in Sumo wrestling and teaching), drug dealing, crime and the choice that a child's name may, or may not have on their chances in life.
He emphasizes the positive econometric approach - that he is looking only for facts and not commenting on how the world should be which is the realm of normative economists. This allows him some leeway into some potentially controversial comments relating to, for example, abortion and adoption. This is one of my slight reservations about the book - some of the examples appear to have been selected more for shock value than for genuine insight.
That said, it is also at times laugh out loud funny - some of the examples in the names of Californian kids are both terribly sad and absolutely hilarious!
It's well worth reading but it had a lot of hype when it was published and that might be too heavy a burden for the book to carry, not least as some of the examples are now well known as a result of the book. Interesting and entertaining though.
Conventional wisdom can often be wrong. In the third chapter of Freakonomics, Levitt provides an in-depth discussion that shatters the conventional wisdom that most drug dealers are wealthy.
His analysis of the financial records of a the Black Disciples, a Chicago gang, proved that most street-level dealers earned far less than minimum wage. In fact, they earned an average of three dollars an hour. With this story, the authors introduce the concept of a ‘winner takes all’ labor market, as well as three other Freakonomics concepts -
An example of concept which is talked about is: Winner Takes All Labor Market
This describes a situation in which many laborers compete for a position in the market, but few actually succeed in finding employment. Those few who do are paid extraordinarily large salaries.
In the example of the Chicago drug gang, only 2.2% of the members earned more than half the profits. Levitt and Dubner refer to this labor market as a “tournament.” A tournament, of course, refers to a situation in which many players compete against each other and, one by one, are eliminated. Similar dynamics exist in music, sports and entertainment.
As a Physics Grad - I never much liked the idea of being a data analyst but this book may have just taught me it can be interesting and fulfilling if you’re analysing they right data.
would read again
It also seems to assume that the data being used is beautifully curated and could never be subject to error ... giving rather the impression of some ivory-tower academics postulating about the oddities of the outside world. (Consider stories on their NYT blog where they point out how terrible New York taxis are ... based on an experience they had 15 years ago.)
Or perhaps the whole thing is an exercise in knowing irony. It really isn't an exploration of "the hidden side of everything" so much as an exploration of "all the things we could obtain data for and then produce correlations between, hopefully irritating people and generating hype along the way". Although that's a bit long to fit on the cover as a tag-line. But if you'd like to read a book that feels like you're trapped in a lift with an economist who'd really, really like to be Jerry Seinfeld, read on. Amirite?????!!!
I've got the feeling that there's been a recent trend in the field of economics to try and put values on things like human happiness rather than deal exclusively with hard-nosed business and markets: a change of tack that broadens the appeal of their work to the general public. This book epitomizes this change and certainly had me thinking about a range of issues in a different way.
The introduction sets out the topics that will be covered in more detail throughout the rest of the book and certainly whets the appetite. The collaboration between Levitt (academic economist) and Dubner (journalist) make for a well written and easily accessible introduction to some more unusual economics. My own narrow perception of economics previously was that related to finance where this book shows how broad the science of economics actually it.
The book balances research based evidence and anecdotal stories to make this an interesting read that doesn't become dry or boring. I enjoyed some of the insights and particularly the commentary on correlations and their misuse. Levitt and Dubnar shatter some misconceptions and demonstrate why things are so in an entertaining way.
I thought it was all a little too short but I note that they brought out an updated version in 2007 (336 pages) whereas I have the original 2005 edition with only 242 pages. Now they have also brought out the sequel Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance I'm looking forward to reading more about the contemporary economics Levitt and Dubnar.
The academic half of this dynamic duo claims to be no good at maths. Possibly this is disingenuous - he seems to be pretty good at handling data. But certainly the reports are devoid of tedious equations.
This content is available in free blogs, podcasts, and miscellaneous other internet freebies. But I found it so interesting that despite the freebies I went and bought the book
It is an interesting book, but I'm not sure that it's a book that you read in one sitting. I say this because there's no real flow to the book. The authors might address drug dealers in one chapter, and African-American names in the next. The result is that you don't necessarily build up any momentum as you move from one chapter to the next.
Don't get me wrong, this is an interesting book, and you will find the mental gymnastics that the authors have produced stimulating (because it is cleverly written). However, I don't think it's written in a the most fluid way possible, and that's why I've not given it 5*.