These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life, from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing, and whose conclusions turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Thus the new field of study contained in this audiobook: Freakonomics.
Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner 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. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of...well, everything. The inner working of a crack gang....The truth about real-estate agents....The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking, and Freakonomics will redefine the way we view the modern world.
©2006 Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner; (P)2006 HarperCollins Publishers
"Refreshingly accessible and engrossing." (Publishers Weekly)
As a PhD statistician, I love a good data-driven story. Increasing, people in politics, business, and academia are looking for decisions that are based on what the data say. Leavitt's research is engaging and accessible and I, for the most part, enjoyed this book.
HOWEVER, without exception, Leavitt presents his findings as gospel and continually fails to acknowledge the limitations of his methods and his data. He mentions his use of linear regression to obtain his results, but fails to mention the limitations of this method (e.g., results are probabilistic, results are based on model assumptions which may be entirely incorrect). His results obtained from this method sometimes also appear to tell too convenient of a story and seem to be cherry-picked. Moreover, all his results are based on single data sets and may not be as universal as he would like. Finally, he often takes one result (e.g., reading to your kids does not affect their standardized test scores) and makes huge, sweeping generalizations that lead you to believe that reading to your kids doesn't have any affect on any outcome of interest and that you're a bad (or naive) parent for even trying.
These are dangerous practices, though I can see why he does what he does - making all sort of caveats would water-down his findings and make his book less sensational. Nevertheless, he runs the risk of misleading his readers. Judging from the comments posted here so far from people who assume these conclusions are certain, I would say he's succeeded in this endeavor.
Bottom line - I recommend this book. It is full of interesting threads comparing one part of life to another. The book tries to show how human behavior is governed less by morality than by economics. The reader/listener must be willing to accept that economics is more than the study of finances and as explained is understandable.
There are parts of this book that will disturb some listeners. The idea that crime reduction is primarily the result of Roe v. Wade is difficult for some to accept.
Other topics include parenting for childhood success in school, racial bias in baby names, real estate agents who sell out, teachers who cheat on tests, and the anatomy of drug dealing.
My biggest problem with the book is that it lacks a unifying theme. In fact, near the end the author admits to this and gives us little to tie it all together. It contains some very interesting concepts that I will listen to again. Perhaps then will I start to see their connections to each other.
One irony I cannot fault the author for is more Audible.com's fault. The author spends a good deal of time describing which parenting traits impact their child's academic performance and which do not. One argument he makes is that the amount of time a parent reads to their child does not affect that child's ability to do well in school. Whether or not you agree, the irony occurs at the end when Audible inserts an advertisement lauding the significance to a child's academic success as dependent on hearing others read books to them. I found this amusing.
Writer, Reader, Former Bookseller (RIP Borders)
Good for expanding one's point of view, and questioning conventional wisdom. Causes one to look at the motives behind the things we take for granted may not be as simply judged as first believed. Definitely worth the investment. I plan to buy the sequel. Narration is smooth and easy on the ears. Voice as enough inflection and personality to keep from being droll, but not so much that it is distracting or annoying.
First and foremost: this book has absolutely nothing to do with the economy. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This book, does, however, have everything to do with stepping back and looking at things from a different perspective.
As the summary says, this book covers a range of topics: realtors, drug dealers, school teachers, crime, etc. But the point is not so much to teach you something new about those topics, but instead to get you to look at how those topics have been presented to you by others. Then, to shift your perspective and think about them in another way.
This book isn't an education into the "what" or "who" or "where" or "how" that you generally see, but into the "why" of things. It shows that rarely can you take an explanation at face value, but instead you need to keep digging. Stopping at what seems to make sense isn't good enough -- you need to pick at it until you get to the true heart of the matter.
I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone, and have been.
I'm a lawyer and mediator. I represent businesses in disputes with their insurers and in other complex litigation. I also assist machinery companies and manufacturers (primarily international) with equipment sales, non-disclosure agreements, and business issues. I also mediate commercial disputes.
I had been meaning to read this book for a long time. It really makes some very fascinating connections and allows one to see the world in a different light.
One thing that bothered me is that the book rather uncritically suggests that my hometown of Atlanta was a hotbed of Klan activity. Although there was Klan activity in Atlanta and most of the South (and in other parts of the country), the book does not mention that Atlanta (birthplace of Dr. King) also boasts a long history of African-American entrepreneurship. Further, the City of Atlanta has had African-American mayors since the 1970s. At another point, the book suggests the crime rate here is very high. Yes, Atlanta has crime, but the City of Atlanta is a small part (about 500,000 people) of a 5.5 million metropolitan community. Crime stats focusing only on the City can be misleading.
These observations should not detract anyone from reading the book, but since the authors focus on discovering the truth about connections others do not make, I felt it important to make these points.
This is a compelling book, but it will offend many. Race is dealt with quite a bit, and is pretty hard on blacks. We get mostly conclusions, and little of the data and methodology. Some conclusions are based on assumptions.
For example, they say that adoption correlates to lower success. If the data proves that, fine. But when they conclude that this must be because "The type of person to give up a baby for adoption tends to have a lower IQ"... I think this is an ASSUMPTION that can't possibly be supported by data, given that most adoptions are closed. How do they know the IQ of the mothers?
The idea that crime fell off precipitously in the 90's because of abortion is compelling but I see some flaws. They ASSUME that the unwanted, aborted babies were the most likely babies to have become criminals. At the same time they fall heavily on the nature side in the nature vs nurture debate (I agree) and imply that intelligent, successful parents tend to produce the same sort of children. So, who is really having all the abortions? Unintelligent and uneducated women, or upwardly mobile women that don't want impediments to careers and education? If the majority are in the latter group, couldn't it be argued that those kids would have been LESS likely to be criminals? Where is the data on this? I'm sure it's out there but not mentioned in the book. Also, what about all the aborted children that were essentially replaced by the children of immigrants? There has been no precipitous drop in population in America, unlike, say Italy, despite abortion and contraception because of immigration, correct? So, they must be saying that there's not a drop in teenagers, but just a drop in BAD teenagers, and I don;t see how this has been proven.
They sometimes cite hypothetical and anecdotal cases which are purely imaginary.
Despite these shortcomings, it was a fun read with interesting ideas. I just wouldn't take some of their conclusions as gospel.
Good reader (one of the authors), a great book that talks about a lot of things in a WAY that they are not normally talked about. The way it talks about them and the way to approach them is the real take-home... I, and I suspect the authors, will recognize the limits in the presentation.
I was very happy with this selection. The narration was smooth and conscious of its delivery. Turns out that this book wasn't a mathematical slugfest that I feared it might be.
By design it was full of interesting stories and observations that were then reinforced with data - rather than the other way around.
If you read only one book in the next year, make sure it's Freakonomics. This book is eye-opening, thought provoking, and you will see immediately how what is related applies to life all around you. An excellent, excellent book.
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