Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner make statistics apply to your life, and they make you see those things in a whole different light. Somehow, they make stats seem...cool. Narrator Dubner pulls off a little miracle, too. At first, he sounds a bit geeky, but it doesn't take long before you are hanging on to his every word, waiting for the next nugget of information, and thinking that this geeky-sounding guy is really pretty smart. And it doesn't take long before you realize that you've read an entire book on economic theory and statistics - and enjoyed every minute of it. Go figure.
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 regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: 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 set out to explore the hidden side of...well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The secrets of the Ku 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. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter.
©2005 Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner; (P)2005 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
"An eye-opening, and most interesting, approach to the world." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Prepare to be dazzled." (Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point)
"It might appear presumptuous of Steven Levitt to see himself as an all-purpose intellectual detective, fit to take on whatever puzzle of human behavior grabs his fancy. But on the evidence of Freakonomics, the presumption is earned." (The New York Times)
This book is a great intrduction to modern microeconomic ananlytical thinking. Despite the title and the (self-?) aggrandizement of a smart economist, the book offers a collection of windows into the often murky working of modern-day academic economics. I would not take the conclusions about crime or parenting or cheating as the final chapter in the analysis of those topics. That is not what this book is about. The heart of this book is how the authors strip out pedantic writing and academic jargon to lay bare the thought processes of a mainstream (despite the claims of the book) economist.
Take care before you read it. If you can not take an objective look at some difficult issues and question your own beliefs and unproven presumptions, this book is not for you. If you held your knee-jerk condemnation of Larry Summers' comments on women in science until you could form your own opinion from the actual text of his speech, then this book is for you.
Besides these deeper points, the book is also informative, challenging, entertaining and well-written. Read it!
Most of the reviews here and most of the conversations I've had about this book revolve around the subjects presented and whether or not they are believable, correct, or interesting, but none of that (although fascinating to me) seemed to me to really be the point of the book. I think the real intent of the authors is to convey the idea that it can be possible to quantifiably answer questions that don't seem possible to do so at first glance and to show how to approach those questions in ways that can yield real results. If you read the book and take away from it the results of the investigations, then you walk away with some interesting information, but I think that if the authors' intent had been to merely convey that information, it could have been done much more concisely, leaving room for still more study results. Instead, they focus heavily on the processes of their investigations, and it is my feeling that their intent in doing so is to help enable others to be able to do the same when analyzing their own unanswerable questions.
In addition, the recurring theme of challenging "conventional wisdom" cannot be overlooked. I don't think that the authors have an expectation that their readers will be able to go out and discover all the real truths behind the many assumptions we have about how our societies operate, but I do think that they have a hope that we might begin simply by questioning the validity of the things that we hear, are taught, or take for granted.
If you review the book solely as a source of interesting, unique, and sometimes controversial social insights, it's probably kind of hit-and-miss. If, however, you review it as a guide to critical thinking and analysis, it is quite successful, and I highly recommend it as such.
Freakonomics is a popular press showcase for the research of Steve Levitt, who won the 2003 John Bates Clark medal for being the best US Economist under 40). In his academic research, Levitt applies the statistical tools and logic of economics to understand human behavior on a wide range of topics. Although the book is upfront about having no systematic theme, its main message is that careful, non-ideological analyses can, indeed, yield fundamental (and sometimes counterintuitive) insights into economic behavior and social problems. Levitt's analysis often point out the subtle (and sometimes insidious) nature of incentives and the potential for experts to take advantage of their inside information to achieve personal gain.
The book is read by Stephen Dubner, whose ability to translate Levitt's research into everyday language is a major contribution. Although it is Dubner's voice on the Audiobook, it is clearly Levitt's passion for data and desire to 'let the data speak' that brings each chapter to life.
Although the authors do not draw the comparison explicitly in the book, the contrast between Levitt's systematic analysis of complex problems and the simple-minded approaches of Cable TV pundits is very clear.
For anyone who ever thought that an Econ class might be interesting, the book is terrific. In fact, the book is great for anyone with even a passing interest in social science (like sociology) or public policy.
I have found this book to be an interesting read but notice that when I tell my friends about it, their eyes tend to glaze over and pretty soon they're mumbling, "uh huh, well, that certainly sounds interesting!" So, ok, this is not everyone's cup of tea. I think that the ideal reader is the person who reads that a batch of cookie doough will make 99 1" cookies and then tries to picture how many 10" cookies that would be. One of the most interesting aspects is trying to put the author's suppositions into what you remember of your graduate level Research Methods Class that you aced 20 years ago. One more caveat, it does pull the curtain away and expose cheating sumo wrestlers, cheating teachers, real estate agents, and crack drug dealers!
I generally refuse to read abridgements but this book would have been better as an abridgement. The topics addressed in the lengthy introduction are stated in sufficient detail to make subsequent discussion of them in the book redundant. Also, it was tiresome to hear the author read at the beginning of each chapter quotes and reviews lauding him as a brilliant expert. The second half of the book, at least what seemed like half the book, was a very lengthy and not too interesting diatribe on naming, the premise, I conclude, after listening to the whole thing and wondering "why" must be that the popular names of the future can be predicted by studying the names given today by affluant and educated parents. There, I said it. Enough said. The naming jag in the book pops up this way: The author suffered a very tragic death of his own child and in going to a grief support group he met parents whose children drowned in swimming pools which caused him to research the danger of swimming pools v. guns and speaking of names, . . . . This book to me is an example of an attempt to stretch an interesting magazine article into a book. Just not enough material and too much got in that is irrelevant/redundant.
This is a very interesting book, sure to get you thinking creatively about a variety of social science issues. Each "essay" in the piece is well written and fairly well narrated. I particularly enjoyed the last piece on the patterns of first names in the US in the last few decades, by race & social class. That's all to the good. But the book is also a rambling affair, with no "point" other than intellectual curiosity & inquiry. So it doesn't necessarily leave you with a life revelation, other than being skeptical about the received wisdom of many things. Also, some of the economics underlying the discussion could have been brought out more, to make the assertions more convincing. In a few places, I was left doubting because no evidence was there (I suppose I could dip into the author's scholarly papers to find the real evidence, but that shouldn't be necessary). Highly recommended.
I'm surprised to see that people either loved or hated this book. I found it to be a very entertaining listen, although the book seemed to me to lack a central theme.
I can't believe the number of people who claimed the book's conclusions were arbitrary or miscontrued. The conclusions came straight from the data and were corroborated in several ways. Those people who think the authors were making things up need to take some courses on statistics.
And no, you can't lie with statistics if you follow correct, scientifically sound principles. Good researchers make public their methods so that others are are able to repeat their research and either confirm or refute their findings. If you think these guys are wrong, gather your own team of statisticians to pour through the data. Given these guys' credentials, I'd be surprised if you were able to disprove their conclusions.
This book blows away many of the common "truths" many of us have come to accept. I had heard of the books controversy and some of the points are controversial however in light of the authors demonstrating to never take statistics at face value, I don't believe all is true in the assumptions this book makes. It is a good, fast paced book, understandable in it's premise and how the authors conclusions were arrived at, but the tone is a bit self important, as are most tomes preaching the gospel according to economist/authors. It opened my mind to certain ideas on educating my own children and on how to spend tax dollars on students. The section on crime is interesting and as flawed as the various government reports on crime, but again, eye-opening.
I would recommend the book because it keeps the reader/listener's interest and it sparks internal debates with our own value system and beliefs. A good look at the "truths" we believe is good for the brain, the heart and the soul of a human.
You've probably heard about this book from friends, family or the media. Unlike many books that create this much buzz, Freakonomics is NOT over-hyped and does in fact deliver on its promise of being a fun read that explores the hidden side of many everyday parts of society. The insights are clever, and the stories are memorable.
Even if the reader does not agree with the statements of the authors, each story in the collection is at worst thought-provoking and at best funny, revealing and intriguing all at the same time.
As a modern economics and game theory junkie this is almost a must read. Some of it is pretty good some of it isn't. The last third of the book is sort of a so what. Some of the most interesting revelations come when you juxtapose things from different chapters.
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