Freakonomics Nook Edition by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Click Here to Download the Book Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime? These may not sound like typical questions for an econo-mist 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 conventional wisdom on its head. Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-anddeath issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.
Reviews Freakonomics, is not an ordinary book about economics. Instead, it is a fun and interesting book about why things happen the way they do. This book clears up some misconceptions of everyday life and changes the way that we see the world around us. Freakonomics is about what happens ‘under the surface of everyday life’ and the effects of it. In this book, authors Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss various questions. For example, they ask: What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? For this question, they claim that everyone responds to incentives, and sometimes will go so far as to cheat. Some of the conclusions are unsurprising, but I found some to be quite astonishing. For example, the authors attributed the drop in crime in the US around 1980 to the legalization of abortion. Though some of the claims might be unbelievable at first, the book answers and supports their claims with plenty of evidence and statistical data, so that in the end, I was convinced. Freakonomics is about economics, which many might perceive to be dull. However, this book is just the opposite. The writing is insightful and exoteric. This book was mainly intended for an older audience, but anyone who likes economics and would like to read something different would enjoy this book. Freakonomics is overall an enjoyable and entertaining read. I highly recommend this book.
Let me start off by saying that I have a BA in Economics - and hated the science. But after reading Levitt's book, I was pleased at how he used this arcane discipline to present his analysis on some common day issues. (Although the book was more about the use of statistics than economics.) And, after reading a few reviews of the book, it is this method of making his analyses accessible to the common reader, that has some purists' underwear all knotted up in a bundle (also see footnote at the end of this review). They complain that he
makes the analyses understandable at the expense of thorough research and the dearth of more charts and graphs. And it is exactly this need to over-present and over-complicate that has caused economics and statistics to be avoided like the plague by the masses in the first place! Plus, Levitt's approach demystifies the science and gives us all more knowledge, which as Levitt points out in the book, is unsettling to the folks who are used to having sole possession and understanding of the knowledge. And c'mon now, he's got 22 pages of notes and references in the back of the book. Now about the book, I would say that the main theme is to not trust conventional wisdom. Or in my words, always challenge "the known". I'm a management consultant by profession and I can't count the number of times that I have found errors in data that the client has been using for years and has treated as gospel. And as Levitt stresses in his book, the same holds true with what we've been told for many years. Further, I applaud his willingness to tackle some controversial topics, e.g., abortion has helped lower the crime rate, and children with "black" names are at a disadvantage because of their name. And not because of the name itself, but because of the factors that caused the child to receive the name. Plus, just because a child is black, doesn't explain the education and test score gap with whites. Basically, as he points out, it's the environment the child is in - not the color of the skin - and many blacks happen to be in a less than satisfactory environment. Also, I think he makes a convincing argument that crack cocaine did more to set back the black community than any sort of overt or covert action by the government or anyone else trying to hold blacks down. Now, even though I liked the uncomplicated way in which the analyses were presented, there were a couple of instances where I think the author needed to give more supporting data on how a conclusion was reached. For example, his conclusion that Hispanics and older contestants are unconsciously discriminated against on the show "The Weakest Link." I'm sure he's got the data that shows this, but just failed to include it. Also, I didn't agree with his conclusion that parents don't have as much influence as thought on the intelligence and success of their children. (Especially since the concept of "intelligence" is subjective, and can be "taught". For example, constant drilling, or "teaching to the test" can raise a student's test score - if this is used as a measure of intelligence. Further, people can utilize memorization and be considered intelligent. Case in point: foreigners that don't speak English that are world champions in the English version of Scrabble. They have stated that they simply memorized words and word patterns from the dictionary.) One example which comes to mind that refutes the limited influence of parents is that of Doctor Ben Carson, who now is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. His poor mother instilled in him/forced him to achieve in school - even though he found out years later, that she herself couldn't even read. I'm sure there are many more examples, and I would say that a parent has a huge influence on whether or not a child is NOT intelligent or successful. So, while I think economics/statistics can be used to analyze and draw correlation between many things, at the end of the day, there are so many intangibles in our lives that defy measurement. But, I think Levitt did a great job working with the data that he had and making some insightful observations. Overall - a wonderful book that makes you say, "hmmmm...." Footnote: The same condemnation happened with the book "The Seat of the Soul." The spirituality purist were outraged that Gary Zukav tried to give his thoughts, in an easy-to-read manner, on a topic that is thousands of years old, and thus requires an inordinate amount of rigor, documentation and pretentiousness reserved for a scientific study presented to the National Academies of Science - or some Economist's report! (Read some of the Seat of the Soul reviews on Amazon and you'll see what I mean.)
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