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Freakonomics Rev Ed
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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

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 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 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-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and 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 workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and - if the right questions are asked - is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Customer Reviews:

  • Be prepared to think outside the box
    Freakonomics is an eye-opening account of everyday life, written with a twist. It focuses on issues such as guns, teachers, sumo wrestlers and parents, but instead of drawing conclusions on the conventional method of economics, this book delves deeper and provides insight into a completely new way of thinking.

    Asking questions such as 'does the name we are born with determine who we will become as adults'and 'if a household is filled with books, will children living in that house automatically be smarter even though they may not necessarily read the books?'The writers of Freakonomics pose many different questions and thoughts on the statistics and theorioes of many life issues, but instead of providing bland answers in standard economic format, Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner go one step further and offer conclusions backed up with both research and a lot of 'out of the square' thinking.

    Be prepared to have your thoughts and opinions on everything from real estate agents to drug dealers turned inside out and upside down, for this book will have you reeling with a totally different, original and fresh perspective on everything.

    No doubt about it, this book will leave you questioning life in all its forms and challening every traditional thought and method possible. It will have you looking at the world like you never have before and turning the pages fast to absorb every detailed analysis offered. An absolute must-read, this book comes highly recommended. ...more info
  • Entertaining
    I read this book about 3 years ago and came across it again when unpacking a box. I decided to re-read the book. This book is very entertaining. If you are looking for a deep content driven book on economics and theories, look elsewhere. There are a lot of non-sequitar fallacies in this book. Example, Bob likes cats and is a Giants fan. Therefore, all people who like cats are Giants fans. The book is more of an entertainment read. The authors are two highly touted, award-winning economists who reach certain theories based on non-traditional thinking and not empirical data. Read with an open mind and you will enjoy. ...more info
  • Tidbits for Cocktail Party Talk
    Usually I don't give books with a title like Freakonomics a second look. With a horrid name like that they are probably not worth the effort. But following a link on Arts & Letters Daily about a couple of months ago I read a glowing review about this new book (it was not yet available at the time), which ended with the words: "one of the decade's most intelligent and provocative books". Well, that sounded like something worth reading, freakish title notwithstanding.

    Worth reading? Yes. Intelligent? Maybe. Provocative? Hardly.

    What Steven Levitt, a young economics professor from the University of Chicago, does, is ask some good questions about things happening in the world and then he plays around intelligently with numbers to see if he can come up with a good explanation for why these things happen. The "freakish" part comes from the fact that Levitt tries to find non-standard, sometimes counter-intuitive, explanations and back them with his number-crunching acrobatics. There is nothing provocative about this, only commonsense use of statistics backed by a bright skeptical mind that does not trust conventional wisdom.


    The book contains numerous subjects to which a "freaky" answer is found by looking carefully at the numbers: Why do Sumo wrestlers cheat? Why do drug dealers still live at home? How much does the parent contribute to the development of the child? Why do real-estate agents sell your house for less than it is worth? For each of these questions Levitt proposes an answer and proceeds to show why the numbers prove his hypothesis.

    Perhaps the best analysis in the book (and the most widely known by now) is the one dealing with the decline in crime in the United States during the late 1990s. After dismissing the common explanations for this decline - better police work, more policemen, economic welfare, etc. - Levitt suggests that the drop in crime is attributed to the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. The argument goes like this: criminals come from bad families and are mostly a result of unwanted pregnancies. The legalisation of abortion enabled many women from bad backgrounds to avoid giving birth to unwanted children. These "unborn children" would have entered their prime criminal years in the 1990s. Less problematic children around means less crime. Neat explanation, backed with numbers. (Needless to say, in the short time the book has been around, there have been numerous attacks on this theory).

    The book is mostly intelligent and entertaining and provides a good read. But it has two flaws. Levitt's co-author, the journalist Stephen Dubner, sprinkled the book with excerpts from a piece he wrote in 2003 in The New York Times about Levitt. The endless praise about Levitt (did we mention he was young? and brilliant? and freaky?) seems a touch awkward in a book supposedly written by the very same person. The second flaw is one which is sadly too common in popular books written by academics: it pounds a point to death. Just when you thought you got the point and are to move on, there comes yet another explanation of the very same point. The book could have been written in half as many pages.

    In the preface to the book, the authors write:

    "It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world."

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first observation. As for the redefining the way we view the world... Well, I think it depends on the level of skepticism the reader has in the first place with regards to conventional wisdom....more info
  • Feakonomics Review
    What do a teacher and a sumo wretler have in common? How can a real estate agent possibly relate to the KKK? These are both are questions regarding how certain factors relate to one another in the real world. Who would have known that both sumo wresters and teachers cheat in a similar way in order to increase their pay, and real estate agents and the KKK use tricks to try and fool people to do whatever they want. Can it be true that a persons name determines what social class they belong to? or what contributes to a childs character in the future? Can it be the school he's going to or the friends he has? Freakonomics is unraveling the hidden side of just about everything....more info
  • Good intent, but poor results
    Levitt rails against certain experts throughout the book, but by the end Levitt's become the expert he hates. Part of this was due to trying to explain the areas with numbers and economics alone: economics explains a lot, but not everything. A fair amount of it though was his methodology.

    For all the discussion about not confusing correlation with causality, Levitt commits this error. His abortion argument is the best example. There may be a correlation, even a strong one, between abortion and crime rate. The evidence doesn't prove that abortion, or lack thereof is responsible for a drop or rise in crime.


    There were numerous flaws with the sections on education. For starters, IQ is subjective so an IQ test will only measure what you want it to measure, thus "smart people" are smart if we decide they are. Levitt also relies solely on standardized test scores--in a vacuum all they tell is how well people know how to take a test.

    The beginning of each chapter read more like a PR-plug for Levitt than an introduction to the topic. ...more info
  • The only thing freaky is this book's reception
    If you want to become really depressed about the state of intellectual life in America, then "Freakonomics" is the book for you. It was widely praised by sources ranging from the New York Times to the Weekly Standard, and anything that earns the support of both those publications should be highly suspect. In truth, "Freakonomics" is a mixture of two types of conclusions: the obvious and the obviously wrong. In that respect it mirrors other recent pop sociology efforts such as Predictably Irrational, but without even the touches of humor and warmth in that book.

    One problem with "Freakonomics" is its habit of hailing the blatantly obvious as new and revolutionary. For instance, Levitt offers to prove that real estate agents try harder to sell their owns houses than to sell their clients' houses. The only response that any intelligent person could offer is, "Well of course they do. Why wouldn't they?" Teachers spent more effort teaching their children than others. Gardeners garden harder in their own gardens than in anyone else's. Professional investors devote the most attention to their own investments. Why wouldn't real estate agents do what everyone else does?

    Another example comes in a chapter with the pointedly irritating title, 'What do Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in Common?' The dramatic answer is--drum roll please--they cheat. Substantially effort is spent establishing the fact that a sizable percentage of teachers cheat on standardized tests, but this is old news. The techniques for catching cheaters that Levitt uses were already known long before he wrote this book, so what's the big deal? If one could find a school system where nobody ever cheated, that might be worthy of a book with 'freak' in the title.

    At the other end of the spectrum are a host of conclusions that are just plain wrong. For example, Levitt asserts that campaign spending has no effect on political races. His "proof" of this comes from comparing situations where the same candidates ran twice in a row. Supposedly the votes always turned out the same way, even if the candidates had more to spend the second time around. Whether this is true or not, I can't say, but such cases obviously account for only a small percentage of the total number of political contests. There's ample proof that money talks in politics. For instance, last summer, Democratic Senate candidates were trailing badly in the polls in North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, and Alaska. Then the DNC poured tens of millions of dollars into those races, and the Democrats all surged in the polls.

    A more insidious case is the book's best-known assertion, which deals with crime and abortion. In studying the huge drop in crime rates during the 90's, Levitt ties it to the Roe vs. Wade case in 1972. According to his analysis, once women started having abortions, the number of unwanted babies plunged. As these unwanted babies are the most likely to grow up into criminal adults, this lead to a drop in crime rates about 20 years later. The problem with this theory is that it's the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, both halves of it don't compute. Roe vs. Wade had only a small effect on the number of abortions. By all measures, the number of unwanted children kept on increasing, despite the availability of legal abortions. On the crime side, crime rates committed by people born shortly after 1972 skyrocketed upward in the late 80's and early 90's, which is the exact opposite of what Levitt's theory says. (For those who want a source, Jon Hilsenrath wrote up the real facts in the Wall Street Journal in Nov. 28, 2005.) It actually gets worse for Levitt when we look at other countries. Analysis from England of Wales shows abortion leading to higher crime.

    It is Levitt's main tactic to simply ignore any data that doesn't fit his hypothesis. That makes for good reading but bad thinking; sound analysis has to include all the data. Of course Levitt is not the first person to make his living pushing junk statistics, and he probably won't be the last. What's worrying is the way that the nation's intellectual elite bow down before him. It seems that he need only wave his fancy degree in the air, claim to have statistics on his side, and he automatically becomes right about everything, with no criticism or double-checking necessary. The way that our major publications rush to get suckered by this junk makes one fear for the future of independent thought. For those who think that economists should help people rather than cook up phony excuses for moral degeneracy, try Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.
    ...more info
  • My kid's name
    I loved this book. I'm glad I read it before I chose my newborn's name!!!...more info
  • Economics in "real" life
    This is a book by Steven Levitt, an economist who attempts to answer common questions using the laws of statistics and economics. Using these two basic principles he looks at cause-and-effect and their relation to our actual perception of events.
    One section I particularly enjoyed dealt with sumo wrestling. Using statistics Mr. Levitt was able to show that many of the sumo wrestling matches were actually rigged. This allowed for more well-established wrestlers to progress in the hierarchy making more money, but still allow for newcomers in the field to build a following of fans. I also enjoyed how Mr. Levitt spent time with a group of crack dealers and outlined their "business model" complete with a structure of bosses and underlings.
    I would give this book 5 stars because I enjoyed the principals of applying logic to explain entertaining and unique situations. I've already read a few portions of this book again and shared some of the stories with other readers and people that I work with. I have a background in science (biology, chemistry, physics) and really enjoyed the principles of applied economics and statistics. I would recommend this book to anyone who would want a nice quick read on a very interesting topic....more info
  • Interesting and fun!
    I purchased the audiobook to listen to on a road trip and found Freakonomics to be engaging and great for starting discussions! Time passed quickly while listening, and I was left wishing there was more when I got to the end. I gave four stars only because some of the book's main points are discussed in the lengthy introduction, and then again in the body of the book which is a little repetitive....more info
  • Good book, but I'm not sure if I learned anything
    The books was well written, but I'm not really sure how much I've learned from it....more info
  • Surprisingly interesting
    I have a new appreciation for the hidden side of economics! It read so quickly. Who knew economics could be a fun read!...more info
  • Freakishly Fantastic
    I took statistics and economics in college and grad school, but they were never interesting in the way this book is. I loved the analysis that shows that crime doesn't pay in "Why Drug Dealers Live with their Mothers". The book is very fun to read and really gives us a new perspective. I hope Obama gets these two authors, D. Levitt and Dubner, on his team to help get us out of the freakishly bad fiscal meltdown.Power Path to Love...more info
  • Fascinating read
    Levitt brings economic theory to life and puts conventional wisdom to the test when he sets out to answer random and interesting questions about society in general. Some of his answers will surprise you. After reading the book, I subscribed to their blog [...] which is built around the same premise of the book. As the icing on the cake, you can request a sticker autographed by the authors here:[...]...more info
  • Freakonomics
    This is an entertaining look at economics and gave valid views on how our systems works. ...more info
  • Sociology-flavored econ
    Everybody knows that economics is about measurement and money and things numerical; that's why most of us find it so damned dull.

    But as approached by offbeat economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven D. Levitt, economics is also "the study of incentives": what it takes to get us to do a certain thing--or to not do it, as the case may be. Which makes it human, and therefore fascinating.

    This is what I love about this delightful book by Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner: that it comes at things sideways or upside-down or head-on, but never the usual way. I'm still not sold on some of the more radical hypotheses Leavitt coaxes from the data (the link between abortion and falling crime rates being the most widely reviled and quoted), but I'm 100% there on the importance of throwing the numbers against conventional wisdom to see what sticks. The numbers may not always tell the exact truth, but neither do they lie, making them extraordinarily useful in the exploding of myths.

    Levitt and Dubner tell fascinating stories about how to combat crappy teaching, bring down the Ku Klux Klan and what happens when you call your kids "Winner" and "Loser" (answer: not necessarily what you'd think on any count). But really, they've written a book celebrating the heart of truth: asking questions, and hacks to stay open to the real answers.

    As an interesting side note, the prospect of reading something that seemed like it would rock my world long and hard was too enticing to wait for a library copy to become available, but not enticing enough to get me to part with $26 of my hard-earned money. My break point? A 25ˇé/day rental from the Beverly Hills Public Library, and pushing the rest of my reading to the bottom of the pile. Some might call that cheap, but I'm betting Levitt would come at it sideways and say that I was already giving up time I'd committed to other reading to explore this book, and therefore it was of great value to me.

    And you know what? He'd be right....more info
  • A Straight Dose of Truth
    In the past decade we've had several books explaining why societies are succeeding or failing. We've had FREAKONIMICS, THE WORLD IS FLAT, AND GUNS GERMS & STEEL. They all have some common themes in mind; over-use of resources, liberation of people through education, and in this case birth control.
    Birth control is one of the touchiest and most loaded topics in the media. At a community meeting I brought up the suggestion of free universal birth control and they cut the meeting short. Over population leads to increased competition for food/energy, and consequently leads to war....more info
  • The only thing freaky is this book's reception
    If you want to become really depressed about the state of intellectual life in America, then "Freakonomics" is the book for you. It was widely praised by sources ranging from the New York Times to the Weekly Standard, and anything that earns the support of both those publications should be highly suspect. In truth, "Freakonomics" is a mixture of two types of conclusions: the obvious and the obviously wrong. In that respect it mirrors other recent pop sociology efforts such as Predictably Irrational, but without even the touches of humor and warmth in that book.

    One problem with "Freakonomics" is its habit of hailing the blatantly obvious as new and revolutionary. For instance, Levitt offers to prove that real estate agents try harder to sell their owns houses than to sell their clients' houses. The only response that any intelligent person could offer is, "Well of course they do. Why wouldn't they?" Teachers spent more effort teaching their children than others. Gardeners garden harder in their own gardens than in anyone else's. Professional investors devote the most attention to their own investments. Why wouldn't real estate agents do what everyone else does?

    Another example comes in a chapter with the pointedly irritating title, 'What do Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in Common?' The dramatic answer is--drum roll please--they cheat. Substantially effort is spent establishing the fact that a sizable percentage of teachers cheat on standardized tests, but this is old news. The techniques for catching cheaters that Levitt uses were already known long before he wrote this book, so what's the big deal? If one could find a school system where nobody ever cheated, that might be worthy of a book with 'freak' in the title.

    At the other end of the spectrum are a host of conclusions that are just plain wrong. For example, Levitt asserts that campaign spending has no effect on political races. His "proof" of this comes from comparing situations where the same candidates ran twice in a row. Supposedly the votes always turned out the same way, even if the candidates had more to spend the second time around. Whether this is true or not, I can't say, but such cases obviously account for only a small percentage of the total number of political contests. There's ample proof that money talks in politics. For instance, last summer, Democratic Senate candidates were trailing badly in the polls in North Carolina, Minnesota, Oregon, and Alaska. Then the DNC poured tens of millions of dollars into those races, and the Democrats all surged in the polls.

    A more insidious case is the book's best-known assertion, which deals with crime and abortion. In studying the huge drop in crime rates during the 90's, Levitt ties it to the Roe vs. Wade case in 1972. According to his analysis, once women started having abortions, the number of unwanted babies plunged. As these unwanted babies are the most likely to grow up into criminal adults, this lead to a drop in crime rates about 20 years later. The problem with this theory is that it's the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, both halves of it don't compute. Roe vs. Wade had only a small effect on the number of abortions. By all measures, the number of unwanted children kept on increasing, despite the availability of legal abortions. On the crime side, crime rates committed by people born shortly after 1972 skyrocketed upward in the late 80's and early 90's, which is the exact opposite of what Levitt's theory says. (For those who want a source, Jon Hilsenrath wrote up the real facts in the Wall Street Journal in Nov. 28, 2005.) It actually gets worse for Levitt when we look at other countries. Analysis from England of Wales shows abortion leading to higher crime.

    It is Levitt's main tactic to simply ignore any data that doesn't fit his hypothesis. That makes for good reading but bad thinking; sound analysis has to include all the data. Of course Levitt is not the first person to make his living pushing junk statistics, and he probably won't be the last. What's worrying is the way that the nation's intellectual elite bow down before him. It seems that he need only wave his fancy degree in the air, claim to have statistics on his side, and he automatically becomes right about everything, with no criticism or double-checking necessary. The way that our major publications rush to get suckered by this junk makes one fear for the future of independent thought. For those who think that economists should help people rather than cook up phony excuses for moral degeneracy, try Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.
    ...more info
  • Lessons in lateral thinking
    This book contains a bit more hype than some readers may be comfortable with, but it is worth reading for the lessons to be gained in lateral thinking, pulling together ideas and interconnections that are not immediately obvious.

    I found the final chapter on name choice relatively weak, but the ones on abortion and crime, and the corporate structure of crack dealers, were food for thought. And I have seen for myself an example of a real estate agent trying to coerce a client into selling a home at below market value - here in Taiwan the same thing happens - and I think Levitt's logic on why this happens is sound.

    The additional material at the end of the book, i.e. newspaper columns and blog entries, included some corrections, e.g. on doubts surrounding Stetson Kennedy's expos¨¦s of the Ku Klux Klan. It is here also that the reader learns that Levitt and his wife lost their first child when he was just a year old, and that somehow put the author in a new perspective for me; it also explains where he got the idea to compare the risks of gun ownership to having a home swimming pool. (He and his wife attended a support group for parents who had lost a child and learned there that many children die by drowning in a swimming pool.)

    Elsewhere, the author gets his revenge on a restaurant that served him badly spoiled chicken and then compensated him only by not charging for two glasses of wine: he reveals the eatery's name and location - bringing out another, very human, aspect of the author's personality. You also learn that he likes to gamble - maybe not so surprising in someone so interested in interpreting statistics. I enjoyed the author's - very positive - description of a lecture visit to the Google headquarters. And as a teacher, his reminiscences of his student days and classroom behavior - "sleeping through about 90%" of his classes - gave me pause.

    All in all, this book is an easy and worthwhile read. And knowing what's in it will put you a bit more in touch with popular reading culture.
    ...more info
  • What's the utility of reviewing this at this late date?
    Levitt is a famous economist. Dubner is a famous Journalist. Leavitt has worked on several projects with other economists. From the book descriptions and notes Leavitt admits to being light on math and all the data and heavy lifting was done by the other people on his projects.

    Dubner has never been known for doing any economic work. His contribution to the book was introducing Leavitt to a highbrow New York audience.

    When you boil this book down it seems to be a math light economist who can't back up his own research. He also is a poor enough writer that he needed a journalist to tell his story instead of writing it himself. Why is he a famous economist again? If I return to school for my degree in economics or when it's time for college selection for the kids I'll be giving a pass to any university that employs this joker....more info
  • Open your eyes to a whole new world!
    Levitt and Dubner really challenge conventional wisdom.It will open your eyes to how easily people just except things as fact without ever questioning the data behind them. Its a read that you really will not want to put down and definately a must read for anyone in the field of psychology, social work, or medicine. ...more info
  • Freakonomics
    No theme, no logic thread, but some truly original takes on how the world works, from the standpoint of a "rogue economist." Some topics, like how Roe v. Wade is the strongest explanatory variable for America's decrease in crime, just keep coming up, but still, there are lots of common-sense-defying revelations that keep it interesting. For instance, did you know that time spent reading to children does not correlate to improved test scores, but that the number of books in the house does? Did you know that crack-dealing inner-city gangs are run much like corporate America -- except they offer a slightly higher risk of fatality? Whether or not you agree with the authors' conclusions, these, and a slew more of such revelations, make for an entertaining and thought-provoking read indeed....more info
  • A Straight Dose of Truth
    In the past decade we've had several books explaining why societies are succeeding or failing. We've had FREAKONIMICS, THE WORLD IS FLAT, AND GUNS GERMS & STEEL. They all have some common themes in mind; over-use of resources, liberation of people through education, and in this case birth control.
    Birth control is one of the touchiest and most loaded topics in the media. At a community meeting I brought up the suggestion of free universal birth control and they cut the meeting short. Over population leads to increased competition for food/energy, and consequently leads to war....more info
  • Entertaining Economics
    The subtitle of this book is a very apt, if slightly exaggerated description: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Steven Levitt is certainly a rogue economist in that he uses the concepts of economy to look at many 'givens' in a completely new way. The results are often startling and thought provoking, although he certainly doesn't look at everything-at least in this book.

    Most of us probably suffered through economics in school and the thought of reading a book about it when we don't have to does not sound like fun. Levitt, however, takes this science and spins it on its head, making it both entertaining and informative. By taking economic theory and applying it to everyday questions Levitt comes up with some theories that sound improbable and then proceeds to prove them. Many of his theories may cause some consternation; most outrageous of all is the idea that the reduction in crime over the years has less to do with more police and far more to do with the Roe v Wade decision.

    This book was very entertaining, written in an engaging style. My biggest complaint is the New York Times article reprints at the end of the book, which basically re-hash what we have already read. The book is also too short and since I hated economics is school I find it ironic that I could want more!...more info
  • Neo-Liberalism with a Human Smirk
    Author Steven Levitt is a recently graduated chef from the Culinary Institute of Elitist Capitalism, AKA The University of Chicago. Freakonomics is a kind of nouvelle cuisine version of economic modeling and game-theory as practiced by the disciples of Milty Friedman, but rather little of the book is spent on economic recipes per se, once the basic assertion has been made that "incentives' are the yeast that cause all human behavior to rise. Rather, Levitt puts everything from soup kitchens to swimming pools through the blender of statistics -- the very sort of statistical analysis used by the authors of The Bell Curve and discredited by Stephen Jay Gould in the book The Mismeasurement of Man, the very sort of statistics that can be used to prove that the older you get in Miami, the more likely you are to be Jewish.

    Levitt's basic dough: Start with John Stuart Mill and every other 19th C liberal social theorist. Knead thoroughly into a sticky paste. Add a handful of candied fruit in the form of the more radical 19th C postulators - Fourier, Henry George, Bellamy, and Karl Marx as understood before the Russian Revolution. Soften the dough with as much Thorstein Veblen as you can remember. Spice it with generous amounts of scorn for "them" - anthropologists, psychologists, and others who think that human behavior is shaped by more impulses than acquisition and that specific cultural 'memes' play a role. Half-bake the dough in a journalistic oven with the temperature set on SELL. Frost the loaf with an icing of Ayn Rand super-individualism. But don't expect the finished cake to be much different from cakes you've eaten before. There's nothing new in Freakonomics except the smirky style.

    Honestly, many readers might find this book stimulating, or over-stimulating, depending on their prior convictions. Go on! Read it! But read it with the same skepticism you'd apply to the gospel of any other religion than your own - Shinto, Islam, Swedenborgian, Leninist, Maoist. This is a book where the reader will be easily tricked into mistaking polemics for proof....more info
  • Absolutely fascinating -- I could not put it down
    I found this book to be very interesting! While you may not agree with all of the author's conclusions, he will definitely make you think. This is both an entertaining and enlightening read....more info
  • more freaky than economics
    If you're looking for a solution to our current economic woes, you've come to the wrong place. This book is more about challenging the conventional wisdom, a term coined by the late great economist and author John Kenneth Galbraith. Levitt and Dubner cover a wide range of topics, including how an infiltrator brought down the KKK, why your real estate agent may not try to get top dollar for your house, why gun control doesn't work in this country, the effect of Roe vs. Wade on crime, the effect of a variety of factors on future success, cheating by teachers who monitor standardized tests, why crack dealers live with their mothers, and how financial incentives can have the opposite of the desired effect. The authors back up their claims with studies and statistics and even offer a brief explanation of regression analysis. The section on baby-naming patterns gets a little tedious, but, other than that, this is fascinating stuff.
    ...more info
  • SPNG vs CVKG
    First of all I totally agree that stupid, promiscuous, nasty girls (henceforth referred to as SPNG) are liable to have criminal sons and more SPNG daughters (all things being genetic). So that making abortion available to such women would decrease crime in the long term (by preventing the birth of criminal boys). However, other studies show that Clever, Virtuous and Kind girls (henceforth referred to as CVKG are (and my own observations of my peers reinforces) are more likely to use contraceptives (although they have sex at a later age and with more thought) and upon the failure of contraceptives are most likely to have abortions. Whilst SPNGs are more likely to have the child, go on government welfare, and have a huge number of children to various Criminal men. So pro choice=fewer ambitious/CVKG type children being born. In conjunction with government welfare this means that many SPNG type mothers having criminal sons.

    To really reduce crime would not be pro choice-after all every human instinct is towards reproduction and if your life is empty because you are a stupid SPNG you will have more children than a highly ambitious CVKG.

    Proposal:

    Offer plasma televisions, DVD players etc with greater incentives per repeat abortion amongst SPNG type women. After enough abortions the cervix becomes incontinent and they will no longer be able to carry a baby to term thus decreasing the SPNG's ability to reproduce in the future.

    And when a CVKG seeks an abortions give them educational type benefits (or incentives that are of no value to a SPNG) to give the child up for adoption. Obviously we don't want the CVKG to keep the baby as this would harm her education and career, so adoption is the best possible solution. This increases the number CVKG type children being born and thus increases the number of intelligent people. Whilst decreasing crime by discouraging reproduction amongst SPNG.

    Sadly in the western world the characteristics that make someone a SPNG are the characteristic that make someone poor-who wants to work with someone or employ someone who is stupid, Promiscuous and Nasty?

    ...more info
  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
    After reading this book I wasn't sure whether the author is a brilliant person, but a bad writer, or whether the author is knowingly dishonest and misleading.

    The author is extremely bold and in a single sentence will discount or write off all competing theories to his ideas; he makes conclusions about topics that academics have likely spent thousands of pages and many years debating. And he does it all while providing very little data to support his views and even less data to address any competing viewpoints.

    It is as if he is so supremely confident in his views that he doesn't feel the need to deal with nitty gritty details.

    I am not saying that I think he is *wrong*. My problem is that I don't know that he is *right*. And, given the far reaching claims he makes, I think he needs to provide a lot more data before I am willing to believe what he says.

    On top of this, there are a few points where I felt like he (or his co-author) are dangerously loose with the facts. They make the most basic of mistakes when analyzing the data. It makes you think that they are either amazingly sloppy or are intentionally ignoring the facts so they can support their argument.

    For example, look at the chapter where they analyze the online dating site registrations of users from Boston and San Diego. They compare the self-reported incomes of these users with "typical Internet users" and conclude that the users must be lying since they are wealthier than the average user. But they never consider the fact that Boston and San Diego are both wealthy towns. Does this explain the data entirely? Maybe. Maybe not. But you simply can't brush off such an obvious factor that could explain the skew.

    This sort of sloppiness would be unacceptable in a freshman statistics class and casts a pall over the credibility of the entire book.

    ...more info
  • Learn to Think Rather Than Be Persuaded
    I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I am critical of conventional wisdom. People who believe everything they hear are living in the dark and are at the mercy of media outlets or the closest busy-body. Much of our culture likes to believe things that are convenient. This can be seen in religion, politics, and even in someone's diet plan. The authors of Freakonomics do a wonderful job of analyzing the gullibility factor in our society. More importantly, they do a tremendous job of challenging the reader to think independently. If you believe critical thinking is underrated, or if you just want an interesting book, I highly recommend Freakonomics....more info
  • Entertaining and Interesting, But Not Necessarily Correct
    This best selling book is interesting and entertaining. Of course, it is neither a book (really, a collection of observations), not especially "freaky" (every topic is pretty much common), and nothing really to do with economics (especially the extremely long story about the KKK). It does rely a lot on data and reductionistic causality that, generally speaking, is spot on, and for many people, this new perspective will be eye opening.

    The lack of a central theme is bothersome, and the value of an approach like Levitt's could be enormous if it came from some global point of view. Lacking this, it is more like reading a column in your favorite magazine. This flaw works its way into the book's rambling style. One starts with such great questions as nature vs. nurture and ends of looking at the results of a lottery system in the city of Chicago, over an unspecified periods of years, for high school students on their achievement scores and graduation rates, without ever looking at the data itself. A book with a central theme would avoid such excesses.

    Also problematic is Levitt's handling of data and his reasoning. Here are some examples of major flaws:

    *He claims that the deaths to children under 10 years of age from drowning in swimming pools (550 per year) are greater, proportionally, than deaths by guns in your home 175 per year). To reach this conclusion, he divides the number of deaths by each cause by (550 vs. 175), respectively, the number of homes with swimming pools (6 million) and the number of guns (estimated at 200 million). His conclusion - "The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million plus) isn't even close (pg. 150)." What he fails to understand is that the number of guns in the US does not equal the number of homes in the US with a gun (since many people own multiple guns) in the same way that the number of homes with pools is a reflection of the number of homes with pools (very few homes have more than 1 pool). Hence, Levitt's conclusions are erroneous, although not incorrect. Death by drowning is greater than death by shooting, but not by the proportions he reports. I'm not arguing for more guns or more pools, just looking at Levitt's data handling, which leaves much to be desired in this case.

    * He argues strongly that the main reason for the decline in crime in the 1990s is the abortion legislation started in the 1970s (Roe vs. Wade). Yet in the same chapter he argues that the decline in crime is unrelated to the dramatic aging of the US population in that same period. He says "Demographic change is too slow and subtle a process... (pg. 136). This is a puzzling quote in a section that argues that the demographic changes caused by Roe vs. Wade contribute to a decline in crime while those attributed to aging in the same period have no effect. Moreover, his abortion data itself is suspect. He argues "Before Roe v Wade it was predominantly the daughters of middle or upper-class families who could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion (pg 138)..." and while this may be true (Levitt cites no reference here), it does not follow that abortions of all kinds were the exclusive province of the middle/upper classes. His subsequent argument that the beneficiaries of Roe v Wade were "...unmarried or in her teens or poor, and sometimes all three" tells us nothing about who the beneficiaries of the pre Roe v Wade abortions were - I suspect they were also unmarried/teens/poor. By incomplete logical argument, then, he supposes (a) children of poor, unmarried, teens are more likely to be criminals, (b) poor unmarried teens didn't have abortions prior to Roe v Wade because they couldn't afford it, and (c) as a result of Roe v Wade the criminal-producing poor, unmarried teens had fewer children and thus, 20 years later, we have less crime. It is certainly an appealing theory, and quite possible, but Levitt's data do not support this theory as he implies, and the absence of data for pre Roe v Wade abortions for poor unmarried teens lies at the core of his failing in this regard.

    * He argues that Sumo wrestlers must be crooked because of the observation that when two wrestlers face each other in a tournament, and one has already achieved success (a record of 8 wins in 15 bouts) while the other is only one victory away from success (7 wins), the one who is behind inevitably wins. In the next contest, the chances of success reverse themselves, and the wrestler who won (when he needed to win for overall success in the tournament) now loses at a disproportionate degree, but in all subsequent matches, the odds return to normal. Levitt sees this as an illegal conspiracy. That's certainly possible, But it's equally possible, if not more so, to explain the data with regard to the wrestlers need to stay in top shape. Sumo wrestling is fraught with injury, and once injured, a wrestler's chances of winning decrease dramatically. Thus, having won success (8 wins in 15 tries) already, the wrestler's gain by exerting himself (9 wins means nothing more than 8 wins - only a perfect record will gain additional notoriety or money) is clearly outweighed by his chances of injury, for the exact same reason that winning basketball and football coaches take out their star players once the game is "in the bag." For his opponent, the differences between 7 and 8 wins is enormous, and hence he will play his very best to win. So we have a match in which the motivation for one player (win at all costs) is far different from the motivation of the other player (avoid injury), and it's not surprising that the person with the better motivation wins more times than not. One doesn't have to posit a conspiracy to come to this conclusion.

    * Levitt spends a great deal of his book talking about the results of standardized tests of children's achievement as well as survey research on the behavior of parents. He then uncritically analyzes this research. True be told, entire books can be written (and have) about the flaws in such tests and survey practices. Without a mere mention of some of these flaws, Levitt proceeds to provide all sorts of conclusions. This chapter, more than any others, needs to be stricken from the book, or so seriously revised it should be a book unto itself.

    I could continue, but you get the point. In many cases, Levitt's data handling and his reasoning are flawed, and his conclusions are erroneous and/or mistaken. While this isn't a problem for a popular book, it is a serious problem when administrators and legislators use his work for public (or private) policy decisions. Though well intentioned, Levitt's shortcomings as a researcher and scientist risk that his work is used incorrectly, an outcome that is the exact opposite of what I'm sure Levitt intended.

    This being said, there is much praise to offer in Levitt's approach, and generally speaking, his data handling and reasoning are good and most of the examples he cites appear to be correct, to the best of my own abilities to handle data and reason. On balance, I think he makes a tremendous contribution to our way of looking at the world. I only wish he had been more studious in his research.
    ...more info
  • Economics Need Not Be Boring
    So often in life we are quick to apply our own intuitions and ideologies into solving life's tough questions. "Freakonomics" shines a warm light onto otherwise cold hard statistics, making economics interesting, relevant and confronting. This book is memorable because it runs counter-intuitive to our understanding of life and really makes you pause to think. Along with this book is the Freakonomics blog, which is the online and continuous sequel to this book....more info
  • Fascinating amazing bizarre and wonderful
    This book if full of fascinating examples of how intelligent economics can be applied to obscure, bizarre, amazing situations. Giving a lot of mind blowing conclusions etc. A really interesting book that is difficult to put down.

    Our daily newspapers chronicle the failures of economics, this book chronicles it successes.

    The authors are compassionate fascinating and fun. Really it's a mind boggling roller coaster and a fun packed ride. Get on!...more info
  • Freakonomics updated
    This is a fabuous book for a person with an enquiring mind. Who knew that economics could have an impact in so many arenas? It was fascinating, well written, easy to understand and highly enjoyable. ...more info
  • An economist strikes again
    Economists have outsized egos for no discernible reason. Levitt is no exception.

    One disturbing and all too common trait of economists is that they get easily confused. For example they confuse Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel as a Nobel Prize.

    Second, they confuse the past with the future. Economists, if they're versed in the Economic religion-a-la-mode are tolerable at predicting the past, but repeatedly they're surprised by current events. And whenever their models fail to predict an event, they repeat well practiced mantras such as "It was a 10 sigma event" or "It was an event that only happens every ten billion years". What puzzles those of us who are not economists is that these extremely rare events seem to blind side economists at least once every ten years. But at no time does an economist question his theories or his models.

    So, as far as I can tell Economics is a religion that only uses facts to support existing theories. It seems to be blasphemy to create a theory that objectively fit the facts.

    So, this entertaining work "Freakonomics" is full of the type of light weight reasoning that we have come to expect from economists. For example, the insulting inference that legalized abortion helped curb the rise in crime is due to the author first acquiring a politically motivated theory out of thin air and then using only the facts that support the theory....more info
  • A much-appreciated gift
    I purchased this book as a gift for my fiance. He really enjoyed and appreciated it. Now it's my turn to read it!...more info
  • The Dismal Science No Longer
    Economics and economists have the reputation of being dry, dusty old ideas and men with no more life to them than an Egyptian mummy on display in a museum. But Freakonomics brings fresh life to the subject and at the same time encourages its readers to think outside the box or break the mold of conventional thinking.

    A series of six hilarious chapters challenge our assumptions on everything from drug dealers to school teachers to parenting. Using statistics and new interpretations, the authors Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner help us view our world with altered eyes, recognizing that truisms and cliches are not necessarily reflections of reality. In today's world of crashing stock markets and neighborhoods full of foreclosed houses, its good to take a fresh look at economics and the long time assumptions we have all relied upon far too long. ...more info
  • Thought provoking Stats, Easy Reading
    This book has gotten heated reviews from highly focused economic centric minds. Taken for what it is... a very entertaining series of articles with shocking facts and conclusions, the book makes you think about the motivators of human behavior.

    Themes: Cheating, Crime, Poverty, Incentives, Testing and finally Causality.

    The Chapter Titles grab you. The Chapters can be read in smaller increments.

    Very entertaining and enjoyable.

    I am pregnant and loved the section on choosing a child names.
    I liked the Head Start and Public School perspectives...

    Very neat... but approach it as a "fluffy" read, not a book to be cited in your PhD or Master thesis. ...more info