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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 15 June 2005
As an economist myself, I'm aware of the notorious inability of 'dismal scientists' to produce text of interest to the average (or even above average!) reader. Levitt, however, (with considerable help from Dubner) manages to do just that.
Winner of the John Bates Clark Medal (awarded biennially to the top US economist under 40), Levitt is no lightweight. His thinking, however, is refreshingly different from most mainstream economists. Simply put, Levitt asks questions, and uses his craft to answer them. Some of the questions are less seemingly 'relevant' (Is there cheating in professional sumo wrestling?) than others (What was the real cause of the drop in crime during the 1990's?), yet all are interesting.
Levitt's topics run the gamut, from racism on 'The Weakest Link' to parallels between the KKK and real estate agents to the reason why drug dealers tend to live with their mothers, and he attacks all of his questions with ingenuity and tremendous skill.
If you'd enjoy a light but engaging read on a wide variety of topics, this one might fit the bill. There's something for everyone here.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Ask most people if they want to understand statistics . . . and they run in the opposite direction. That's too bad because these days anyone who can run a personal computer can perform sophisticated statistical analysis using relatively affordable software like SPSS. Freakonomics may open a few minds by showing that much of what the conventional wisdom is . . . is wrong.
Economics has been traditionally focused on writing equations to explain "how things should work" assuming that nothing else changes. That's the rub. Everything else does change . . . and the theories don't work in practice. You've all heard the resulting economist jokes.
Steven Levitt does something that academics don't like anyone to do: He looks for interesting, practical questions and devises simple, straightforward solutions.
His method is usually pretty simple. He looks for patterns by using regression programs and then thinks about what the regressions might mean. That often leads to a trip to some other data, and eventually the correct cause-and-effect pattern emerges. It's like the invention methods of champion tinkerer Thomas A. Edison. Keep trying until something practical works. Fortunately, with today's computers you don't have to wait very long. The biggest challenges are in finding the right data sets, as this book shows through its example of why drug dealers usually live with their mothers.
The book indicts the media and many so-called experts who simply haven't done their homework. As a result, you can spend a lot of time being misinformed by reading the latest Congressional testimony, the latest think-tank study or by watching a talking head debate on television. The lesson: Be skeptical unless you see the data and the analyses, as they are displayed in this book's few examples.
In the book, you will find out how statistics can identify some of those who cheat (whether they are teachers or sumo wrestlers) and how economic incentives slant behavior (how real estate brokers sell their own property versus selling yours). You will encounter a novel argument that Roe v. Wade has reduced the violent crime rate. You'll find an even more interesting argument about how to equate the value of reduced crime to the cost of abortions.
More favorably, there are case studies on how accurate information trumps bad or misleading information to the benefit of us all.
The book ends up on a largely unsatisfying statistical look at nature versus nurture . . . and pretty much dismisses nurture when it comes to child-raising.
So it's a grab bag of topics, mixed with lots of hero worship (by co-author Stephen J. Dubner for co-author Steven D. Levitt).
Why is this book selling so well? I couldn't figure it out. It doesn't have the elegance and relevance of The Tipping Point. It's about statistics, and hardly anyone wants to read about that.
So I asked my wife and younger daughter. They both knew the book was a best seller (obviously it has good media play). They both loved the cover . . . especially the illustration of an apple that when you cut into it reveals an orange. They also liked the title (both finding economics pretty freaky). I nominate whoever came up with that cover concept and title for the best "you can't tell a book by its cover" award for 2005.
So what does Freakonomics have to do with apples and oranges? As best I can tell, Freakonomics has very little to do with those fruits in a literal sense. The metaphor seems to be intended to be applied in two ways: First, you have to compare apples and oranges to the right reference to understand what you are examining; and second, sometimes the cause of something comes from an unexpected source when we peel back the skin of surface reality. If you want more, I discuss some applications of the book in my blog posting for today.
If you already like and know statistics, you can read Professor Levitt's articles instead of this book. If you like "gee whiz" facts about things you don't know much about, this book is for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 22 November 2010
The economist John Kay defines economics as the study of allocation of resources betwixt competing demands; Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, in his youthful essay on the theory of intergalactic trade, described his essay as a serious work on a ridiculous subject, the very opposite of most economics papers. With Freakonomics, authors Kevitt and Dubner define it as the study of incentives and using this starting position, visit the strange, further shores of economics.

What the book is essentially about is applying unsentimental and hopefully objective methodology to facets of life that are not usually given to such study: the incentives at work when real estate agents sell their own houses as compared to selling other people's, how an urban crack gang is structured along corporate American principles (fans of television series The Wire should be particularly interested in that chapter), how much influence parents really have over young children's development. Some of this seems like it has the potential to be quite important, some of it seems pretty trivial (particularly the section on white / black / poor / rich children's names) but most of it is engaging, written as it is in a conversational style, though with a great respect for raw data.

Put the hyperbole of the glowing reviews ("Prepare to be dazzled" etc) to one side and authors Steven Levitt (economics lecturer at the University of Chicago) and Stephen Dubner (former New York Times Magazine editor) can fairly be said to have produced the most askew glance at the potential of a traditionally dry subject yet written. This is not an introduction to economics but an introduction to the possibilities of economics.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2008
According to the authors of this book, Freakonomics is the ability to ask sensible questions about the world and deal with uncomfortable answers. At all times, one most not take any moral stand and simply judge the figures, the conclusion, with impartial eyes. It's philosophy disguised as economics, with a heavy reliance on figures and data to back up the questioning.

Freakonomics is really one theory - that abortion legalization in the U.S. in the 70s caused a drop in crime in the 90s - propped up with other less controversial theories in order to create a tome long enough to be printed and sold. It's still a fairly slim book, a quick read that reflects the lack of support to the ideas inside. That's not to say that the ideas are bad; but there's a lack of meat to the bones, a palpable sense that conclusions were drawn hastily in some instances in order to fit the authors' views. Also, eventhough the book presumes to explore the hidden side of everthing, it's mainly a compilation of questions put forward by white middle-class Americans, curious about abortion, black & white poverty, and the failure of the American education system in some states. Anyone living outside America might find it hard to care, unless they have a passing interest in America (mafioso Sumo wrestlers not withstanding).

Freakonomics is not very useful when investigating the future. There are no predictions in this book about the approaching collapse of the world's financial system, the looming Great Depression that will smack America (and everyone else) in the face. I would have been more impressed if they had tackled this subject.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2005
The book explores the unusual side of economics.
It is fascinating in that it unveils the real causes to various observed phenomenon and for that it is to be highly commended.
Those interested in causes and effects, positively and negatively correlated observations will enjoy reading it.
I regret the labourious and pedestrian writing style. Perhaps the author assumed we were some of the academic products of the Chicago State System? 40 pages would have sufficed!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2005
Levitt explores hidden issues behind cheating, racism to drug dealing and crime and turns conventional wisdom upside down. The book offers a refreshingly interesting perspective on controvertial issue and is easily readable by anyone who is not an economist.
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on 9 September 2015
Not pleased with the quality of the book. Pages are hard to flip through as the pages where manually cut and separated
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on 18 September 2015
Arrived promptly and exactly as described. Thank you!
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on 16 November 2015
For a book about economics it's very good
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on 22 October 2015
great thanks
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Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (Paperback - 2013)


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