The first book was a worldwide success... and this builds on that success. Strange and bizarre views and facts on things that you'd never previously thought of, it made me see a lot of things in many new ways. The authors question everything from why more women don't become prostitutes (as it can pay very well at the high end) to why child car-seats are so ineffective (apparently), and if you can ignore the fact that it's quite obviously written from an American point of view, it's informative, amusing, and makes you ask, many times, 'why on earth does.....?' If more people questioned things in the same way that Levitt and Dunber, the authors, do, then the world might just be a better place.
Freakonomics took an alternative economists view (more actually a statistical view) of issues and their causes such as crime rates and gaming the results in education and sports. This book continues where the first left off, except it continues with more of the same and is less convincing, which is odd given all the cover endorsements by people from the FT etc. saying how much better it is than freakonomics.
The problem is it has lost its edge it is not original and much of the material is covered by others in a better and more thorough way. The mistakes are also more grating and annoying such as the danger of drunk walking. The statistic to look at is not the number of miles per death but the number of walks per death compared to car journeys per death. Most people don't walk very far. Then there is the nonsense about women being killed for witchcraft and the endless hubris of economists when they don't want to be called statisticians. The difference between an economist doing statistics and a statistician doing statistics is the order they work in. A statistician makes a model - a hypothesis and then collects the data. An economist collects the data or finds something interesting and then makes a hypothesis. This is post-hoc analysis and very dangerous, because you are basically story telling. That is what makes this book so infuriating, it is just stories from the author's perspectives and these are prone to bias and subjectivity.
So read Freakonomics if you want some of the wow I hadn't thought of that but give this one a miss.
on 10 October 2010
I have not read the original book but expected more from this one than I got. Most of the tag lines on the cover are not really well thought through or discussed. For example, it turns out that the reason for suicide bombers to buy life insurance is simply to confuse the authorities slightly about their intentions. That's it, but it is given huge prominence on the cover.
The majority of the book is simply the authors acting very humbly and talking about all of the amazing people they have met during the writing of the book. Very quickly it becomes boring and repetitive. "Wow, we met this really smart guy who is doing really amazing research and he is so clever because he has found out some stuff which will make an interesting and quirky lines for the cover of our book so we can sell loads of copies off the back of the first".
The actual interesting stuff could have been condensed into 1 chapter. This would have avoided the boring and shameless name dropping and sycophantic drivel which makes up the majority of the book.
'Superfreakonomics' is the cumbersomely titled sequel to the bestselling 'Freakonomics' - a book that gave an entertaining overview of microeconomics, and supplied plenty of food for thought. If you enjoyed the first volume, you will undoubtedly enjoy 'SuperFreakonomics'. It is essentially the same book, but with different case studies - if your first book sold over four million copies, why change a winning formula?
Initially I was unimpressed; the first chapter, dealing with prostitution felt like a rehash of the first book, only less interesting. Soon after, things pick up. The sections on emergency medicine and altruism were interesting and ask questions about the way in which we perceive our world. It is these alternate world views that are the 'Freakonomics' books strongest assets. Time and again the authors hold up a hand and say 'but what about...?'
Not everybody will be happy. The authors offer some thoughts on climate change, that go against current thinking, for which they will undoubtedly be pilloried. Of course challenging convention is the point of this book, and I'm sure the authors will welcome the debate. Less happy though, will be road-safety experts. 'Superfreakonomics' reveals that for the drinker, drink-driving is safer than drink-walking. (They do say that a taxi home is much better option still, but considering their findings on altruism, this seems a foolhardy admission.) The section on child safety seats will also cause great consternation, not least amongst child safety seat manufacturers.
Whilst casting doubt on the efficacy of child car seats, the book does ask a singular and important question. Since the primary users of rear seats are children, why aren't they designed with children in mind? Many of the topics covered in 'Superfreakonomics' are distilled down to simple and (with hindsight) obvious questions, and this is part of what makes it a pleasure to read. Another factor, is the lightness of tone, despite being a book about small details, it never becomes bogged down. I would though agree with another reviewer's comments, that the tone used can sometimes grate. It is very chummy and often self-congratulating.
'Superfreakonomics's' strength is also its biggest weakness. To avoid being, dull it only takes a cursory glance at its subject matter. One can't help but wonder what we aren't being told. The authors acknowledge that statistics are easy to fudge, but without doing masses of further reading, it is impossible to judge to what extent the figures have been massaged to back up their suppositions.
That said, the purpose of this book is to provoke debate and stop its readers from accepting everything at face value. I would suggest that this scepticism has to start with 'Superfreakonomics' itself - this is a book that will pose far more questions than it answers, but that is no bad thing. Like its predecessor, 'Superfreakonomics' is an entertaining and thought-provoking book, that deserves to be be read and discussed by as many people as possible.
on 8 April 2010
An enjoyable book that covers some unusual subjects but is not as good as the original freakonomics book.
This one goes into a lot more detail on a single subject and as a result is not as wide-ranging, and does at times feel as if its trying to imply that the reader cannot draw their own conclusions from the initial information provided. The original Freakonomics book didnt go into as much details and left the reader able to draw their own conclusions from the outline facts rather than having everything spelled out for you.
I like the Freakonomic books but if you are new to these then the original is the better of the two in my view.
Freakonomics was a fascinating look at social economics that became a phenomenon. From the introduction to this sequel, that seems to have taken the authors by surprise and it has taken tehm four years to gather new material for this sequel. The introduction is hilarious, and the pair are playing this book for laughs much more than in their earlier book.
The early section on prostitution in Chicago is actually rather shocking, and it would be easy for delicate souls to take considerable offence. In any event, it's not something I'd like my kids reading about, but the book clearly isn't aimed at kids.
Levitt and Dubner just don't know how to write in a boring way and this book is incredibly hard to put down. I recommend you don't even try. I'll be surprised to read a more entertaining work of non fiction this year.
on 4 January 2011
A micro-economist would say that when you have produced a successful brand like Freakonomics, it would be foolish not to produce a sequel. Even if you don't have sufficient original material. You could even reuse the same title to optimise your market leverage.
The first Freakonomics book presented some of Levitt's original micro-economic research in an entertaining way. This book feels like an attempt to cash in on the winning formula, but without the raw material. It's a short book, padded with loads of notes at the back, and excessive narrative everywhere else.
The chapter on geo-engineering was particularly laboured, but without the any interesting economic insight that you might have expected from reading the first book. In fact, the authors might have missed an economic trick here. After discussing a shoestring solution to what could be the greatest risk to humanity since the black death, they might have considered the cost of purchasing insurance against unintended consequences of this untestable solution, and the crowding-out effect of abandoning carbon reduction measures in favour of fighting greenhouse gasses with anti-greenhouse gasses. I suspect that this topic was included to provoke controversy.
Likewise, drink-walking versus drink-driving. No consideration that the average walker would drink more than the average driver; that the per-trip injury rate could be as important as the per-mile rate; or that drivers don't need to negotiate stairs, pavement furniture, etc.
It's a good read, with some interesting facts and analysis; and suspense in the narrative style. But it can be read in an afternoon and you might feel a bit cheated at the end.
After an entertaining and rather hilarious look at economics in their previous work Freakonomics, this sequel by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner does not disappoint. The witty treatment of just about anything from charity to terrorism and prostitution is right there in a "short-ish" book spread over five chapters and not forgetting the epilogue and introduction.
If you enjoyed reading Freakonomics, you will like its sequel and well vice versa. However, there is a minute issue with this work. In the main, it's the same book, same authors and same inimitable witty narrative. Only the case studies, if I may refer to the cacophony of subjects as such, seem to have been altered.
I also think the start of Freakonomics is much more engaging than Superfreakonomics. I can draw a rather sad analogy between these two books and any successful blockbuster movie which was followed by a sequel.
There will always be the inevitable comparison with Freakonomics, and while Superfreakonomics will not disappoint, the former will always triumph in my opinion. However, the sequel is likely to provoke as much debate if not more. If you liked the last one, then read this one bearing the age old cliché in mind that the sequel is not the original and not all that entertaining.
I dont fault the authors one bit for piggy-backing on the success of their superb earlier book. Their decision to write a sequel is sound economics, not freakonomics. I'd be happy to have it on my bookshelf, as will countless others.
on 6 December 2009
I lost my 'psycho/micro-economy-book' cherry to Freakonomics and from then on became absolutely hooked, devouring the Gladwells and Harfords etc. I really do love these types of books and soak em up in a couple of hours. So as you can imagine, I was really, really looking forward to the follow up to the one that started it all for me...here's my lists of positives and negatives
1. Birthdate bulges....heard about this before
2. Hang on a sec...that woman in Queens who got murdered and loads of people saw her, Milgram's experiment, the prison experiment, 19th century doctors not washing their hands in prep for birthing. Gali-bloody-leo?? Come on chaps, give us a new one!
3. There aren't really many chapters in this. So my overall criticism is that a lot of this is old rehashed stuff even if they draw different conclusions
Having said that...+ves
1. I really liked that it is not a PC book at all. There are a number of points above and beyond stuff on climate change where they are treading into reasonably challenging territory
2. Read to cover to cover in a few hours. So it is quite engaging.
3. Some interesting ideas on climate change. High end prostitution sounds more attractive...
It's by no means a bad book. Quite enjoyable in fact and if you've not read this kind of thing before you may just love it as it's easy to read and persuasive and has some really interesting ideas. But for a popular economy book loving saddo such as I...it was alright.
For those who enjoy finding a new take on modern life, this book is the book to read.
The authors delight in looking at the statistics and economics behind our lives and coming up with novel and suprising findings. For example, there are some interesting ways in which potential terrorists could be identified before they commit their crimes, simply by analysing their bank account activity. Apparently this information is so sensitive that the authors take us so far and then no further (presumably in case terrorists read the book and learn to adapt their behaviour!).
Or there is a fascinating discussion on whether to submit to chemotherapy if you get cancer. It seems that the drug companies are in cahoots with the medical profession to encourage you to take expensive treatments, even when the effects may only be a lot of pain and discomfort, even if a month or two is added to your lifespan (I think I knew that already!).
The discussion about prostitution is interesting in that the authors have found a market where there are benefits in charging your customers increasing amounts of money, to the benefit of both of you. The high class call girl and her client's lives just get better and better, the higher the fees.
This is an interesting book, the sort of thing that's engrossing on a long train journey, but perhaps not the sort of thing to commit several days of your life to. It certainly makes one question many common assumptions and I suppose its lessons could be applied to many other situation.
I'll give it four stars - witty and amusing, but perhaps not a "must-read".