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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2009
This book first arrived in a blizzard of publicity back in 2005. Now 4 years on, it has been re-released in a revised and expanded edition with an extra 90 pages of bonus material (be sure to order the 336-page edition) consisting of newspaper columns and blog entries, along with a few corrections and an overall restructuring (the previous introductory magazine excerpts to each chapter have now been consolidated into a single article and moved to the back of the book).

I found Freakonomics to be an engaging and entertaining read, albeit a fairly light one. It doesn't set out to teach or champion any particular theory or methodology; it simply takes a handful of diverse real life scenarios - parenting, the Ku Klux Klan, crack dealers, cheating school teachers, Sumo wrestlers, etc - and examines them through the lens of incentives and rewards.

This is another one of those books that shines a light on the shortcomings of human intuition and the oft-exaggerated merits of 'common sense' (in particular, the sections on how to increase voter turnout, and how to discourage late arrivals, are intriguing).

Freakonomics probably doesn't quite live up to its hype as "a phenomenon", but it remains thought-provoking and fun nonetheless. Also important to its success: it is very easy to follow. No prior knowledge of (or even interest in) economics is required.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2007
'Freakonomics' is a witty, irreverent book for individuals who have never been and will never be Economics theorists. It's at once hilarious and serious about applying principles of Economics to real life scenarios, and it's just so much fun to read!

Let's start by saying, don't let the title scare you. I know most people pretty much despise anything to do with Economics, and anyone with a "respectable" connection to Economics would turn a nose up at this book. But with chapters like: The Ku Klux Klan and Real Estate Agents; Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers; and Drug Dealers Living with Their Moms- I mean how awful can it be? Steven D. Levitt teaches Economics at the University of Chicago, so he is absolutely qualified to make the relational comparisons he makes, thus actually giving we Economics neophytes something to chew on. In other words, if my Economics classes in college were like this, I might have actually learned something! But seriously, 'Freaknomics' delves into how things actually are all intertwined, no matter how absurd. It's premise is that conventionally held beliefs may not always be what they seem, and many things that seem wholly apart from each other are inter-related. Other than just laughing and enjoying the witty banter of the authors, I feel like I truly learned some things, and it gave me food for thought on other issues. The chapter entitled "A Roshanda by Any Other Name" was just pitch perfect, and the chapter on parenting makes you realize that we really don't need all those parenting books after all.

'Freakonomics' is deftly written for novices and easy to read, with each chapter being basically a lesson unto itself. It's not a full-tilt Economics lesson; it's little vignettes that show us how Economics is incorporated into our everyday lives and the impact therein. You can put the book down and pick it up a month later, and there's nothing to hold you back from enjoying the next chapter. Whether you love fiction, non-fiction or poetry, you'll love this book. It is a delightful, interesting, and well thought out read.
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66 of 71 people found the following review helpful
This book does two important things - it challenges the reader to really think about the causes of things, and it makes modern economic thinking interesting and accessible to the mass audience. It's also a good, fun read, and for all these reasons it should be applauded.

In this book Steven Levitt develops ideas about a number of aspects of economic and social development which challenge received wisdom. He then both challenges traditional analyses, and offers solid support for his theories using detailed analysis of a number of unusual but highly reliable data sources.

For example, he attributes the dramatic fall of crime rates in the USA in the 1990s to greater access to abortion 20 years earlier, rather than traditional explanations like better policing. Drawing on a number of unimpeachable data sources he provides strong support for his hypothesis over more common ones.

Another fascinating chapter analyses the economics of drug dealing, and concludes that most crack dealers would be better off with regular minimum-wage jobs.

However, these are the high points, and towards the end the book starts to feel like the authors didn't have enough material for a 200 page book. There's a fair amount of repetition, and the later chapters start to feel a bit light. The last chapter, on trends in children's names, is really rather boring and tells us very little of interest.

This is a shame, because the core of the book is excellent. It will hold your interest, but don't expect a lot of pages for your money. Maybe the authors are genuinely very clever.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2006
As mentioned at several points, this book is an expansion of a newspaper article that the authors wrote together. It is a very interesting gallop through new and sometimes extraordinary research by both the author and other new economists. The work on drug gangs is particularly good.
However, the book is quite short and the style of writing is US magazine-lite. As a bright introduction to some of the more surprising uses of economics and statistics, it's a very good, quick read but it's all over very quickly.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 May 2010
Whilst the chapter re. crime and abortion is of some interest, the rest is underwhelming to say the list.
Poor value for money, (short chapters that read like essays/ musings) and absolutely peerless aggrandisement by proxy (from Dubner re. Levitt).

In summary:
Chapter 1- People who you think won't cheat (schoolteachers/ Sumo wrestlers) do if they might not get caught and the risks are worth it. How very suprising.
2-KKK and estate agents - really rather tenuous link between the two. As far as I can see, they have the fact that they both keep secrets in common. Also the chapter informs me of the remarkable insight that information is valuable.
3- Drug dealers and moms (sic.)- mind blowing expose demonstrating that only the people high up in drugs trade make cash. It should be noted that much of the sociological observations in this chapter are actually very interesting- but from a sociologist, Venkatash, who is described as 'thoughtful, handsome and well-built'!

4 - Where have all the criminals gone - by far most interesting chapter of 'book'. Nonetheless, other examples could have been explored further, and the authors do seem somewhat blinkered to the idea that more than 1 cause for an observation can co-exist.

5 - What makes a perfect parent - some trite observations of nature and nurture. Not really economics - not even rogue.

6 - List of names. Some names are more popular amongst whites than blacks and vice versa. Doesn't matter what your name is. Utterly boring.
There is more, - 'bonus material' - rehash the previous 6 chapters in no specific order to try and make me sleep.

I actually did read the entire book, hoping that at one point I'd see the light and realise the genius. I am afraid I didn't. Really not very good I'm afraid.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I was lent this by a friend in the summer; it's well-written, with some interesting points. The chief of these is Levitt's oft-quoted assertion about the link between legalised abortion and the decrease in crime, but there are other little nuggets in here too. For example, Levitt explains that the chief interest of economists is the study of incentives, and illustrates this nicely with the story of the Israeli day-care centre that decided to start fining parents for picking their children up late at the end of the day. The problem was that once the fine was imposed, the number of late pick-ups actually increased; it turns out that this was because the fine was set too low (compared to the cost of the day-care). Levitt points out that an economic incentive was being substituted for a moral one, meaning that, "for just a few dollars each day, parents could buy off their guilt".

Other parts of the book are less memorable - I thought it lost steam towards the end in the investigation of parenting and babies' names (could there have been a way of discussing the latter topic without giving long lists of names?) - and the change of tone in the supplementary material makes it feel like padding. The story of Levitt's life is diverting, but I think it sits uneasily alongside the more technical content - unless, that is, someone was thinking about making a film of this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I would have never picked this book myself; I wouldn't have even stumbled upon it. My boyfriend bought it in the airport book shop as we went on holiday and was so entertained that he kept reading bits to me. I decided to read it myself, even though I can't say I have any understanding of economics whatsoever. I found I learned quite a bit and was very entertained by the insights into society and the chances people are given or make for themselves.

I particularly enjoyed the parts about babies names having an impact on their employment chances and the organisation of drug gangs being simiar to McDonalds! I think it gives a very modern and enjoyable view of what I would (rightly or 'wrongly') consider a very stuffy subject. I found myself surprised I had never thought of the topics covered before and questionning the organisation of certain parts of society. It's great for anyone who likes dark humour and irony and feels very fresh and hip.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2007
I was given this as a gift by beloved colleagues - and I'm happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The book's central theme, despite professing to have none, is about incentives and how they drive human behaviour - from crack dealers to sumo wrestlers and cheating teachers to real estate agents. To quote the authors, 'if morality is about how the world should be, then economics is about the way the world is'.

The book provides witty and left-field analysis of data pertaining to a number of controversial modern social issues, including race and socioeconomics, abortion, education and best of all, crime. There is even a section dealing with trends in baby names that was rather enlightening. The expanded version also contains excerpts from the Freakonomics blog and newspaper articles.

I'm still chuckling at the cited observation made by J.J Dilulio - "Apparently it takes a PhD in criminology to doubt that keeping dangerous criminals incarcerated cuts crime".
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I found this book extremely interesting and following Steven Levitt's various approaches to finding the answers to a number of slightly out of the ordinary questions was quite intriguing, although a little drawn out towards the end of a few chapters.

The subject of the chapters included looking at why Sumo Wrestlers and Teachers cheat, why drug dealers live with their moms, how the klu klux klan was split up and why crime rate in the US dropped significantly in the 1990's.

The questions proposed and the methods of finding the answers are a great insight into how this economist thinks about finding and comparing data to find out the real information behind what people think. It's so true that our intuition can govern what we think and feel until we look at the hard data and realise the truth of the situation.

A few of the stories tend to get a little bit tiring and i did skip the end of one of the chapters through lack of interest. Generally they are genuinely interesting and come from the authors first or second hand experience of knowing someone who went through a situation. On the whole the book provides a great way of looking at data analysis and economics without the need for trauling through pages of boring data.

It definately helped me to think more about data analysis and comparison and it's use in a creative problem solving situation. At such a low price give it a whirl.
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64 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2008
This book is a general interest book- and it certainly is interesting. The book, for anyone looking for an entertaining read, will like it. In a nutshell, the book takes a look at all sorts of things in society, from crack gangs to parenting, and then attempts to make sense of them by applying econonmic principles. According to the book, economics is really the study of incentives, and so using this kind of angle, the book comes up with answers to why things work the way they do.

A book that's hard to put down, I'm sure many readers will enjoy it. Also recommend The Sixty-Second Motivator for a more simplistic explanation of what motivates people and gives them incentives to do what they do.
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