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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Economics meets self-help?
I didn’t get around to reading Freakonomics until 2007, but loved it, and immediately read Superfreakonomics, which while also good was less remarkable. It did draw me to the blog, and latterly the podcast which I download and listen to each week. When Dubner and Leavitt (D&L) announced their third book, I was happy to pre-order. (Pretty annoying that we Brits...
Published 3 months ago by Nicholas J. R. Dougan

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short and again not as good as Freakonomics
This is a very quick read. While better than the flawed Superfreakonomics it is very different from the original book. Fewer examples and interesting pieces, more a companion to the first book and covering much the same ground as their podcast.

If you pick this up cheap it's worth the hour or two it'll take you to read, but if you've not read Freakonomics that...
Published 2 months ago by JonnyD75


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Economics meets self-help?, 13 May 2014
By 
Nicholas J. R. Dougan "Nick Dougan" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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I didn’t get around to reading Freakonomics until 2007, but loved it, and immediately read Superfreakonomics, which while also good was less remarkable. It did draw me to the blog, and latterly the podcast which I download and listen to each week. When Dubner and Leavitt (D&L) announced their third book, I was happy to pre-order. (Pretty annoying that we Brits had to wait a whole extra day to get it – in the US it was released at just after midnight on Monday 12 May, it didn’t become available in Britain until the 13th!) That having been said, it downloaded onto my Kindle this morning and I’ve read it cover to cover.

“The plural of anecdote is not data”, the authors remind us, and I suppose that the one criticism I would level at this book is that quite a lot of the characteristics of “Freak” thinkers are based on singular or occasional observations by the authors and their many collaborators/cited sources. While the earlier books focussed mainly on Professor Leavitt’s research into criminal and other rule breaking activities and referenced what were clearly large data sets, that seems to be less the case here. This is a book that is based as much on psychology as it is on economics and statistics, although there is a light sprinkling of economic concepts - sunk costs, opportunity costs, incentives to name just a few.

This book is a manual of sorts to help thinking about the way that the authors do. There is a slight feel of a self-help book, but with such laid back authors, there’s no feeling of being presented with an insurmountable challenge – the first bit of advice to help you “Think like a Freak” is to admit you don’t know, and the last is to quit if you want to – it might make you happier. Other advice includes “ask a different question”, “find the root of the problem”, “have fun”, “treat people decently”, but D&L do come at these from “a different angle” (another of their recommendations) so while listed here these may seem obvious or commonplace, it doesn’t read that way. Some other exhortations – like “Teach Your Garden to Weed Itself” are certainly more original. There are plenty of references to economics and statistics –to name but a few – but less so than in the two earlier books.

On a technical level, the book is makes excellent use of ebook technology. The links to the extensive notes (about 40 pages out of 255 of so) were the easiest to access and get back from that I can recollect in a Kindle book. (The link to a web-site was less rewarding – not something Kindles deliver very well – but would probably work better on a tablet). The book had been excellently edited too, although just one query: surely Dave Le Roth would have trashed the dressing room if there were brown M&M’s (p214)?

This is an interesting book, it’s funny in parts, and I recommend it. Whether it will actually help people think in different ways is another question, but then that is just the same problem as with most regular self-help books. I may have been slightly under-awed as it became clear, as I read through the book, that much of the material had already been used in their excellent podcast, and if you haven’t been following that it’ll probably seem much more original.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How and why mastering the economic approach will produce better answers to questions and better solutions to problems, 4 Jun 2014
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (Hardcover)
In their latest book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner cite several examples of people who trick guilty parties (i.e. those who prey upon people who are ignorant and/or gullible) into unwittingly revealing their guilt through their own behavior. Here are three examples:

o Two women appealed to King Solomon, both claiming to be the mother of a newborn. Unable to decide, he ordered the child to be cut in half and divided equally. One woman embraced the idea. He knew immediately that the other woman who begged him to let the other have the child was in fact its mother.

o Rock star David Lee Roth of the Van Halen group has a 53-page list of technical and security requirements. One in the Munchies section specifies "M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)." Immediately upon arrival, he checks the jar. "If he saw brown ones, he knew the promoter hadn't read the rider [to the otherwise standard contract) -- and that 'we had to do a serious line check to make sure that the most important details hadn't been botched either."

o So-called "Nigerian scammers" send millions of email messages each month to millions of people throughout the world. (It's called the "Nigerian scam" because more than half of the messages invoke Nigeria than all of the other emails combined.) I have received 3-5 each week in recent years. The "Beloved friend" message is always illiterate and ludicrous. Stupid, right? Not so fast. According to Levitt and Dubner, the Nigerian scammers know that almost everyone who receives a message will ignore it. But if only one in a hundred recipients provides the requested bank information....

"The ridiculous-sounding Nigerian emails seem to be quite good at getting the scammers' massive garden to weed itself." Those who think like a freak have mastered that skill. Some people use it to prey upon people who are ignorant and/or gullible. Others use it to identify predators.

In Think Like a Freak, Levitt and Dubner develop in much greater depth -- and with a few unexpected wrinkles -- some of the core concepts examined in Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics:

1. Incentives are the cornerstones of modern life.
2. Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so.
3. The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
4. Correlation does not equal causality.

Here's another: One of the keys to success in life (however defined) is knowing what is worth leaving behind, and what is not. This probably what Don Schlitz had in mind when composing the lyrics for his song, "The Gambler: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, know when to run." And another suggestion referred to earlier: "Teach your garden to weed itself." Be sure to check out the discussion of the $2,000 bonus that Zappos offers to everyone who completes (and is paid to complete) a rigorous training program. (See Pages 128-130 and 150-152.)

These are among dozens of other observations by Levitt and Dubner (and one by Isaac Newton) that also caught my eye:

o When attempting a penalty kick in soccer -- "protecting your own reputation by not doing something foolish -- you are more likely to kick toward a corner...Sometimes in life, [however], going straight up the middle is the boldest move of all." Although "the percentage of success for a shot at the middle is significantly more likely to succeed, only 17 percent of kicks are aimed there." The Freak mindset knows and acts upon such percentages. (Page 7)

o "It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are [begin italics] [end italics]. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say [begin italics] [end italics]. That's a shame, for until you can admit what you don't yet know, it's virtually impossible to learn what you need to." (20)

o "Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of problems" rather than waste time and effort responding to symptoms of those problems. (66)

o Isaac Newton: "To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. Tis much better to do a little with certainty and leave the rest for others than come after than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of anything." (89)

"Have fun, think small, don't fear the obvious -- these are all childlike behaviors that, according to us at least, an adult would do well to hang on to." (100)

Note: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) once observed that he spent all of his adult life struggling to see the world again like a child. I am also reminded of advice provided by Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Share everything, Play fair, Don't hit people, Put things back where you found them, Clean up your own mess, Don't take things that aren't yours, Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody; When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together; and Be aware of wonder.

o On the Smile Train's "once-and-done" option to donors: "There is one more factor that made one-and-done successful, a factor so important -- subtle and powerful at the same time -- that we believe it is the secret ingredient to make any incentive work, or at least work better. The most radical accomplishment of once-and-done is that it [begin italics] changed the frame of the relationship between the charity and the donor [end italics]." (124-125)

When concluding their book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner observe, "Now that we've arrived at these last pages, it's pretty obvious: quitting is at the very core of thinking like a Freak. Or, if that word still frightens you, let's think of it as 'letting go.' Letting go of the conventional wisdoms that torment us. Letting go of the artificial limits that hold us back -- and of the fear of admitting what we don't know. Letting go of the habits of mind that tell us to kick into the corner of the goal even though we stand a better chance by going up the middle."

As I read and then re-read these concluding remarks, I was again reminded of observations by Alan Watts in The Book: "We need a new experience -- a new feeling of what it is to be 'I.' The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing -- with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego."

Decades ago, I realized that most human limits are self-imposed, and, that it takes great courage to learn who we are (who we REALLY are) and accept it, then summon the courage needed to become the best person we can possibly be.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short and again not as good as Freakonomics, 9 Jun 2014
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This is a very quick read. While better than the flawed Superfreakonomics it is very different from the original book. Fewer examples and interesting pieces, more a companion to the first book and covering much the same ground as their podcast.

If you pick this up cheap it's worth the hour or two it'll take you to read, but if you've not read Freakonomics that is the book to go for.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but fun, 29 May 2014
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This review is from: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (Hardcover)
Think Like a Freak is a pretty short, enjoyable book which you can finish in an afternoon. If you've enjoyed either of the other books (Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics) by the same authors, you'll probably like this one, as it contains the same blend of anecdote and scientific speculation that made those books such a runaway phenomenon. The cleverest things about these books, and the one I'm reviewing, is the author's ability to tell a good anecdote, which, after all, is the core of any successful self-help book from Dale Carnegie onwards. People want to read all the interesting stories that demonstrate the principles the authors are referring to, as much as they want to hear and apply those principles themselves. It's a lot of fun. That said, TLAF is a short and parasitic book, that largely bases its existence on its predecessors, without offering much that is new or substantial. The core principles of 'thinking like a freak' that the authors espouse are the usual tenets of lateral thinking. What most people will enjoy this book for is rather the sheer entertaining quality of the writing: the writers can spin a social science experiment like it is a mini thriller, so you can't wait to turn the page and see what happens next. That is the secret of their success, I would suggest, far more than any of the freakish principles they refer to in the book. It won't change your life, but it will make your bus journey quite fun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Laterally v2.0, 28 May 2014
By 
Donald Scott (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (Hardcover)
Edward De Bono managed to churn out over 30 books based around a couple of central ideas based on 'Lateral Thinking'. The authors are doing 'Thinking Laterally v2.0.'

The book provides an endless supply of interesting questions based on data, then asks us to re-interpret the deductions made by the majority. Do you want to run with the herd or do you want to take the lateral thinking route? Examples on this? The pros and cons of breast-feeding; Fracking, and virtual currencies; Are married people happy or do happy people marry?; Get famous by thinking just once or twice a week; Our disastrous meeting with the future prime minister (aka David Cameron).

If you liked Freakonomics you'll most likely enjoy this latest offering. Hope they know when to stop flogging a dead horse though, unlike De Bono. Also if you want to use the stats in the most effective place to convert a penalty kick (football) then seemingly aim at the centre of the goal, which the goalkeeper will hopefully vacate in all but 17% of penalties taken.

Unless of course he's read 'Think like a Freak'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needs Some New Material, 9 Jun 2014
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I love the Freakonomics school of thinking but there's really not nearly enough new material in this latest book to justify its publication. The basic premise of practical application of the principles learned from previous studies is fair enough but if you've read the two previous you won't really be learning a great deal more than you already knew.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sparks of previous genius only, 6 Jun 2014
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Too short, interesting as previous books were. Unfortunately, feels lightweight compared with previous books. Personally I was disappointed. Contains a few real gems however and overall I enjoyed it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Cheat Sheet for Fans... A Good Intro if you are new to Freakonomics, 3 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (Hardcover)
Another Super Book for the Freakonomics duo. If you subscribe to the Freakonomics podcasts then you will be familiar to many of the anecdotes told in the book. If you are a fan of the material, then this book is not a revelation but more a cheat sheet in good decision theory. The authors are promoters of data driven decisions. They apply economic theory and the scientific method to public policy (and other) decisions. In this book they introduce you to how you can do the same. If you have an influence on public policy decisions you need to read this book. You will read it on the plane (there and back!) There are 9 chapters each with its own message - well illustrated with real stories.

The Chapters are [with my summary in brackets]:
1) What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?
[You need data and you need to understand cause and effect]

2) The Three Hardest Words in the English Language
[I won't spoil it!]

3) What's Your Problem?
[How you define the problem drives the answer. Lean practitioners and six sigma belts - this will give you some "real" life examples to use]

4) Like a Bad Dye Job the Truth Is in the Roots
[Address the cause - not the symptoms]

5) Think Like a Child
[Ask the daft question - Why?]

6) Like Giving Candy to a Baby
[The Power of Incentives]

7) What Do King Solomon and Dave Lee Roth Have in Common?
[A clever test... with Game Theory]

8) How to Persuade People Who Don't Want to Be Persuaded
[The Science of Persuasion]

9) The Upside of Quitting
[If at first you don't succeed... try something easier instead! - Actually the danger of sunk costs.]

I really enjoyed the book - Highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good solid stuff, but no where near as good as the first books, 23 May 2014
By 
B. M. Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (Hardcover)
I loved Freakonomics and its sequel, so was expecting more of the same here, but Think Like a Freak is a very different book and suffers by comparison.

The thing that absolutely blew everyone away with the earlier books was the absolute string of superb eye-opening stories, taking a sideways look at a problem using statistics and psychology (it wasn’t really economics, but it worked as a title). Perhaps the definitive example was the idea that crime rates had fallen as a result of increased availability of abortions some years earlier. In this book, though, the Freakonomics authors set out to teach us their methodology and, by comparison it’s a bit dull.

What we get is often ittle more than a collection of management consultancy platitudes like ‘thinking small is powerful’ and ‘it’s good to quit’, because in the end the special thing about the Freakonomics approach was not the basic tools, which are two a penny, but the way the authors employed them. Occasionally we do get a great little story – I particularly love the exploration of how to do better in football penalty shootouts – but there just aren’t enough of them, specifically not enough really surprising, ‘Wow!’ stories like the ones that fill the previous books. The authors really should have taken their own advice when they say the most powerful form of persuasion they know is to use stories. We need more great stories, guys!

I would also pick up on another point they made. When talking about the benefits of quitting (where appropriate) they say ‘Should we take our own advice and think about quitting? After three Freakonomics books, can we possibly have more to say – and will anyone care?’ The answer is yes, and no. ‘Yes’, quit doing this kind of book – but ‘no’ don’t give up and write us another Freakonomics if you can, as we will be ready to lap up more of those mind-bending ideas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a rehash of material from the podcasts, 19 Jun 2014
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Nothing new here. All on the podcasts or other books previously. Massive bibliography. The actual book is not really that big.
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Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything
Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything by Stephen J. Dubner (Hardcover - 13 May 2014)
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