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Customer Review

6 of 8 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
This review is from: Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist (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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Initial post: 24 May 2014 15:47:10 BDT
Hi Brian, interesting review, and I just watched your interview with Robert Peston on quantum mechanics, which I found very illuminating (well, with a high degree of probability, anyway).

I suppose I think your review a little harsh, but this is something of the second (or third) album problem suffered by so many musicians. The first freakonomics book was informed by 15-20 years of Leavitt's earliest (and perhaps most creative)work. The second, while introducing some new material (as I recollect) expanded on that work. We might have another 20 years to go before he has anything like the same amount of fresh material. Sadly, though I find the podcasts very entertaining, I fear they will never be able to match the impact that their first book had.

As for it not being economics, have to disagree about that bit. It is firmly based on micro-economic analysis - Leavitt is quite open that macro-economics doesn't interest him very much. Economics is the study of how people behave in the face of limited resources and varying incentives. Sometimes those incentives are non-financial, or are clouded by non-financial considerations - like the sumo wrestlers (in book 1 - or was it 2), and like the footballer in Chapter 1 of this book. Statistics is an essential element of the analysis of data - not essential to theoretical economics, perhaps, but an essential part of the applied discipline. Psychology is the other element of trying to explain the pattern that the data demonstrate, I grant you. I doubt that Uni of Chicago would retain Prof Leavitt if they didn't think he was doing economics.

I'm going to see Tim Harford interview the two Steves on Tuesday evening - are you going by any chance?
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