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173 of 194 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The hidden side of the "Unexpected Publishing Phenomenon", 10 Aug. 2005
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This review is from: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Hardcover)
Hmmm. A very *interesting* (in the sense of the Middle Eastern curse) kettle of fish.

I'm not sure what co-author Dubner's role is here - either to act as an alter ego for Levitt, allowing reproduction of fawning extracts from various newspaper articles written about Levitt throughout the book (as sole author Levitt wouldn't be able to get away with this without heaping hubris on his head), or perhaps to take the material he had from his original article and pad it out into a volume just fat enough (and no more) to justify publication as a hard-back, in which case Levitt had pretty much nothing to do with this book at all. I suspect a bit of both.

Most of the few points made in this book are, at best, only moderately interesting, and there are very few of them: Freakonomics doesn't even remotely live up to its billing, managing only to explore the hidden side of about five completely discrete, and only moderately interesting, topics (statistical evidence that there's cheating in Sumo Wrestling, anyone?) Indeed, the sumo cheating data wasn't especially compelling: it seems to me there is an entirely innocent explanation for wrestlers who have already "qualified" losing an abnormally large number of bouts to statistically weaker fighters who have not: a "qualified" wrestler simply has no incentive to try particularly hard, where as a non-qualifying wrestler does. That analysis doesn't involve any collusion at all.

Elsewhere, Levitt's theorems only really work where there are huge quantities of data covering all conceivable aspects of the topic at hand. Most of the time, this just isn't the case, which is why the hidden side of everything remains, even to Levitt and Dubner, hidden.

In the cases where the data are available - like Baseball - others have done a much more compelling job of writing the economist's expose. For example, try Michael Lewis' outstanding Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Mean time, this one joins Lynne Truss's Eats shoots and leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation as the latest in a long line of quick-buck publishing pan-flashes.

Perhaps the money I've wasted on this book can be put, through this review, to some good use: saving yours.

Olly Buxton
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Mar 2009 15:42:40 GMT
Charlotte says:
Many thanks-you expressed my own thoughts brilliantly.What a relief to know other readers felt the same about this strangely dull, overhyped disappointing book.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Dec 2009 21:01:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Dec 2009 21:02:00 GMT
That makes three of us! I find most of these "populist" economics and philosophy books a total bore - common sense dressed up in "funny" stories. Far better to go off and read a true master like Galbraith. Or Plato.

Posted on 26 Dec 2009 13:48:54 GMT
Michael Wood says:
I'm not sure what to make of a review which gives three stars and then describes the product as "a waste of money". One can only guess what a book would have to do to get less than three stars other then waste his money. If it is as poor as that surely an average rating is not appropriate.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Dec 2009 18:32:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Dec 2009 18:41:15 GMT
Olly Buxton says:
Michael
I can tell you *exactly* what you need to get less that three stars from me: write a book like "dracula: the undead".
(See my review here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/RAWDDA0QJ8AT3). This isn't a 1 star book; it's just not nearly as good as its hype would suggest. Read the content of the review and make your mind up based on that. I said it was "at best moderately interesting" which I think is about a three star rating. If you've never read or thought about popular economics you might find value here. And it's relatively well written, well paced.
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