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Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything Hardcover – 13 May 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 166 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 13 May 2014
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st edition (13 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846147557
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846147555
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.8 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


In one of the many wonderful moments in Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ask the question: Who is easier to fool-kids or adults? The obvious answer, of course, is kids. The cliché is about taking candy from a baby, not a grown man. But instead of accepting conventional wisdom as fact, the two sit down with the magician Alex Stone-someone in the business of fooling people-and ask him what he thinks. And his answer? Adults.

Stone gave the example of the staple of magic tricks, the "double lift," where two cards are presented as one. It's how a magician can seemingly bury a card that you have selected at random and then miraculously retrieve it. Stone has done the double lift countless times in his career, and he says it is kids-overwhelmingly-who see through it. Why? The magician's job is to present a series of cues-to guide the attention of his audience-and adults are really good at following cues and paying attention. Kids aren't. Their gaze wanders. Adults have a set of expectations and assumptions about the way the world works, which makes them vulnerable to a profession that tries to exploit those expectations and assumptions. Kids don't know enough to be exploited. Kids are more curious. They don't overthink problems; they're more likely to understand that the basis of the trick is something really, really simple. And most of all-and this is my favorite-kids are shorter than adults, so they quite literally see the trick from a different and more revealing angle.

Think Like a Freak is not a book about how to understand magic tricks. That's what Dubner and Levitt's first two books-Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics-were about. It's about the attitude we need to take towards the tricks and the problems that the world throws at us. Dubner and Levitt have a set of prescriptions about what that attitude comes down to, but at its root it comes down to putting yourself in the mind of the child, gazing upwards at the double lift: free yourself from expectations, be prepared for a really really simple explanation, and let your attention wander from time to time.

The two briefly revisit their famous argument from their first book about the link between the surge in abortions in the 1970s and the fall in violent crime twenty years later. Their point is not to reargue that particular claim. It is to point out that we shouldn't avoid arguments like that just because they leave us a bit squeamish. They also tell the story of the Australian doctor Barry Marshall, who overturned years of received wisdom when he proved that ulcers are caused by gastric bacteria, not spicy food and stress. That idea was more than heretical at first. It was absurd. It was the kind of random idea that only a child would have. But Dubner and Levitt's point, in their utterly captivating new book, is that following your curiosity-even to the most heretical and absurd end-makes the world a better place. It is also a lot of fun.

(Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink)

This book will change your life. (Daily Express)

Good ideas... expressed with panache. (Financial Times)

Compelling and fun. (New York Post)

From the Back Cover

The New York Times bestselling Freakonomics changed the way we see the world, exposing the hidden side of just about everything. Then came SuperFreakonomics, a documentary film, an award-winning podcast, and more.

Now, with Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have written their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally--to think, that is, like a Freak.

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you'll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they're from Nigeria.

Some of the steps toward thinking like a Freak:

  • First, put away your moral compass--because it's hard to see a problem clearly if you've already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say -I don't know---for until you can admit what you don't yet know, it's virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child--because you'll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Take a master class in incentives--because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
  • Learn to persuade people who don't want to be persuaded--because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting--because you can't solve tomorrow's problem if you aren't willing to abandon today's dud.

Levitt and Dubner plainly see the world like no one else. Now you can too. Never before have such iconoclastic thinkers been so revealing--and so much fun to read.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The message of the first two books was that people respond to incentives. The message of the third book is that the authors are cool. Too cool.

They can see through David Cameron's dedication to the NHS (he lost a kid to grave illness); they feel qualified to discuss football (that they grew up calling soccer); by now they're old enough to have had children that they bring into the discussion and they are soooooo smug about having gotten some wannabe UK terrorists to buy health insurance.

While I don't doubt for one second that these are some very important people, they don't need to talk down to me so much.

They quote George Bernard Shaw, but then they recast one of his famous exchanges with a woman as one between "an economist" and a Vegas entertainer. They propose that governments issue bonds that behave like lottery tickets without bothering to check that the UK has been selling Premium Bonds since 1956.

They've gotten sloppy, bottom line.

I take particular issue with the penalty kick example: Statistically speaking, the authors inform us, football players who take penalty kicks would do better to shoot straight down the middle, but allegedly they don't because they don't want to look silly if the goalie does not jump to the side. They're, you know, self-motivated and they put their interest in not looking stupid before the team's interest in winning.

What if the guy taking the shot kicks the ball just a tad off the middle and actually MAKES IT EASY for the goalie? Is that not the more plausible explanation for not aiming straight? Same way he can't be guaranteed to get the corner without potentially hitting the post, he probably also can't be guaranteed to send it perfectly straight down the middle no?
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Format: 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.
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