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on 6 December 2009
I lost my 'psycho/micro-economy-book' cherry to Freakonomics and from then on became absolutely hooked, devouring the Gladwells and Harfords etc. I really do love these types of books and soak em up in a couple of hours. So as you can imagine, I was really, really looking forward to the follow up to the one that started it all for me...here's my lists of positives and negatives

-ves
1. Birthdate bulges....heard about this before
2. Hang on a sec...that woman in Queens who got murdered and loads of people saw her, Milgram's experiment, the prison experiment, 19th century doctors not washing their hands in prep for birthing. Gali-bloody-leo?? Come on chaps, give us a new one!
3. There aren't really many chapters in this. So my overall criticism is that a lot of this is old rehashed stuff even if they draw different conclusions

Having said that...+ves
1. I really liked that it is not a PC book at all. There are a number of points above and beyond stuff on climate change where they are treading into reasonably challenging territory
2. Read to cover to cover in a few hours. So it is quite engaging.
3. Some interesting ideas on climate change. High end prostitution sounds more attractive...

It's by no means a bad book. Quite enjoyable in fact and if you've not read this kind of thing before you may just love it as it's easy to read and persuasive and has some really interesting ideas. But for a popular economy book loving saddo such as I...it was alright.
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VINE VOICEon 17 November 2009
I enjoyed the original title - not as much as I'd hoped as despite the rhetoric and the attractive counterintuitive take on life it offered, it contained quite a few flaws in logic with frequent post hoc analyses of events. Economists and sociologists would disagree about many things (in fact they do) and Freakonomics suffered from not having a balancing sociological take on events.
The same, I fear, is true here. Except one of the problems here is the lack of a scientific interpretation. The now infamous chapter on global warming is an objective economic assessment of the situation but by missing out much of the existing evidence from other fields, it is easily interpreted (misinterpreted according to the authors?) as climate change denial.
I'll let you make your own mind up but while I accepted the author's defence on The Daily Show I think the wider moral ramifications were lost on him - it's all very well having a bit of fun and saying "what if" but this book will be read widely and the risk that it is held up as "evidence" that global warming is a good thing is very real.

But remember, the authors are setting out to provoke in a good way - to offer alternative views of the world that are often odd but make sense when you think about it. It's highly readable and, yes, thought provoking. If you enjoyed the original book, you'll like this. But you don't have to have read it to enjoy Superfreakonomics.
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VINE VOICEon 21 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Read the book before you judge it. You may not agree with all the facts or conclusions, but it will make you think and debate the issues. The book is fascinating and 3 people reading it will give you three different opinions on it and about how good it is.

Should you read it - yes. Will you enjoy it - yes. Will you agree with everything - no.

Prostitution: The price of oral sex has fallen as it has become less taboo socially. Pimps value their prostitutes - which makes sense because I would expect a taxi driver to value his car because it is their means of making a living. And controversially prostitutes are more likely to have sex with a police officer than be arrested by one!

Global Warming: so controversial that people will down rate this book if it disagrees with their own accepted wisdom. The book contains hyperbole and overstatements that generates heated debate - (intended!) economic consequence of this is more press and more sales. But the authors do not deny global warming, rather they want to show how costly and difficult the current answers suggested by the big governments are, and they offer some potentially interesting solutions.

Read it in short bursts - it is not a Dan Brown novel!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 21 February 2010
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm not going to go into too many details about the specifics as I always feel these spoil the actual book. Quite a large number of subjects are covered - from altruism, prostitution, global warming/cooling, apathy to suicide bombers - all dealt with in a reasonably intelligent and thought-provoking way. You might not agree with what these guys have to say but at least they should stimulate conversation.

I agree with some other reviewers - it's probably not a book to read in one go - and it does tend to flit from one subject to another quite unrelated one at times. For this reason it's best to pick up this book for a chapter at a time and then go off and read something else and then come back to it (this is how I approached the book and it worked for me).

The main thing that I didn't like about the book was the American slant - some stuff doesn't interest me/confuses me/annoys me because of its American-centric view on life, the universe and everything. Oh the other thing is it does sometimes just feel like a bit of a rant...

Hey it's just MY opinion! Make up your own!

All in all an intelligent book which will hopefully make you think about these topics and discuss them with others. A decent enough read.
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Whilst you may not agree with some of the outlandish statements made in Superfreakonomics, their method of taking apart complex situations component-by-component and looking at objectively, regardless of the social consequence ensures that there is never a dull moment here.

Skirting around the arguments over flawed data-sets and the economic validity of some of the points put forward; this book is simply hilarious. I read it in a single sitting on a plane and laughed out loud on several occasions, much to the bemusement of my fellow passengers (Teaching capuchin monkeys the value of money and the knock-on effects was a personal favourite). Why pimps are better than real-estate agents also was a laugh-riot.

Whilst newcomers to the series may want to read Freakonomics first, this essentially can be read as a stand-alone instalment, despite the introduction talking at length about the reception and controversy surrounding the first book. You don't need a degree in economics to understand the concepts in the book and resultantly it's surprisingly accessible so I would recommend it to anybody who wants to see things from a different angle. An excellent book!!
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on 3 July 2010
Three of the five chapters of this book are presented as questions:
How is a street prostitute like a department store Santa?
Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?
What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?

The other two are:
The fix is in ... and it's cheap and simple
Unbelievable stories about apathy and altruism.

These two chapter titles aren't quite so catchy, but there is some really good material buried within on topics such as the benefits of hand washing and the benison of fertiliser. Posing questions in the form of catchy chapter titles is one way to get people's attention, and much of the material presented is entertaining and thought-provoking. But what about the conclusions? Can it possibly be true that there is a cheap fix for climate change? But how do we (globally) measure `cheap', and who determines whether it is effective?

I found the various anecdotes interesting and generally entertaining. But I found myself wondering whether this book added materially to the ground already covered so successfully in `Freakonomics'. Clearly, for some readers, it does. I'm not convinced.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found this book interesting, frustrating, fascinating and infuriating (mostly at the same time). The duo that brought us Freakonomics with answers to why drug dealers live with their mothers and how the name that your parents gave you can determine which job you end up getting have now brought us Superfreakonomics.

To rogue economists or mad scientists this books meanderings may be make perfect sense, but to the likes of me I had a job trying to fathom how we got from one subject to another and then back to the original one at times. It almost seemed like a couple of kids that get so excited about their school project that they just want to tell you everything all about it all at once. That said, some of the themes and questions posed I found fascinating:

Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?
Why is May the worst month for a baby in Uganda and Michigan, USA to be born?
How did 9/11 start the trickle down effect of the credit crunch?
Why could eating kangaroo meat help save the planet?
Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered and say nothing?

When I read Freakonomics a few years ago I gave it 2 stars. It attempted to tell us that teachers cheat, estate agents lie and black kids are usually given different names to white kids. You don't say! After having read this second offering I have decided to accept it for what it is - fun and light entertainment. Some of the findings are really fascinating and some are pretty banal and even confusing (the global warming section had my eyes glazing over).

However, to end on a positive note, the epilogue was genius! If you have ever wondered if monkey prostitution exists, wonder no more.....
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on 7 April 2010
Having now finished the book I recall the first few pages waxing on about how this was not just a sequel but very much something that stood by itself as an accomplishment in itself and was an improvement on the original. I can't disagree more.

If this was written by different author I am sure it would have been slated and quickly disposed of as an attempt to wring more out the same theme. However much I try to see it standing by itself it seems that the authors have sought out a very few valid illustrations to demonstrate their alternative take on economics. Whilst I have to agree "freakonomics" to use their term is extremely interesting, but no more interesting than the first time they introduced it and much less so with stretched examples. Those in the first book were far more entertaining.

Much of the problem I feel stems from the authors using too many prospective examples as opposed to real after the event analysis. They speak of how a novel approach may do this or that - even solve global warming with a cheap but effective solution. These are unproven methods and frankly can be found in journals and across the internet with little effort. What I found interesting in the first book and for only a handful of illustrations in the second was their ability to explain tangental views of problems in their entirety, specifically including what worked and demonstrating how a different path of exploration would have solved a problem faster or explained the statistics at hand. Instead there are far too many pie in the sky ideas.

I devoured the first book and despite this attempt would still pick up any future writings. I have to believe that this book was not just a search for more money but was painstakingly researched and written with best intentions. It just suffers from lack of enough interesting materiel and has been done with slightly different takes in other books enough times for a sequel to no longer be required.
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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In Chapter 1 we read a prurient but entertaining account of Chicago prostitution. We learn the benefits of having a pimp, the relative cost of different sexual services and why the police go easy on the ladies (this last explanation is unconvincing). Then we move to the high-end `escort' market and consider the case study of "Allie".

Economic concepts: commodity good, price discrimination, inelastic demand, principal-agent problem. Plus a "how-to" guide on being a successful courtesan.

Chapter 2 is organised around the concepts of data mining. We learn about the financial transaction profiles of Islamic terrorists, the disutility of hospitals and the relative performance of doctors in dealing with different kinds of illness and injuries.

Economic concepts: data analysis.

Chapter 3 is about altruism. The core of this chapter deconstructs a 1964 murder in New York City which was apparently witnessed by many people, none of whom intervened or even reported it to the police. This leads to an appraisal of economics experiments which purportedly showed people to possess an intrinsic core of altruism (leading to Nobel prizes in economics for the researchers). Such an appealing conclusion is debunked as you might expect. The murder story is also debunked.

Economic concepts: limitations of behavioural economics.

Chapter 4 is about perverse incentives and specifically how powerful interest groups succeed in bringing about outcomes which disadvantage society overall. In the sights are doctors and auto makers. It is shown repeatedly that the hero who correctly points out that the emperor has no clothes is subsequently uniformly reviled by said interest groups

Chapter 5 is the part about global warming. Or is it cooling? Or is it something which just happens anyway? A long piece centred around Nathan Myhrvold's company Intellectual Ventures shows that assuming global warming is actually the problem fashionable opinion claims, there exist a number of technological solutions which for a modest amount of cash would deal with it. Alas, such ideas are anathema to Green lobbies.

In the epilogue, we learn that economic concepts of monetary value and exchange can also be taught (and internalised by) capuchin monkeys. I was not entirely clear why we were being told this apart from the monkey prostitution link back to Chapter 1.

I am torn two ways about this book. In its favour it makes intelligent points about a number of topical issues, it correctly undermines various shibboleths of political correctness, and it's compulsively readable - I was able to finish the 216 pages in a day.

On the other hand, the sycophantic writing style is gratingly folksy-humorous. Subtle flattery throughout confirms the authors and reader as equal partners, intellectually superior to the idiots the book so delights in debunking. The book is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

So if you are looking for an upmarket Reader's Digest type book which will confirm you are an important mover and shaker, that you are fashionably dismissive of political correctness to an acceptable degree, and that won't force you to engage with any difficult concepts, I guess this book is for you. Otherwise get it from the library or read the Sunday Times serialisation.
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VINE VOICEon 27 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
On the face of it Superfreakonomics is an enjoyable and fun read. It purports, like its predecessor, to uncover the reality behind certain situations using the techniques of economics. Indeed, their main contention is that many human situations are best understood through the analytical power of economics. The book certainly contains many 'aha!' moments, when, if their argument is correct, what you thought was the explanation for a phenomenon turns out to be almost the polar opposite. Of course, that is if their arguments are correct.

Their definition of economics is broad, encompassing great areas that are classically thought of as logic, sociology, science and psychology, not just the financial definition that we're used to. What becomes grating, however, is the insinuation that the economics model is naturally superior to other models developed within their own fields. Sometimes an economic model does offer a good explanation for a system, particularly one that deals in the exchange of goods or services, the chapter on prostitution being one example. There is a feeling of superiority over those with specialised knowledge.

However, I have reservations as to whether take all that they say at face value after reading the chapter on Global Warming. Here it seems that their rigorous approach has not withstood their own prejudices. I can't work out exactly what they believe on the subject. First of all they bring out the old trope about the so-called predictions during the 70s, that we were entering an ice-age, thereby discrediting climate scientists, which for a couple of smart guys seems really disingenuous considering that those predictions where based on some very small scale research and some rather larger-scale media reportage. They then further rubbish climate science, claim that climate scientists don't know what the major contributor to sea level rising is(which they do, thermal expansion), claim that increased CO2 would actually benefit plant life without mentioning ocean acidification and then conflate media scare-mongering with environmentalists and the IPCC. And anyway it was warmer 80 million years ago (so what?). A quick unsupported claim that the Earth is actually cooling and bizarrely drag out Boris Johnson in support of your position.

Suddenly though GW is real. Most of the last chapter is taken up by an account of a plan to reverse GW by a company called Intellectual Ventures by emitting large amounts of sulfur dioxide. The authors seem to really admire these guys, they're capitalists, so now GW is real and luckily here come the men with the fix, and luckily it's a cheap, simple fix. So no worries, business as usual. It's an embarrasing volte face and unfortunately for the authors the fix is not quick, cheap or simple like they think. The problem is they misrepresent those men, Ken Caldeira of IV has gone as far as to say so, he also believes CO2 to be "the right villain" and the book contains "many errors".

I'm left with serious doubts now, about the veracity of the authors' prior accounts. Have they dissembled elsewhere as egregiously as in the GW chapter? Entertaining but spurious and biased.
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