Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.
Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.
Bonus material added to the revised and expanded 2006 edition
The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.Seven “Freakonomics” columns written for the New York Times Magazine, published between August 2005 and April 2006.Selected entries from the Freakonomics blog, posted between April 2005 and May 2006 at http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/.
Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt's search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn't really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it's wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt's controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives, which could make this book a hit. Malcolm Gladwell blurbs that Levitt "has the most interesting mind in America," an invitation Gladwell's own substantial fan base will find hard to resist. 50-city radio campaign.
Customer ReviewsSee All
a work in progress...
As one more "fearful" of statistical data than of Analysis, i.e. the calculus, I expected to be not quite in swing with this book. But, surprise, I found it interesting how data is searched for and looked at, sample sets relevant to a given topic are selected and the sometimes unexpected insights gleaned. In this day and age of "info overload" the worth of such sorts of inquiry are obvious, and seem to require a sort of gift for it as well as determination to work it through and look for relevant data in a way a bit different, but perhaps not completely divorced, from going the other way around, i.e. from theoretical mathematics to deduction and investigation of "the fit". My only complaint is it is a little repetitive and just maybe their findings are not always the "complete truth" of a given matter (but better a few "partial truths" than "full false truths"). Half star off for over repetition, but since don't see that option I went with 4 stars, but it's very interesting, enough to look forward to more from said authors and as my "title to review" indicates, I think they do well to continue with their research and write about it.
Fantastic book, keeps your attention the whole time. Great ideas and theories. High recommend reading. Easy to read and understand.
Freakonomics is an interesting look at a wide variety of phenomenon, using the statistical analysis of economics to prove or disprove the conventional wisdom.
I love this book because it puts facts and proof up against theories and feel-good answers. The authors even dwell on politically incorrect topics (linking an increase in abortion to a decrease in crime, and showing that backyard swimming pools kill more children than guns) if that's where the data leads them.
This book should be required reading in Journalism school, though I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of their profession.