October 03, 2013

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Abortion, crime, sumo wrestlers and the KKK.  Sound interesting enough for you?  And what on earth do all these things have in common?  Well, a few things actually.  Which is what the premise of Freakonomics is.  It's a book that shows some interesting data on little thought of topics.

Levitt is an economist who tends to veer off the beaten track .  And Dubner is the one to write this book with him as Levitt is not much of a writer according to himself.  In this book they explore a variety of topics (but warn that there's no cohesive theme to the book) such as Schoolteachers & Sumo Wrestlers, where they compare the honesty in the professions.  Another comparison is the KKK and Real-Estate Agents.  There's a section on drug dealers and the kind of money they're making.  And perhaps one of the most controversial sections: abortion and lower crime rates.  And a few other topics.  The authors look at the numbers behind these things and bring some data in that takes a different look at economics.

The authors say that there isn't a unifying theme to this book.  But I would have to disagree.  I think both race and crime are the unifying themes.  In fact, in nearly all of the chapters there is a mention of crime and its correlations and causations.  You could argue that the parenting section didn't really include crime, but in a way it did as it showed what happened to the children in regards to different parenting methods.  And race, while not in all the chapters, was a big area of study in several of the chapters with the most significant comparison being between black and white.  There was a very tiny portion of Hispanic data thrown in but not enough to be a large area of study.  So even though it jumps around in regards to sumo wrestlers and teachers and crack dealers, it still in a way is saying something about crime and the types of people who commit various crimes.

I didn't find the book difficult to read, but I wouldn't say it was a walk in the park either.  A person could read it and take everything the authors say as the truth, but you need to think about the data that is presented.  And the type of person you are is going to cause you to look at that data differently (the authors even admit this, especially with the chapter on abortion).  Because people can be so different, what something means is subjective.  I do think that the book was a bit bland in parts.  Which is saying something considering most of the topic matter.  But especially in the listing of baby names I got a little bored and really didn't care about that focus of topics.  Now you don't have to read that chapter I suppose, but I like to read a book cover to cover so there was no avoiding it for me.

I think that this book has some interesting ideas and if you have a mild like of economics it may be a worthy read.  Certainly you'll be a little shocked at the open way some topics are being discussed but I appreciated that some new observations were shared in this book.  Now if I was just an economist I could say whether or not the data is legitimate, but it felt real enough.

Copyright 2005
242 pages

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