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Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

Freakonomics (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner (Author)

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18,93335987 (3.83)248
A highly original and mindblowing book about the hidden connections of everyday things. Wanna ever know why we're going to poll? What cause a crime rate to fall? And of course why the drug dealers living with their mom.... :-) An awesome and easy read, ( )
  TheCrow2 | May 18, 2012 |
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Very interesting analysis of how some data tells us different answers than we expect to hear. We often see what we look for, this book asks us to look at things from a different perspective. ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
Many of Levitt's claims are fantastical, and given the amount of evidence in stark contrast to at least one of Levitt's favorite "can you believe it" topics (abortion and crime) it's hard to believe any of what he says. As others have said, little of what he talks about has anything to do with economics, so from my perspectives he's an economist trying to use his knowledge to inform topics he knows little to nothing about. I'm neither an economist nor a sociologist, but even I am aware of some of the arguments that he very blatantly ignores (for instance, his prison arguments very clearly ignore the fact that crimes that would have been a slap on the wrist or played off as "kids will be kids" years ago now carry stiff prison sentences because the prison-system has been privatized and the government has contracts with these prisons ensuring at least a minimum population.
Levitt's worst sin though is his constant inserting of news clippings tauting his perfection and insight. ( )
  benuathanasia | Feb 5, 2015 |
This is a very fascinating book, which I highly recommend to everyone. Essentially, the authors use economic principles and ideas to analyze several very interesting questions, such as why drug dealers live with their mothers. Trust me when I say that you never knew just how large of a role economics plays in our everyday world. I came away from the book looking at everything in a whole new way, and with a whole new level of appreciation for economics as a field of study. The anecdotes are amusing, the questions explored are relevant and interesting in ways you have never realized, and the entirety is tied together nicely and written in a very approachable fashion. The one downside, if you can call it that, is that not a lot of the data and information used in the analyses was provided or explained, with the authors instead largely falling back on saying what they found, with the reader basically taking their word for it. While this makes the book far more approachable and interesting for an everyday reader, it means that the education in actual economics that is provided is severely limited in scope, and their conclusions cannot be investigated further (based on what is provided in the book alone) if someone wishes to do so. They basically manage to make economics readily approachable for the everyday reader, while also allowing for very little true additional understanding of the field of study itself. This is only a minor weakness overall, as most would not be reading it for those purposes, but it did jump out at me a bit. ( )
  TiffanyAK | Jan 1, 2015 |
Uno dei pochi libri divertenti scritti da un economista. Purtroppo non vi sono altre traduzioni attuali delle opere di Stephen Leavitt e questo è un peccato. I sei capitoli che compongono il libro sono assai interessanti, dando intepretazioni basate sulla obiettività delle analisi regressive e non in base al buon senso comune - che prende sonore e poco metaforiche legnate ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Freakonomics is fast, consistently interesting read and best when it digs in and tackles a question at length, as with the issue of the relationship of legal abortion to crime rates or the section on the socioeconomic trends in baby names. The only real overarching theme of the book, however, is Levitt's own cleverness--every chapter is preceded by a fawning blurb about Levitt from the same New York Times magazine piece.
Rather than just further refining and cashing in on this Steven Levitt "brand" of the impish public affairs gadfly who throws grenades at small hills of conventional wisdom in easy-reading bestsellers, I'd like to see Levitt take on an important subject and make his case so thoroughly that citizens and policymakers can actually turn his insights into action. ( )
  AThurman | Dec 7, 2014 |
I love this book. It is thought provoking and causes you to re-examine long-held positions or notions in light of actual sociological data analysis. Everyone should read this. ( )
  fredheid | Oct 22, 2014 |
Another one of my favorite non-fiction books. I love how it even explains baby-name trends. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
rabck from Judyslump612; interesting - an economist takes on questions that can be quantified, with surprising results. Such as is a gun or swimming pool more dangerous (hint - it’s not the one you think). And what do Chicago school teachers and Sumo Wrestlers have in common? (They both cheat when they feel the circumstances warrant it). Some real interesting questions....and answers based on data...that might have you looking at things in a very different way. ( )
  nancynova | Aug 29, 2014 |
Not bad but I like the podcasts more, the book was disjointed. Unfortunately I saw the movie first which discussed many of the same topics so they got a little tiresome for me. ( )
  yougotamber | Aug 22, 2014 |
Many interesting ideas. ( )
  auntieknickers | Aug 8, 2014 |
The authors did a fairly good job showing that everything is related to everything else. And that Economics isn't just as simple as politicians like to say it is.

However, I still think that sometimes they look for correlation where it may not exist, or some how think the ends justify the means.

While many arguments were good, like all the government regulation we have regarding child safety seats, and cribs and everything are nothing compared to if parents would just play some bloody attention to their kid at the pool. Of course politicians can't create regulations for this, as too many adults like pools and don't want to be told what to do. And that adding a late fee for picking up kids from day care, actually made folks feel better about doing so, as compared to the old shaming from the neighborhood they used to do.

However the disturbing argument that the reason the crime rate is as low in the U.S. is because we have abortion on demand, and their are less poor black kids, is disturbing and made me want to be sick.

A good audio book in all, but be warned. ( )
  fulner | Jul 14, 2014 |
An interesting read about unintended consequences of certain events that seem unrealated, but really when examined closely - are related. ( )
  berthacummins | Apr 26, 2014 |
I started listening to the Freakonomics podcast a while back, so I knew what I was getting into with this book. For the kind of general trade book this is, I think it's well structured, highly readable, and surprisingly thought-provoking. Far too many such books promise much and live up to only a portion of their claims, so the fact that this one exceeded my expectations garnered it a higher rating than many other readers seem to think it deserves. Maybe I reacted strongly to it because it managed both to reveal new facts while confirming my belief that most things are more difficult to understand than they at first appear. The authors undermine many of the assumptions of "conventional wisdom," and they do so with logic and supporting data carefully considered. I look forward to hearing more from them. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
I found this book fun, interesting, and highly readable, though not really scientific in the way that I think the authors intended.

The book's rating went down an entire star due to the incredibly fatuous, self-congratulatory quotations used as chapter epigraphs. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 4, 2014 |
I could not finish this book. It made me cringe twice on each of the hundred odd pages that I did force myself to read.

Would I recommend this book to you? If you don't know how people use statistics to detect fraud, go ahead and read this book. You will find it to be entertaining and informative. On the other hand, if you feel strongly about the difference between correlation and causality and already know what, say, Benford's law is, spare yourself the horror. You will find yourself reaching for the wall (to bang your head on) by page 10.

Also, the title is a bit misleading. This book is NOT about economics. ( )
  ikka123 | Jan 22, 2014 |
What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How much does a parent matter in the success of their child? These are only a few of the questions addressed in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, a very funny and analytic book Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. The two authors tackle some of the weirdest questions that seem to have no correlation or relevance, but somehow, in the end, are connected. It touches on some very interesting topics and does so in a very light-heated and intellectual way.

The premise of the book is to look at the hidden reasons for a certain event, in this case, the drop of the crime rate in the 1990s. The two authors break apart the drop using the tools of economics to try and reason why it baffled the criminologists who, at the time, expected a severe rise in the crime rate. From this single questions, Freakonomics delves into a series of other, related but odd, questions that slowly build a picture of the different factors that lead to the drop in crime rate, ending with a very interesting look the merits and advantages of good parenting.

What Freakonomics does a great job of doing is not losing the reader with over-the-top explanations of economic principals or jargon. Instead, it takes a more open approach that is very much accessible to those without very good education in the field of economics. At no point in time while I was reading the book did I really find myself struggling to get through the concepts that Dubner and Levitt were using to break apart these questions that they proposed. In fact, they took what could have been a relatively boring topic and analysis and filled it with humor and made it much more palatable to a greater audience.

I really enjoyed reading about all these different factors and was amazed by what they came up with from the data that they used. Some of the things may seem counter intuitive, but they do a great job of digging deeper behind these types of occurrences and eventually, you start to understand where they are coming from and then you start to feel like you want to try and do something yourself.

The fast amount of statistics and data that are represented throughout the pages aren't daunting and are presented in a way that doesn't take away from the very witty and interesting writing. There are graphs and tables and charts filled with numbers and, at the end, names, but they are used very sparingly or have a well-defined purpose that allows the readers to look and see for themselves what they are talking about in words.

All in all, Freaknomics is a wonderful exploration into topics that I normally wouldn't have taken a second glance at if I saw them. They turn huge reams of data into a short book that quickly and precisely answer some of the most odd yet intriguing questions I have ever seen. Freaknomics is one of those books that takes something that could be boring and turns it into a very enjoyable experience. ( )
  Plyte | Nov 17, 2013 |
Did not realize that economist could be behaviorist, anthropologists, etc. An excellent resource book. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
Reading "Freakonomics" is like going on a fact-finding tour with an contrarian economist. It's a delightful journey, you learn some new things and it never gets too academic. That Levitt and Dubner choose some great cases to analyze is just icing on the cake.

It's a breezy read and thoroughly enjoyable. But as the authors admit, "Freakonomics" won't change the way you look at the world, but it will push you to suspect the truth behind conventional wisdom. ( )
  jasonli | Nov 7, 2013 |
Review when I get my snark levels under reasonable control. ( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
I have seriously mixed feelings about Freakonomics, so be prepared for a very opinionated review. Like The Tipping Point, it was written by a journalist, and is an extremely engaging and entertaining read. It certainly has more scientific merit and empirical backing than Gladwell's book. It also presents several important statistical points that it is critical to understand: for example, at several points, the book reiterates that correlation does not imply causation. There is also an intuitive, if vague, description of Bayes' Law. What I loved most about the book was its quirky and off-the-wall thinking, the entertaining narration, and some of the very clever insights into the world of economics. And no matter how much I rail against his abuse of statistics, I picked up the second book from the library, which goes quite far in showing how well-written and entertaining I found it.

Unfortunately, the impact of the book was seriously lessened by what I saw as a mixture of dogmatism and hypocrisy that undermined all of the authors' conclusions. Take one example: in the start of the book, and in a later chapter, Levitt discusses the sudden fall in crime rates. He belittles all the other theories (more policemen, better policing, etc), claiming that they use correlation to imply causality. He presents his own: abortion, which he proclaims is "the" correct theory and "the" reason. Wait. So he knocks down and belittles all other scientists for using correlation to imply causality...and then uses correlation to imply causality? And dogmatically claims to have found the "right" explanation? If anyone tells you they have the "right" solution without having proved that their solution is both necessary and sufficient, everything they say is bull. I'm not really sure if this dogmatism really stems from Levitt; apparently the journalist author wrote most of the book, and he seems to practically deify Levitt. Every chapter begins with an excerpt from an NYT article that spews hyperbolic praise of the young economist, and throughout, Dubner speaks of Levitt's insight with a kind of adoring awe I found rather irritating.

I admit that I enjoyed at least thinking about some of the "shock factor" ideas that Levitt presents; for example, the life of a crack cocaine dealer. But again, his dogmatism, his insistence on being right, spoiled a lot of this for me. In my opinion, when your experiments and theories involve sensitive issues, you need to be very careful and realize that there is no way for a human being to live on the earth and not have biases and preconceptions. There is no such thing as being unbiased. Period. Levitt, for example, seems to have a real hangup about race. Yes, he goes on to show that (duh) there is no difference in intelligence between races as soon as socioeconomic factors are equalized. However, in almost every statistic in the book, he splits the numbers along racial lines. He almost never looks at age, socioeconomics, or any of a dozen factors; he usually splits statistics by race. And if that doesn't tell you about his preconceptions, I'm not sure what will.

I enjoyed the book (even though parts clearly made me boilin' mad) because he presented enough of the facts that I could at least determine when he had correctly used or horribly misused statistics. Not only did he keep treating strong correlations as causal truths; he also continually failed to apply Bayes' Law correctly. Take the following example, where he compares swimming pool safety to gun safety. He says that there is 1 drowning per 11,000 residential pools and 1 child killed by gun for every 1M guns. He therefore concludes that it's safer for your child to come into contact with a gun or be in a household with a gun than in one with a pool. Right?

Well, only if you have a ridiculously simplistic viewpoint. Because what he concludes is NOT what he calculates. What probability is there that a person who has a pool also has children? I bet it's higher than the probability that a person who has a gun having children. But Levitt ignores this. He just takes the total number of guns and the total number of pools in the US, and the total number of deaths from each type. Exaggerate this spin technique a bit and you can also argue that a child is more likely to get Alzheimer's in Florida than in NY. Why? Because the number of people with Alzheimer's is higher in FL than in NY (the population is older). There are probably at least as many children in NY as FL, so the probability of a child having Alzheimer's' is much higher in FL, right? Uh, no.

In conclusion, although I enjoyed reading it, I found the book dangerous. Levitt presents this adorably naive idea that math never lies, and that his conclusions are therefore totally unbiased. As he says, "freakonomics style thinking doesn't traffic in morality." What he appears to miss totally is that it is ridiculously easy to misuse statistics even without intending to, because it does traffic in your preconceptions. ( )
1 vote page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
terrible ( )
  Matt-1da56ee3 | Sep 15, 2013 |
"Non-stop fun" is the most fitting of the cover quotes. Lively and intriguing and above all, good yarns. Somehow hard to take quite seriously, tho much is made of levitt's methodology and credentials. Best point is that economics and social studies don't really admit of experiments ( hence those rather trivial context less experiments with sweeties done on US college kids) so statistics are the next best thing. But correlation is not cause, so the notorious case of the disappearing crime wave 20 years after Roe v Wade is fascinating but questionable. Story of the klu klux klan infiltrator is another goodie, capped by their honest revelation that they were taken in by a fabulist. ( )
  vguy | Aug 22, 2013 |
Freakonomics was both well written and entertaining, if not overly informative. The authors, in a series of loosely related essays, attempt to show how "conventional wisdom" is often wrong. By using the analytical tools of the economist, they attempt to determine the true causes of various societal conditions. The tools work, the conclusions are well supported however many of them just seemed like well, if not conventional wisdom, then common sense.

*Schoolteachers cheat if it impacts their job. So do athletes involved in high profile and highly competitive sports.

*Professionals with specialized knowledge (real-estate agents, car salesmen, presumably many others) while working for you, balance their needs with yours and may not hold out to get you the very best deal possible.

*Unwanted children have a higher likelihood of exhibiting criminal behavior as adults.

*The quality of a school effects a student's learning far more than the color of his skin.

Perhaps a few of these conclusions would be surprising to someone living in the 40's or 50's, but I certainly did not find them so.

Those few items that I found interesting and inciteful, such as the method for discovering a teacher who is cheating, were either not explained fully to be satisfying or too technical for the average, general interest, reader. ( )
  rdyornot | Jul 18, 2013 |
Fun and interesting! ( )
  wirehead | Jul 9, 2013 |
This was a clever meditation on the hidden relationships between seemingly disparate topics and the effects these relationships have. The book was informative and well written although because some of the topics may be outside one's everyday experience (sumo wrestling incentives, anyone?) it is a good idea to keep in mind that it's not always the examples but the insights gained that are valuable. ( )
  tatteredpage | Jul 3, 2013 |
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