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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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18,48134793 (3.83)239
TheCrow2's review
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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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. ( )
  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 |
  lxydis | May 11, 2013 |
An enlightening book! Levitt & Dubner made this research very appealing, I hope to always look at data a little sideways from now on! ( )
  cougargirl1967 | May 3, 2013 |
I had heard about the celebrated Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner for years without ever being curious enough to open the book. The whole idea of "the hidden side of everything" seemed to insinuate something steeped more in pop psychology than science so naturally I ignored it. As it turns out, as life sometimes does, what I got wasn't what I expected. This book surprised me over and over again.

I don't think Freakonomics could exist until Big Data had arrived and matured. Uncovering the hidden side of anything depends so much on comparing data sets numbered in the millions to trillions—basically more than the world has ever had the capacity to organize until now. Though statistical data alone does not make a decent book, this one becomes great because the authors connect the dots between events you never thought were related.

My favorite big-picture takeaway is how we desperately want reality to behave a certain way, to believe as truth the things we see through the lens of our own limited experience, and all too often that just isn't the case. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Apr 30, 2013 |
I know this book sounds terribly boring...I mean economics is by far the worst subject anyone could EVER choose to read a book about. But this is fantastic! It has some very interesting theories on the 1990s drop in crime and the dishonest habits of teachers and sumo wrestlers! It also has some very interesting theories on naming a child...and come very interesting names that parents have chosen over the years. For example...who names their child OrangeJello?! ( )
  melissarochelle | Apr 14, 2013 |
Fairly interesting, but pretty lightweight overall. I was entertained for a plane trip and see no reason not to recommend it since it involves a minimal investment of time. It did have that weird sort of vibe that most business books have, like it was written for the Young Adult level reader.
( )
  bongo_x | Apr 6, 2013 |
breezy economics title, often elides over the statistical difficulties of a subject, thought-provoking, but seems to court controversy
  FKarr | Apr 4, 2013 |
This is a great book as long as you're not expecting it to be something it isn't.

Oddly enough, despite the title and the author's claims and profession, it's more about sociology and statistics than about economics. Granted, most of his points have some economic impact but the approach is more of a sociological one.

This is a book full of tidbits of social information and statistics as well as Levitt's take on their implications and causes. None of it is in depth, but there's generally multiple points made about each topic. Some topics are work-safe, others are extremely controversial. There's lots of topics of thought provoking conversation here and much of it is contrary to popular thought and media hype. That, I think, is one of the major reasons the book was/is so popular.

One of it's biggest messages is to not believe everything that you read and/or hear; that there's sometimes other explanations that aren't media friendly or politically viable.

Levitt has a lot of interesting claims and interesting data but I'm not sure I can whole-heartedly and blindly agree with all of his conclusions. Because it's written for a lay-person, there's very little depth to the majority of the discussions. There's little true evidence given to substantiate his claims and very little detail about his methodology and technique. Instead, he states his claims, explores their impact and meaning, then moves on to his next topic.

Presumably, more rigorous proofs exist in the articles mentioned in the notes at the end since those were published for a professional audience, but I would have preferred even just footnotes with more substantial data than "a study showed that..." Actually, most of the chapters has enough interesting information that an in-depth study would probably be book length.

But something that serious and in-depth most likely would never have become the pop-culture phenomenon that this book became 5 years ago. ( )
  Melanti | Mar 30, 2013 |
A fun foray into seemingly dissimilar questions about society, readable
- Cumbersome transitions at times, dismisses other arguments in suspect ways

This was a good-enough non-fiction read, though I think it does illustrate the idea that a bestseller may be appealing without being rigorous. As companion pieces, read Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking; Gladwell addresses some topics in common with Freakonomics and though one may also question his accuracy, he is a better writer.

Accuracy is a bit hard to evaluate here, since the methodology and statistics aren't described. My impression is that there is an over-reliance on correlation and that at times it is confused with causality. In addition, the justification for calling this research "economic" rather than "sociological," for example, seems to be the conversion of what we might understand as "psychological motivation" into "economic incentive." I'm not opposed to this, but when I consider how to design some of these correlational studies from my perspective as a psychologist, I wouldn't do anything different (other than underscore more firmly in my popular reporting that correlation is not causality). I question what appears to be mystique-building on the authors' part in this regard.

Each chapter is preceded by an annoying, self-aggrandizing excerpt about Levitt from one of Dubner's articles. I found these really offputting and was glad to learn that they have been removed from the revised edition, apparently because I was not alone in finding them irksome.

Like all reports of statistics describing a large number of participants, these reports provide, at best, generalizations about how the majority of those surveyed or observed behave (or so I assume--measures of central tendency were not reported, nor was the degree of significance in most cases). As anyone who does not have 2.3 children knows, statistical samples tell us about a fictional person. I remind you of the joke about the three statisticians who go deer-hunting. They spy a magnificent buck and the first statistician exclaims, "It's mine!" BANG! Her bullet goes two yards to the left of the deer. "No, it's mine!" calls the second. BANG! Her bullet goes two yard to the right, and the third statistician yells, "Bullseye!" This book would be more interesting, and more useful, if it told us something about the range and tails of the distribution in each study, giving the reader a better understanding of human experience, or, as our unique and individual experiences are known to statisticians, "error." ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
I liked this just fine - there are some interesting ideas and explorations of data. But I think I would have liked it better if the actual economist had been writing it, because as it is it feels like too much of the crunchy stuff got glossed over and the author spent a lot of time handwaving us along to the conclusion. It makes for a more readable but ultimately less convincing book. Entertaining, though. ( )
  JeremyPreacher | Mar 30, 2013 |
I enjoyed this, and it provided some great food for thought, but I definitely thought it was lacking in some areas. With edgy chapter titles like "How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?", this is obviously a pop piece meant to make a usually boring field accessible to the masses. It does that well, but I would have enjoyed some more in-depth information throughout the book. It seems like the surface is just barely skimmed on most of the topics explored here, and I don't know that the authors always provide ample evidence to back up their views.

Also, it was much shorter than I expected. I read this on my kindle and had a bit of a shock when I reached the epilogue, since the status bar said I was only at 55%! The rest of the book is appendices, excerpts from the authors' blog and newspaper columns, and various other extras -- some interesting, but many just a repeat of what was already in the main text. Annoying. ( )
  agirlnamedfury | Mar 29, 2013 |
Fifty Shades of Grey is a story about a friendship between a couple, Christian and Ana, which quickly evolves into a passionate and sex-filled relationship. Ana is fresh out of college and Christian is a CEO of his company and also one of the richest men in the country. She is an innocent girl that falls for the dreamy, slightly older man. He feels drawn to her even though he doesn’t know why. Christian takes a little bit of her innocence when he introduces her into his Dominant/Submissive sex world. She is shocked to learn this about him, but still feels that he could make her happy. He begins to treat her differently than his past submissives, such as letting her sleep in his bed and introducing her to his parents. Ana then discovers why Christian is the way he is and all his dark secrets from his past. Can she learn to live with them? Can Christian learn that Ana is different and that she may be changing him for the better?
I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t mind reading through descriptive sex scenes but also enjoys getting involved in a complicated and love-filled relationship. I really loved how Christian seemed very mysterious, yet one-sided at the beginning of the story. As the book stretched on, he became a real character and there was so much more that contributed to the person he was. Ana didn’t seem as deep, but throughout the book, she realized different types of love that she felt for Christian. This book was filled with either-or situations. I never knew what was going to happen next, which I loved. I enjoyed the on-the-edge-of-seat feeling and discovering my own ideas on what Ana and Christian should do. I loved deciding whether this loveable, dysfunctional relationship was safe for either of them.

Evan B. ( )
  FolkeB | Mar 13, 2013 |
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