Book Review: Freakonomics

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I was elated when I found this book at the airport in Sweden. A regular reader of their blog, I’ve had my mind on this book for a while; the one copy left at the shop made me feel like it was meant for me.

As the name suggests, it’s about freak(y) economics. It takes the relatively dry subject of economics and sexes it up by using it to explain interesting, most random yet totally valid questions.

For eg: Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? Why do drug dealers live with their mums? Does your name effect your success in life? How crime rates and abortion are directly related…What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? things like this.

It’s written by crazy economist Steven Levitt who in his university days hated calculus and wasn’t particularly clued onto conventional economic theory. But his attention to detail, ability to ask great questions and analyze data in ways that just didn’t occur to others, is what made it all happen. A Harvard graduate and an economics professor at University of Chicago, he was recently listed as one of the ‘100 People Who Shape Our World’ by Time Magazine.

The Freakonomics idea sprouted when Stephen J Dubner, award-winning author and journalist who regularly writes for the NY Times and The New Yorker (and who was first published at the age of 11!), interviewed Levitt for the NY Times. With Levitt’s crazy economic thinking ability and Dubner’s writing expertise – voila, you have the book Freakonomics.

Written in lay man’s language, it’s an easy and intriguing read – and made me go ‘what?!’ more than a few times.

However, the only problem with the book is how it is a bit too disjointed. Filled with lines and lines of fascinating conclusions, as the information intelligently rolls off one after the other, it’s not difficult to wonder how when you were reading about onions, how you are now reading about pig’s ears (metaphorically speaking, of course).

I read most of the chapters with ease and perpetual curiosity, just wanting to know where he is going with his theories, but there was the odd chapter that dragged on way too much, and the odd chapter I skipped after reading a few pages.

It’s written very sincerely though, and its bonus material at the end was my favourite.

The stuff you will read in the book will probably not affect your life in any significant way(as it says); you will not necessarily agree with his analysis, but nor will you be able to challenge it.

But, what it does do, and why it is worth reading, is because it will (as it says) encourage you to challenge conventional wisdom eg what we read every day in newspapers, or hear on the news. It encourages you to use your intuition and instincts to think beyond what you see on the surface, because most of the time what we see or hear, is not necessarily true.

Start off by reading this interview of Levitt by Dubner in the NY Times; it’s a super prelude and summary of the concept of Freakonomics. If you enjoy the interview, you will enjoy the book.

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