Sunday 13 November 2011

Book Review: Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

A book on economics? A book by an economist and a New York Times journalist? A book about random subjects with no specific theme that connects them all? Who would read a book like that?

When Shutterbug Sister recommended this to be, I had to give it a try as she has lent me a few very good books. The cover made me look twice – I wouldn’t have thought books about economics have rappers, glamorous-looking pregnant women or sumo wrestlers on them.

But Freakonomics perspective is different, rather than working with sources and sets of data that tell stories about crime, education or poverty, Levitt compares disparate, almost random seeming sets of data to see what they throw up. So crime figures are compared to abortion rates, the control of information to the rise and fall of the KKK and the names of babies are compared to people’s socioeconomic status.

Levitt starts out by asking a question – why do drug dealers live at home with their mothers if they earn so much? Does the way you raise your child have any impact on their chance of success in life? Dies the name you give have any impact on their chance of success in life?

The book is accessible and easy enough to understand. The narrative is disparate and varied, jumping from sumo’s to crack dealers to the KKK, but it always remains interesting and engaging. The exception is where the books start’s to discuss the authors methodology – how data sets were extracted and what was done to them to find trends and patterns. I suspect anyone without an interest in statistics or research methodology might start to lose patience at this point.

Regardless this is an interesting book that throws up some very surprising findings – most drug dealers don’t actually earn very much, sumo’s might be cheating (absolute blasphemy to the Japanese), the numerous things we break our back doing to raise our children to be successful might not actually make any difference (as a lazy mama, I was rather gleeful at the last one!).

Probably not one I would recommend to everybody, but if you like reading about issues that are current and if you want to read something that will make you sit up and argue (I wasn’t convinced by everything the authors were saying), then this might be for you.

You can see some of the content of the book and other similar topics the authors have explored at the Freakonomics blog here.


  1. There's a second one out too called Superfreakanomics. i thought it was very interesting

  2. Hmm...not sure if I would be able to stomach another one, you read it first and let me know if its any good.