Thursday, May 14, 2009

Book Review: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? What about real estate agents and members of the KKK? And the million dollar question - why do drug dealers live with their moms? All the answers to these questions and more can be found in Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Steven Levitt is a rogue economist. As the book explains:

"Many people - including a fair number of his peers--might not recognize Levitt's work as economics at all. But he has merely distilled the so-called dismal science to its most primal aim: explaining how people get what they want. Unlike most academics, he is unafraid of using personal observations and curiosities; he is also unafraid of anecdote and storytelling (but he is afraid of calculus). He is an intuitionist. He sifts through a pile of data to find a story that no one else has found. He figures a way to measure an effect that veteran economists had declared unmeasurable. His abiding interests--though he says he has never trafficked in them himself--are cheating, corruption, and crime."

Levitt poses numerous questions in his book ranging from what makes good parents to what caused the dramatic reduction in crime in the early 1990's. While some of the questions and answers posed make perfect sense, others may leave you with a sorry taste in your mouth. Probably the most controversial aspect of the book is how Levitt attributes the decline in crime in the 1990s to the legalization of abortion. I am kind of sitting on the fence with that one. On one hand, unwanted and neglected children are more likely to turn to a life of crime. At the same time, you can make numbers say anything - which is one of the themes of the book.

Overall, Freakonomics was a very interesting read. I am not usually big on nonfiction. Too dry for my tastes. But, the book kept me interested and engaged from beginning to end. And now I know why drug dealers live with their mothers, so that in itself was worth reading the book for!

Book Information
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 12, 2005
ISBN-13: 978-0061234002
MSRP: $29.95
Format: Trade Paperback
Available from Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble

P.S. I reviewed the first edition of Freakonomics. It has since been revised and updated to cover new topics, clarify some facts and rearrange the chapters.

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