Freakonomics, by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt (2005) K

Date Read: 1.7.07
Book from: Boston Public Library
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Levitt and Dubner explore several unorthodox theories behind crime and parenthood using their own statistics.

Review

I started reading Freakonomics with *a lot* of expectation from all the hype and word of mouth. It was an incredibly short read, and in the end, I felt like I had just finished a really long newspaper article instead of an engrossing book. It was enjoyable, but I really wasn’t impressed. First of all, I expected the concepts and economics to be… deeper? I felt like there wasn’t enough “intellegence” or solid insight to the chapters. Most of the book read like a statistics report, and while statistics were certainly crucial, I felt like the book as a whole was a bit of a cop out, relying on filler reports and less on thoughtful extrapolation.

Freakonomics is often seen as a melding of pop culture and economics. And in support, Levitt and Dubner argued points like how Roe vs. Wade was responsible for the last decade’s decline in crime, that parents actually do not matter in child development, and discussed teaching methods in school using statistics as proof. Basically… it was all fine and dandy to read and enjoy but it was all rather vague and I felt like it was simply another sensationalist story “supported” by statistics which you can never be sure are accurate. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the super skeptical mathematician within me speaking. But don’t get me wrong– it was still a fun read.

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Steven Levitt
Stephen Dubner

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  1. Javier’s avatar

    The sensationalism that comes with social statistics is certainly undeniable, and the presentation of the facts in book form (instead of the same facts on say… cheap tabloid paper) lends it credibility that it may not deserve. Who knows? Maybe I should get a PhD, make a survey and determine that this blog retroactively caused 9/11. Good show.

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  2. Annie’s avatar

    I totally agree! I feel the same way about Malcolm Gladwell’s books– like they’re really interesting while you’re reading them, but afterwards you think about it a little bit and it’s like…. hmmm, this doesn’t actually prove that much.

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  3. Rosalie’s avatar

    This is the only book on your list of reviews that I’ve read so I’m gunna comment ;p

    I loved the book. It basically further cemented my view that things are not always as they seem (the abortion thing, the cleaning up of NYC, basically all the examples he cited), and that’s why we need research: to establish real relationships when our instincts fail.

    I remain skeptical about some of their conclusions (some seem far-fetched and a little forced but I don’t have specific examples since I read this awhile ago)/interpretations, but in general found it so interesting and neat :D I read his blog now regularly and it’s like a lovely mini-dose of freakonomics everyday

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/

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