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Date Read: 6.27.10
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Malcolm Gladwell is a seasoned journalist and a staff writer for the The New Yorker, as evidenced by his tight, logical, and compelling writing. The Tipping Point explores the socioeconomic phenomenon of its namesake, “The Tipping Point,” or the point at which some product, behavior, or idea suddenly becomes a sweeping epidemic in a population. As demonstration, Gladwell explores a variety of fascinating and relatable social processes–   the teenage smoking epidemic, the sudden wildfire popularity of certain products, and the sudden decline in New York City crime– homing in on product, concept, and process development, marketing, and testing. He boils down the process for these phenomena to three common factors, linking together epidemics which we would have otherwise found unrelated.

Not being trained in any field of socioeconomics, I cannot offer insight or criticism into the technical elements of the book. All I can say is that this book provided an incredibly rigorous learning experience for me. Gladwell assumes a reasonably intelligent audience, and lays out his arguments and evidence concisely with appropriate depth. Gladwell lays out the “Law of 150”, a concept that proclaims that 150 is the maximum number of people that work and network together thoroughly and efficiently, and not only uses anecdotes and interviews to support his findings, but even digs a little deeper into anthropological studies on villages that support this law. It was refreshing to see an author work harder than usual to find his evidence and argue so fervently for a claim. And this is not the only case– he uses genetics and psychology to support his case study of teenage smoking, and specific, irrefutable examples of how predicting trends helped the Airwalk campaign.

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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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