Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: FREAKONOMICS by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that my personal reading for the last few weeks has had to take a backseat to my homework.  Luckily for me, I get to combine personal reading and academic reading this week!  

I actually have read Freakonomics three times now.  The first time was for fun.  The second was for my book club.  And now the third is for a book review for my finance class.  It was the only book on the list of 25 that I had already read, and I didn’t want to have to read something dry if I didn’t have to.  This third reading was really more of a skim, but it counts.) 

Anyway, Freakonomics is a fascinating book that will make even math-adverse people like myself feel smart.  The basic idea of Freakonomics lies in economist Steven Levitt’s belief that economic theory isn’t just for the financial world, but can be applied to the everyday problems of life.  Do realtors really get you the best deal they can when selling your home?  What do bagels in an office lunchroom teach about white collar crime?  How does “No Child Left Behind” encourage teachers to cheat the standardized testing system?  How can an ethnic name influence a person’s job prospects?  Virtually any situation where accurate data is recorded can use economic principles to solve its problems. 

Sound boring?  Trust me…this book is anything but boring.  And you do not have to know anything about economics going in to reading it.  The authors also do not stuff a bunch of mathematical equations down your neck.  The focus is on the cause an effects of certain situations and what they mean.  For example, in the early 1990’s, the crime rate was raising at an alarming rate.  Law enforcement and politicians were in a panic over what how to handle it.  Then, out of the blue, the crime rate started to fall without cause.  Law enforcement and politicians took the credit for it, but the real reason the crime rate fell had to do with something seemingly unrelated—Roe v. Wade.  It seems criminals who largely come from poor, disadvantaged backgrounds were just not being born due to the legalization of abortion.  (DISCLAIMER:  This is not a comment on the morality of abortion.  Purely an observation made in the book.  I don’t want to get into it with anyone.)  This is just one example of the interesting examples studied.  If you want a break from fiction, give this a shot.

Overall, I give Freakonomics…

Innovative Ideas – 5 bookmarks
Accessibility – 4 bookmarks (Most adults should not have any problem following along.)
Likelihood I will read the sequel Super Freakonomics – 4 bookmarks (I’ll definitely get to it eventually.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – There are no characters, but in the section where they talked about Sudhir Venkatesh—the sociology student who gained open access to the financials of a drug lord—I couldn’t help but picture the dude who plays Zaboo on “The Guild.”

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