Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Freakonomics – Levitt & Dubner (Book Review 004)

ISBN: 006073132X

Tagline: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

I had completed reading Freakonomics over a month ago and was pretty much glued to it then. However, now that I have decided to pick up The world is flat and a few Malcolm Gladwell’s books, I thought that I should finish this book’s review so that I do not mix things up.

About the authors

I am not an avid reader, probably that’s why I may have not read any thing else from *any* of these authors, ever before. Freakonomics has been authored by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Steven D. Levitt has done his PhD (I guess in economics) from MIT, teaches economics at the University of Chicago and is the winner of American Economic Association’s John Bates Clark Medal, awarded every two years to the best American economist under forty.

Stephen J. Dubner writes for The New York Times and the New Yorker, and is the best selling author of Turbulent Souls and Confessions of a Hero-Worshipper.

Unlike many other economists, who cover stuff like economic growth, GDP, inflation, demand and supply etc and bore you with a load of math, Levitt’s work is based on riddles of every day life. Riddles that atleast I have never even imagined. Levitt believes that economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions.

Freakonomics

I found it a little difficult to write a review for this book and I don’t exactly know why. My problem was that I did not know how to start it. It has answered such varied, complex and seemingly irrelevant questions in such a simple manner that I was spell-bounded by it.

Why did the crime graph in U.S. nose-dive when everyone predicted that it’s going to rise and become horrific? Levitt has an answer that seems all encompassing and the most appropriate. I was so impressed by his startling answer that I could readily apply it to the situation in India as well but in a slightly different manner. It was so intriguing but simple that I could associate it with Malthus's essays on population and realized how bad it can get for India.

In modern world, we have an expert for every thing and always prefer to employ their services to get our work done. For example, if you want to invest in stock market or get your money growing, you may seek advice from an investment expert. If you wish to buy a house or a land, you seek advice from a local real estate agent and perhaps even hire the agent or a broker to sell/ buy stuff. Levitt in this book shows that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication and deceit, is not impenetrable. The authors expose the game of deceit played by real estate agents to make quick money, in this book.

Using collected sets of data and analytical approach, Levitt exposes the dark side of school teachers and Sumo wrestlers. If you think how can Sumo Wrestlers and School teachers be related or analyzed by the same approach, you got to read this book. In the chapter on drug dealers, Levitt actually uses the financial data of a crack (tiny rocks of cheap smokeable cocaine) dealing gang to reveal startling facts about these gangs that a common man would have never been able to learn. He also writes about the affect the crack dealing business has had on the literacy levels and demographic parameters of the African-American population.

Other chapters cover topics like crime, parenting, names of people etc pose and answer a number of questions like Why the 1960s were a great time to be a criminal? Why capital punishment doesn’t deter criminals? What is the reason for extreme crime reduction in certain states when compared to others? Why parenting experts like to scare parent to death? Which is more dangerous: a gun or a swimming pool?

After I completed this book I was left craving for more. I want to read more of such stuff, more such questions and their answers. I would love to read a Freakonomics 2 with more intriguing riddles and their answers. This book is fun to read and I recommend you try it if you haven’t already.

2 Comments:

John said...

I'd be interested to hear a compare & contrast w. "The Tipping Point," once you get done w/ that.... Different approaches to similar material?

Vivek Sanghi said...

Hello John,

Thanks for stopping by. Will be picking up "The tipping point" in a few days. stay tuned :)

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