freakonomics

Another book I read while sick last week was Freakonomics by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. I read this basically in one evening (with maybe ten pages leftover for the next day). I have had this on my to-read list for a long time, and picked it up for just a couple bucks at the Half-Price Books Labor Day sale last weekend. I like occasionally listening to the podcast on my walks to work. I had watched the 2010 documentary a few months ago on Netflix, so I already knew most of what is covered in Freakonomics.

Freakonomics feels more like an introduction to sociology and econometrics than economics to me. Merely an introduction because it takes a look at the data behind a few very specific topics, but only scratches the surface. From the start, it ambiguously claims no unifying message. Some of the connections between things are reaching (crack cocaine and nylon pantyhose, for example). Dubner’s idolized praise of Levitt in each chapter intro was unnecessary and didn’t serve a productive purpose. I think this is a rare case where the film was better than the book. However, some of the chapters stood out to me: drug dealer hierarchy and its similarity to corporate capitalism, the KKK chapter (more the historical account than the relation to real estate agents… again a stretch, I think), and the controversial discussion of legal abortion and lower crime rates, using 1960s Romania under communist dictator Ceaușescu’s rule as its reference point. This section was especially thought provoking, considering the highly charged women’s health rights battle waging in United States today. (I also liked the little “lightbulb” moment I had with my recent read about this part of history—Burying the Typewriter. That’s a tangible connection I can get behind!)

I enjoyed the book for its entertainment value, which is strong—lots of food for thought. It does incite curiosity and interest in finding obscure connections in our everyday society. But It just felt a little bit ADD to me. Because of the authors’ casual nature in conveying arguments through statistics and numbers, I tried to read with a grain of salt. Great little quick read but not to be taken too seriously, in my opinion. Light nerd-brain candy. I would probably read the sequel, SuperFreakonomics, if it came my way for free or cheap.

Read from September 6 to 7, 2012.