Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hooked on Books: Freakonomics


A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

By Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

In between all the silly things happening in my life, I enjoy reading. My most recent read is Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. My husband somehow heard about this book and was reading it while we were in Chicago. I finished my book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, during the plane ride back from Chicago. Danny, who can sleep anywhere, was believe it or not, asleep. Out of boredom I borrowed Freakonomics and soon found myself sucked into the hidden side of everything.

The mastermind behind Freakonomics is Levitt. He is an economics professor at the University of Chicago. While Levitt asks questions and interprets numbers, Dubner bundles the data up into the easy to read package that is Freakonomics.

Most people associate economics with supply, demand, and money. Levitt, being the creative man that he is, believes that with the right set of data, economics can be applied to random questions about our world. The answers to many of these questions are quite surprising and sometimes controversial.

What type of questions you ask? Levitt covers everything from, “What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?” to “Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?” One of Levitt’s more controversial answers to his question, “Where has all the crime gone?” links legalized abortion to a decrease in crime during the 1990s.

A question that interested me greatly was whether an infant’s name can determine his destiny. After all I am a Jessica, one of the most popular names in the 1980s. Luckily (or unluckily?) the answer is no. My name will not determine my success in life, but according to Levitt it is likely to be a signal of my parent’s expectations for my life. I’m pretty sure my parent’s had high expectations for me and I’m okay with that, in fact I think it would be rather sad if a parent had low expectations for their child. Now if only I can keep my brains yet have Jessica Simpson’s salary or Jessica Alba’s…for that matter Jessica Biel’s would be fine too.

Levitt has been criticized by many of his fellow economists saying that his work has nothing to do with economics. Dubner points out that Levitt is merely simplifying economics and applying it toward things other than money. He explains how people try to get what they want and matters of cause and effect.

I would try to describe a general theme to the book, except there isn’t one. The authors even admit this at the end of the book. Freakonomics does turn conventional wisdom on its head. It looks at matters of cheating, corruption, and crime and discovers some interesting answers. Although I don’t think Freakonomics has changed my life dramatically, it has got me thinking a bit differently and taught me to not always accept everything at face value. These are two notions that people could probably benefit from. So go out and read Freakonomics; at the very least you will discover some interesting facts.


  1. Sounds very interesting--a little applied economics to everything in the world--go figure. Does he give any interesting info on winning the lotto?

  2. No lotto info, but in the bonus matter at the end, he discusses cheating on your taxes...
    He has a second book SuperFreakonomics. I'll have to read it and see if there are any lotto winning tips.