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Brief Book Review: Freakonomics

A lot of time on airplanes and in hotel rooms allowed me to plow through Freakonomics, a book that you’ve probably already heard of by now. Maybe you’re still wondering, “Should I read it?” I would answer, “Yes.”

For starters, it’s brief. You can probably get through it in 2 hours, 3 hours tops. Nice big type and easy language.

Also, it addresses a fundamental theme — conventional wisdom is often unwise. Levitt (the economist) applies smart analysis of data to uncover how things really work. Perhaps the starkest example concerns violent crime. In the 90s, violent crime rates plummeted (contrary to many doomsaying predictions in the early 90s). “Experts” cited a whole range of reasons, from a healthy economy, to innovative policing strategies. However, when you probed the data, there was little to no substance to those reasons. There was an extremely powerful reason, one that was never cited — the Supreme Court decision, in Roe v. Wade, that legalized abortion in all 50 states. Easier access to abortions means fewer unwanted children which means fewer violent criminals.

Utilizing a rigorous analytical framework to uncover what lies behind everyday things is important, and, if nothing else, the book makes a strong case for it.

Something else I *reallllly* like about the book — no attempt at tying together the stories into a grand unified theme. In recent tomes, both Gladwell and Surowiecki annoyed me with their hamfisted attempts at seeming smarter than they are, by presenting grand theories that don’t really hold water. Levitt, to his credit, is an academic, one who understands that theories should not be taken lightly.

The only thing I really didn’t like about the book is its stupid stupid title. Perhaps it’s helping move copies, but it’s SO ugly.

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