Freakonomics is a literary juggernaut that changed the face of popular science when it first released in 2005. Written by the award-winning economist Steven Levitt and the New Yorker journalist Stephen Dubner, the book looks at unconventional economic concerns and addresses them through a quirky lens.
What Freakonomics essentially does is distill years of academic research by Levitt into digestible units whose statistics based conclusions stay with the reader for years to come. If the numbers for the book comes from Levitt, all credit for the words go to Dubner who keeps the tone of the writing snazzy & sharp and in a departure from similar works, never looks down on the reader in condescension.
The book’s sub-heading calls Levitt a rogue economist. A provocative title, Levitt earned the moniker from years of experience looking into avenues of economics largely ignored or looked down upon in premier academic circles – child-rearing, sports, teacher cheating, and crime – and then drawing conclusions that conventional economists have derided as distasteful, simplistic or just plain wrong.
The insight shared at the beginning of the book is just that all actions or motivations by individuals are driven by incentives. The authors go on to argue that given the right incentives they can convince any individual to pursue a particular course of action. Levitt and Dubner take this premise and applies it across a range of subjects including the relative safety of guns and swimming pools, commonalities between school teachers and sumo wrestlers, the working mechanisms of crack gangs and so much more. The Freak-quel, titled SuperFreakonomics embraces even more esoteric topics such as patriotic prostitutes and life insurance for terrorists.
My favorite section of the book was the Q and A, where select questions from their readers and the authors’ responses are recorded. Crisp, witty and funny, it truly encapsulates everything that makes this book the tour-de-force it is.