Friday, July 08, 2005

Booknote: _Freakonomics_

Steven D. Levitt's analysis and insights on various statistics are compelling, interesting, and well explained. In Freakonomics (William Morrow, 2005), he teams up with journalist Stephen J. Dubner to illustrate what teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, why drug dealers live with their mothers, and he asks whether or not a name makes a difference in employment. The authors challenge common wisdom to provide some very revealing insights. The strength of the book for me was the fact that the authors take the time to explain how they come up with the conclusions. For instance, in explaining the decline in the crime rates during the 1990s, he takes the common wisdom reasons and debunks them one at a time. He then makes an interesting connection to what seems an unrelated event (the Roe v. Wade decision). I warn that some readers may not like the conclusion, but the argument Levitt makes is both compelling and clearly explained. The chapter on parenting is very enlightening. All that obssessing over kids does not make a difference. Read the book and find out what does make a difference in raising a good child. This book will make people at least stop and think about how they see things. I highly recommend it; this is not your average book written by an economist. It has a good pace; it is fairly easy to read, and it will go fast. I guarantee readers will learn a few things, and they will likely come from the experience asking more questions. In between the chapters, there are quoted passages from a previous interview that the New York Times Magazine did with Professor Levitt, which adds a bit more insight into him. The book does include notes at the end for readers who wish to verify some of the information. I can definitely see why this book has been a bestseller. It is well written, and it tells a compelling story. Some readers complain that the narratives are not connected, that the professor presents various separate events. I think that is not really an issue because the book is so engaging that readers will not notice this. The book shows an intuitive scholar who asks various questions and then seeks for answers. "Steven Levitt may not fully belive in himself, but he does believe in this: teachers and criminals and real-estate agents may lie, and politicians, and even CIA analysts. But numbers don't" (from the NYT Magazine interview, quoted in the book). He proves that in this book. Readers who enjoy nonfiction will likely enjoy this book; if you are reader who would not pick up a book about economics, this is the book for you.

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