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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything [Hardcover]

Steven Levitt , Stephen J. Dubner
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 2005

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much heralded scholar who studies the stuff and riddles of everyday life -- from cheating and crime to sports and child rearing -- and whose conclusions regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. He usually begins with a mountain of data and a simple, unasked question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives -- how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of ... well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and -- if the right questions are asked -- is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.


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From Amazon

Economics is not widely considered to be one of the sexier sciences. The annual Nobel Prize winner in that field never receives as much publicity as his or her compatriots in peace, literature, or physics. But if such slights are based on the notion that economics is dull, or that economists are concerned only with finance itself, Steven D. Levitt will change some minds. In Freakonomics (written with Stephen J. Dubner), Levitt argues that many apparent mysteries of everyday life don't need to be so mysterious: They could be illuminated and made even more fascinating by asking the right questions and drawing connections. For example, Levitt traces the drop in violent crime rates to a drop in violent criminals and, digging further, to the Roe v. Wade decision that preempted the existence of some people who would be born to poverty and hardship. Elsewhere, by analyzing data gathered from innercity Chicago drug-dealing gangs, Levitt outlines a corporate structure much like McDonald's, where the top bosses make great money while scores of underlings make something below minimum wage. And in a section that may alarm or relieve worried parents, Levitt argues that parenting methods don't really matter much and that a backyard swimming pool is much more dangerous than a gun. These enlightening chapters are separated by effusive passages from Dubner's 2003 profile of Levitt in The New York Times Magazine, which led to the book being written. In a book filled with bold logic, such back-patting veers Freakonomics, however briefly, away from what Levitt actually has to say. Although maybe there's a good economic reason for that too, and we're just not getting it yet. --John Moe

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner Answer The Amazon.com Significant Seven

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, author and co-author of this season's bestselling quirky hit, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, graciously answered the Amazon.com Significant Seven questions that we like to run by every author.

Levitt and Dubner answer the Amazon.com Significant Seven questions

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt's search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn't really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it's wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt's controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives, which could make this book a hit. Malcolm Gladwell blurbs that Levitt "has the most interesting mind in America," an invitation Gladwell's own substantial fan base will find hard to resist. 50-city radio campaign. (May 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Anyone living in the United States in the early 1990s and paying even a whisper of attention to the nightly news or a daily paper could be forgiven for having been scared out of his skin. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but /and Light April 27 2005
Format:Hardcover
Calling this a book on economics hasn't scared people away - with the book #3 on the Amazon.com listings and #5 here on .ca, people are clearly buying into the author's quirky insights into the world around us.
Freakonomics is an interesting collection of observations, never conceding to any agenda whatsoever. It's entertaining, but never really takes you anywhere. Personally, I would have hoped that it would at least attempt to spur interest in economics and econometric methods, but in the end it reads more like an episode of Seinfeld - a book about, well, nothing.
It's an easy read, achievable on a single rainy day, and certainly not challenging for the average reader with no economics background. But I would encourage folks who do pick it up to consider the usefulness of the correlation/causality distinction and the methods of analysis beyond the description here. Not many of you will pick up an economics or statistics text because of this, but maybe if there were more books like this which make it interesting and applicable in our daily lives, we would all have a better understanding and appreciation for our strange little world at large.
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Format:Hardcover
This book looks at some every day things in our society with a critical eye and with in mind the principals of economics but in a way that it is accessible to everybody.

I don't think you should necesarilly agree with every opinion therein. For example, he makes a strong argument that the reduction in crime was largely due to legalized abortion. He might be right but there always can be every factor.

If you come out from the book memorizing his conclusions, you've probably lost the point. The analysis is more important than the conclusions although the conclusions.

Some questions he deals with?

1) Why do drug dealers live with their moms? Is a drug francise like McDonalds in some ways?

2) Do real estate agents really have your interest at heart or do they use their "information advantage" to maximize their own profit at some cost to you. Why and how.

3) Are most people honest? The honour system bagel company study.

4) The "innovation" of crack and its impact on society.

5) How one man fought the KKK by using a cartoon on television.

6) Do professionals such as teachers, sumo wrestlers and doctors cheat when the system makes it in their favor to do so? Is it possible to prove it using numbers?

7) Why is violent crime DOWN these days?

8) Does your name have any effect on your success in life?

9) Does money buy votes or does money follow the successful candidates?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff--a must read Aug. 25 2006
Format:Hardcover
This book is more an effect of having integrated a still-to-be-proven scientific theory, within a "pseudo-philosophy" (as for Smith's theories about linking freedom and the innihilation of War with pece and harmony over the World), and ... Thus the later would actually present the later philosphy as a bunch of dogmatic perceptions (neo-darwiinism - nowadays, the whole part about "Natural Selection" is questioned, in light of recent genetical experiments and findings contradicting this specific issue about Darwin's theory). But hey, such a theory really suits those economists who believe in "human categorization" as a mesure to JUGE anyone (normal, that's what they must do for their financial or market analysis)... Many "self-fulfilling" prophecies in the end (setting the stage for making whatever "prophecy" happen), by suggesting some theory with "bold-logic" - perceptions, indirectly encouraging people to act according to it.

Must also recommend the books: ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY and POST OFFICE for "Fiction" books to read. Hey, you don't want to just read the practial stuff, now do you?
Was this review helpful to you?
Format:Hardcover
People are clearly buying into the author's quirky insights into the world around us.
Freakonomics is an interesting collection of observations, never conceding to any agenda whatsoever. It's entertaining, but never really takes you anywhere. Personally, I would have hoped that it would at least attempt to spur interest in economics and econometric methods, but in the end it reads more like an episode of Seinfeld - a book about, well, nothing.
It's an easy read, achievable on a single rainy day, and certainly not challenging for the average reader with no economics background. But I would encourage folks who do pick it up to consider the usefulness of the correlation/causality distinction and the methods of analysis beyond the description here. Not many of you will pick up an economics or statistics text because of this, but maybe if there were more books like this which make it interesting and applicable in our daily lives, we would all have a better understanding and appreciation for our strange little world at large. A great novel to read is by George Kostantinos and his bestseller~The Quest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Freaky March 7 2006
Format:Hardcover
Normally one for some current bestseller or Oprah pick (you know what I’m taking about----“Da Vinci” by Brown or McCrae’s wild and funny “Katzenjammer,” I decided to take a change on this one instead. Glad I did.
This book is pure brain candy. It's material for cocktail parties. And although I can't say I attend many cocktail parties myself, I enjoyed it quite a bit, found myself telling co-workers about it almost every day. Levitt is the brain here, Dubner the writer (not a comment on Dubner's intelligence). Levitt is a heralded economist at the University of Chicago, but an odd sort of economist. Or, at least, an economist who asks odd questions. The authors promise that the book has no unifying theme. And while it does jump seemingly randomly from question to question, there are some lessons to be learned. The most obvious reason why something happens is not always the real reason. In fact, sometimes the real reason doesn't even make the list of possibilities. Or, as is often true in the case studies given, the cause turns out not to be the cause at all, but the effect. What topics do the authors tackle? Not to give too much away, but the reason for the crime drop in the mid 1990s had more to do with Roe v. Wade than innovative police tactics. Sumo wrestling is rigged. And having an African-American may impact a person's success in life. Like I said, random topics, possibly not that useful to most of us, but they sure make for interesting reading. If you’re looking for another book, but want entertainment and/or fiction, try either “Inner Voices, Inner Views” by Kingsbury or the great American novel “Katzenjammer” by Jackson McCrae—both first rate.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good!
Published 1 month ago by Tim
2.0 out of 5 stars No cover
Bought this book, thinking it would have the case around it-it didn't. Looks old and used
Book itself is a great read. Definitely recommend reading it.
Published 22 months ago by amazongirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Freakin Amazing
This is some fun book to read. I enjoyed every page of it, although not as much the grim statistics for the probability of dying in a road accident for a driver versus a... Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2010 by Anastasia Prozorova
4.0 out of 5 stars Freakonomics
I ordered this book as a gift. It arrived in good condition and within a reasonable period of time. I would order from this supplier again.
Published on Oct. 18 2010 by Don
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Entertainment, Questionable Motives!?
To me, the purpose of this book was mere SALES!!! The "research" seems very off and lacks thourough observation under DIFFERENT controlled situations. Read more
Published on Nov. 29 2009 by Wesley Tucker
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not deliver
I got this book b/c of the hype and reviews. Unfortunatly it was a big disappointment. The book kept making statistical conlusions between things that really don't matter. Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2006 by Pashpoops
3.0 out of 5 stars Freakonomics
so i picked up this book after all the rave reviews and read it as i do most books in one sitting. Unfortunately, it didnt deliver..... Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2006 by J. Bhaiji
5.0 out of 5 stars Freaky Economics
Wow, I had no idea what I was getting into when I got this book. Expecting a "dry" and boring tome on economics, I instead got a really, really great read that turned me on to how... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2006 by Joe Schmo
5.0 out of 5 stars Freaky Economics
Wow, I had no idea what I was getting into when I got this book. Expecting a "dry" and boring tome on economics, I instead got a really, really great read that turned me on to how... Read more
Published on Oct. 13 2006 by Jo Schmo
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, unusual and thought-provoking
Freakonomics is broad spectrum, entertaining and more than anything else thought provoking. The questions of the authors may seem unusual at first but they reveal that at first... Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2006 by B. V. Michael
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