Sunday, November 17, 2013

Non-Fiction Review: Freakonomics

"Freakonomics" is at the heart of everything we see and do and the subjects that bedevil us daily: from parenting to crime, sport to politics, fat to cheating, fear to traffic jams. Asking provocative and profound questions about human motivation and contemporary living and reaching some astonishing conclusions, "Freakonomics" will make you see the familiar world through a completely original lens

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Levitt, Steven D. & Dubner, Stephen J. (2005). [Genre: Pop-economics] 

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Freakonomics has been in my to-read pile for almost five years!! It was getting a little ridiculous. So I'm glad that the TBR challenge made me finally get around to it. I was half impressed by what I read, but I have to admit, half dissapointed as well. 

On the one hand, the academic work behind Freakonomics is incredible. Levitt is certainly not the typical economist and his imaginative take on what (in my experience) can be a very dry science is great fun. I especially enjoyed the breakdown of the economics behind drug dealing, explaining why if drug dealing is so lucrative so many drug dealers still live with their parents. The exploration of abortion and its links to crime rates was also compelling, if controversial. There is certainly a good case made in this book for economic theory to be applied more widely than it currently is. 

Where Freakonomics fell down for me was on two fronts. It became obvious shortly into the book that the content was not based on original research. It is a simplified retelling of Levitt's academic work, often in collaboration with others. Though there is nothing wrong with this on the surface, it meant that I felt cheated of the real data in places. It was almost over simplified. I felt myself wanting to get hold of Levitt's academic publications, so I could get the full picture rather than a bite sized summary. Levitt and Dubner are very careful to give credit to Levitt's collaborators, but I still also sometimes wished that I could hear about the topic from the collaborators perspective, rather than them becoming a 'character' in the tales that Dubner (very competently) spins.

The other problem for me was the books layout and length. I read the paperback edition, which contained various supplementary material (posts from the Freakonomics blog, defence of their position on abortion and crime rates etc), but it still weighed in at under 300 pages. Each chapter, all on a different topic, is truly 'bite sized.' Once again, I often felt I just wasn't getting enough. Perhaps this is because I come from an academic background? Perhaps it was just to pop-science for me? I admit, the most gratifying part of Freakonomics was the supplementary chapter that was directly extracted from one of Levitt's academic papers. 

Overall? 2.5/5 stars. It was interesting reading, but to much over-simplification stopped it from being truly compelling.

Freakonomics is my 12th finish for 2013's TBR Challenge hosted over at Roof Beam Reader! See my whole list here


1 comment:

  1. I remember enjoying reading this, but it was also some of the first pop science I'd read. These days, I do often feel that authors have dumbed things down too much and I wonder if I'd feel the same way about this one if I went back to it. It certainly was interesting to see the creative questions he asked! The thing about drug dealers living at home for example is something that strikes me as a media stereotype that most of us don't think to question, but when he points it out, it's obvious that something is wrong with our assumptions.