Edward's Reviews > Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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's review
Aug 12, 10

bookshelves: nonfiction
Read from May 23 to June 01, 2010

I thought I had read this book until I started talking to someone who had. I’d read so many reviews, commentaries, and posts on the author’s blog that I must have reached a “book level” comprehension. That says a lot about Freakonomics’ influence and popularity.

I was always interested in exploring “...the hidden side of everything...” as the book’s subtitle puts it. For me this started at a young age reading Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and continuing through Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story. I found great delight in breaking down the world’s facade and finding gems of misinformation and hypocrisy.

Some of those stories, such as the probable cause of the sinking of the Maine, led me to investigate further and learn real stuff in a fun way, such as the history of the Spanish-American War. Elsewhere, some stories turned out to be “imagined” true stories. There are no secrets or codes in the Bible or in UFO sightings.

I learned to trust the scientific method and find reality in math. I was shocked to learn statistics and graphs could “lie” and that scientists could misrepresent their findings. Furthermore, the truth can set you free but it can also lead to arguments, denials, rejection, and self-doubt. I became a happy but cautious skeptic. So I was well prepared to finally read Freakonomics. My cup of tea, as the saying goes.

Believe It or Not!: A pool in your backyard is more likely to kill a child than the gun you keep in your house.

The Rest of the Story: This law and order mayor fired his Police Chief for succeeding too well and it was his predecessor who actually hired the extra police he took credit for. Rudolph Giuliani, NY City

I checked out the story about Stetson Kennedy and how he used a radio serial to ridicule and defeat the KKK.

Levitt’s use of math and statistics is readable and appropriate to the non-academic level of discourse. A true economist with an ax to grind could probably fault every assertion.

Some of his conclusions were just plain logical and many I’d heard before. A lot just didn’t matter to me, but some of those made me think.

He reinforced some of what I thought were my own skeptical believes or observations. Yes, someone whose job 40 hours a week for many years, trained by a successful mentor, backed by vast amounts of accumulated data and knowledge, will totally manipulate you no matter who else you talked too or what you read. Think real estate, insurance, automotive, government, anything, even physical labor. When you go head to head on their turf and they care even a little bit, you lose. It works to their advantage even more if you think you know something about the subject. While it’s true, as he notes, that the internet is a great knowledge equalizer, even the manipulators use it now and once past the “low hanging fruit” it still takes a lot of time and knowledge to compete. Car prices and insurance rates: easy. Having an accident and determining if you’re being treated fairly, and what to do and say, or not do and say, in your particular situation: difficult if not impossible.

A few less "Who cares?" subjects (of course, that's subjective) and some more thought on some other subjects would have earned 5 stars for Freakonomics. Besides how can a skeptic like me accept everything anyone says?

The biggest thing I learned from Freakonomics was the idea that morality is how we want the world to act and economics is how it actually works. Adam Smith, the founder of economics, was a philosopher and moralist. I thought economics was dry, money driven, and full of unprovable theories but its concepts of economic, social, and moral incentives are useful and understandable.

Glad I finally read the book. I’m looking forward to the next one and to reading more like it.

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