Jennifer's Reviews > SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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's review
Oct 17, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in May, 2010

2 words that describe the book―Freaky Economics (Duh!)

3 characters I met

* Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive, is one of the co-founders of Intellectual Ventures (IV)—an invention company that has come up with a variety of creative and affordable fixes for a variety of problems, ranging from hurricanes (they could literally stop them!) and global warming. It boggled my mind that a group of people like those found at IV exist—and they’ve found solutions for huge problems that are available RIGHT NOW! Learning about why these solutions are not being implemented was fascinating as well as a bit upsetting.

* Allie—a self-made woman who runs her own profitable business, which just happens to be as a $300 an hour prostitute. We meet Allie in the chapter on the economics of prostitution, which explains (among other things) why oral sex got so cheap. (During this particular chapter, you could be forgiven for thinking “Would being a prostitute really be such a bad job?” But, as you read on, you’ll quickly be relieved of this idea.)

* Keith Chen, an associate professor of economics at Yale, who attempted to find out “What would happen if I could teach a bunch of monkeys to use money?” What he finds is fascinating—and allowed Chen to have the distinction of seeing the “first instance of monkey prostitution in the recorded history of science.” I TOLD you this book was about freaky economics!

4 things I liked or disliked about the book

* I was a huge fan of the first Freakonomics book so when I saw there was a follow-up, I knew I had to read it. As with the first book, Superfreakonomics is packed with interesting information. However, I found it to be more scattered and less cohesive than the first book. At times, it was hard to remember that this book had anything at all to do with economics. It often felt more like a “check out the weird research this guy did!” Yet I’d still recommend it. As far as economics books go, you won’t find many that are more accessible or engaging.

* I liked how the topics ranged all over the place. Consider this partial list of topics covered in the book: the perils of walking drunk, prostitution, the male-female wage gap, the worst month to have a baby, the trickle down effects of September 11th, telling a good doctor from a bad one, how to postpone death, the Kitty Genovese murder, the roots of altruism, kidney donation in Iran, the Endangered Species Act, dead whales, the history of seatbelts, hurricanes, global warming, the Club versus LoJack, why hand washing matters, and (of course) monkey prostitution.

* Although I liked the wide range of topics covered, this did result in a scattershot feeling. Lots of stuff is discussed, but the text jumps from one to the other so quickly that I had a hard time remembering what I was reading or had read. In fact, going back to write this review some months after reading this book, I kept thinking to myself “I don’t really remember that. They talked about kidney donation in Iran? Oh yeah … that was interesting. Kitty Genovese? Who was that? Oh…that’s right. Now I remember.” Yet, despite this flaw, it was still a fast and interesting read.

* Of all the things I read about in this book, the one that made me crazy was that there are solutions for major problems that could be implemented RIGHT NOW but aren’t due to a variety of political and economic reasons. I’m sure residents of Florida, Louisiana and other areas plagued by hurricanes would be quite interested in learning about the low-tech, low-cost technology that could potentially prevent hurricanes from forming and wreaking havoc.

5 stars or less for my rating:

I’m giving the book 4 stars. Just like the first Freakonomics book, this book was a fast-paced and interesting read. If you detest economics and couldn’t imagine voluntarily reading a book about economics, I’m here to tell you should make an exception for this series. Although the book felt a bit scattered and less focused than the first book, I’d still recommend it. If you’re a fan of accessible non-fiction, this book is a must read. And, if you have the misguided idea that non-fiction books are boring or dry, this book will change your mind. I mean, it talks about MONKEY PROSTITUTION!

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