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

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt
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M 50x66
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did not like it
bookshelves: candy, economics

This was an interesting book. I say it was interesting because I started liking it (a lot) when I first read it, as time passed I liked it less and less. In that way I call it a candy book, tastes good at first but leaves you worse off for reading it.

In my opinion, there are two problems with the book: First, Stephen Dubner comes across as a sycophant. Way to much of the book is spent praising Levitt. Secondly, I was disappointed in the lack of detail provided about Livitt's hypothesis. I wanted more. It was like reading War and Peace and discovering that you read the abridged version and in fact the book wasn't 100 pages long. This disappointment may have come from my engineering background and my strong desire to really understand economics. This book didn't offer any of that, only a titillating glimpse of the economics.

In some regards one may think my single start rating is to harsh. As mind candy this book was quite good. I did enjoy reading it at the time. Whats more, it did encourage me to study real economics. I am currently enrolled in a masters program in economics and this book did play a very small roll in that decision process. However, as I learn more about economics I realize how shallow the book in fact was.

While this is not the forum for a comprehensive review of the topics presented in the book, or an analysis of how good the economics in Freekanomics are, a review in "Journal of Economic Literature (Vol XLV, Dec. 2007 pp 973)" quotes Livitt as saying: "There is no question I have written some ridiculous papers." The article then goes on to quote a paper by Noam Scheibler(2007) describing Livitt's comparing some of his papers to the fashion industry. "Sometimes you write papers and they're less about the actual result, more about your vision of how you think the profession should be. And so I think some of my most ridiculous papers actually fall in the high-fashion category."

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
February 23, 2008 – Shelved
February 24, 2008 – Shelved as: candy
February 24, 2008 – Shelved as: economics

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)

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message 1: by Rachel (new) - added it

Rachel "Stephen Dubner comes across as a sycophant. Way to much of the book is spent praising Levitt."

Thank you! I had exactly that reaction, but hadn't read any other reviews to see if it was just me. Well said.


Shawnyboy I agree with you completely, Jim. Not only did the authors not expand on their ideas nearly enough, but they also had some pretty ridiculous ideas to begin with. A whole chapter based on the question, why do crack dealers live with their moms, when their supposed to be rich?

Who, in their right mind, thinks that cracks dealers are rich and glamorous (as the authors state in this book). Crack dealers live with their moms because they are scum of the earth. Simple as that.


Michael They don't live with their mothers because they're the scum of the earth, they live with their mothers because they can't afford to live on their own. They may be scum, and they may live with their mothers, but one has nothing to do with the other. That is a great example of not understanding the difference between a correlation and a cause, which, if you had understood what you were reading, was one of the primary purposes of why the book was written. You completely missed it.

To the reviewer, I appreciated your points more, however it seems like you rated it 1 star more because you had different expectations, rather than because you dislike what you were reading. This wasn't a book about economics, it was a book about critical thinking, something at which far too few people are skilled.


Shawnyboy Michael, I understood perfectly what I was reading, thank you very much.

The whole premise of the authors thesis on crack dealers is that they (crack dealers) are perceived as "glamorous". My point is that they are not perceived that way at all. Therefore, the authors are completely misguided in their attempts to explain why crack dealers are actually poor, when they are regarded as rich and glamorous. How do you not see the flaw in that theory?

When you read the book, were you blown away by the "revelations" that crack dealers live with their mothers? I certainly was not. And that is my entire point.

Also, crack dealers make a living off of other people's misery. That makes them scum of the earth. The "proffession" that they have chosen is not a lucrative one but it is one that makes me consider them "scum". Their proffession makes it so that they can not afford to move out of their mother's house and makes them scum of the earth at the same time. Therefore, they live with their mothers because they are scum of the earth. If they chose a different lifestyle, they would cease to be scum of the earth and would have a better chance of moving out of their mother's house.

Perhaps it's you who lacks in critical thinking?


Michael Good grief. You arguing this so fervently made me go back and re-read that chapter, wondering if perhaps I really was missing something. But no, I still think you missed the point, which was not to shock people into the revelation that drug dealers still live at home. I mean, the title of the chapter was "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?" Key word there being WHY. That alone makes it clear we are past the point of being surprised they live at home.

But first, to your argument: To put it simply, there are plenty of scum who don't still live with their mothers, and plenty of good quality people who do. Even in this case, one has nothing to do with the other. Your logic, while pieced together cleverly, is not really relevant and more importantly is completely off the point of the book.

I think perhaps you missed that this was based on the “conventional wisdom” of the 90's? It was talking about how it was presented in the media, in movies, by the police. The conventional wisdom certainly was that drug dealing was one of the most profitable professions in the inner city. And once again, the point of the question wasn't about how drug dealers were actually broke and living with their mothers, it was another example of how quickly we as a society (maybe not you, because you're so smart), come to conclusions on information that is not accurate, complete, or relevant. In other words, disproving conventional wisdom by using real data.

I personally gave this book a good review (in which I also confess that critical thinking is not something I exercise enough of myself) because I thought it did a good job of pointing out how we often make judgments and decisions based on inadequate, incomplete, or inaccurate information, and how we then feel so righteous about those decisions. It’s the definition of prejudice, except we don’t even realize we are prejudiced. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can appreciate the value of a book like this if you go into it without being willing to let go of your prejudices.

Forgive me if I'm speaking out of turn, but your comment made it seem that your intense hatred of drug dealers (which I have no problem with) clouded your ability to understand the message of the book in general. Your follow-up comment reinforces that perspective, as you continue to rail against drug dealers (again, no disagreements with your sentiments), rather than look objectively at what the authors were trying to share.

And your final comment, whether true or not, is definitely irrelevant to the point of the review. You're like a TV lawyer discrediting a witness in an attempt to distract from key information they want people to ignore. But it's ok, I can take it.


message 6: by Shawnyboy (last edited Mar 10, 2011 08:18AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Shawnyboy Michael,

I'll let the scumbag argument go, you win on that one. My "intense hatred" of crack dealers is not really as intense as it came across! Just trying to prove a point.

To the point about conventional wisdom. I fully disaree with the author's case that conventional wisdom was that dealing crack was a lucrative profession (in the inner city or otherwise). I don't agree that the media, police, etc.. portrayed them that way. I lived through the nineties and I have never seen a crack dealer on the street and thought "what a rich and glamorous job". The same goes for any of my peers that I've spoken to. That's where the theory lost all credibility with me. Yes, the title of the chapter was "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?" but the secondary protion of that question was "when their profession is supposed to be a rich and glamorous one" (or something to that effect, I borrowed the book from the library so I can't reference it specifically). Sure, the upper echelons of drug dealers were living glamorous lifestyles a la Pablo Escobar, but they were the exception, not the norm. Without the "when" portion of the question, the "why" is irrelevant. If it's common knowledge that crack dealers aren't rich and glamorous, then it's not even remotely surprising that the reason they live with their mothers is that they can't afford to move out...hence why I found that chapter of the book to be extremely obvious and futile in it's point.

The very title of the book is "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything". So, I expected to read a book that would open my mind to facts that had been right under my nose that I had just failed to notice previously. And I think the book failed in that regard.

Take another example; the section on real estate agents. Did you find it enlightening to find out that real estate agents kept their houses on the market for a few weeks longer than they did for their clients' houses? I certainly did not. And that had nothing to do with me being "so smart". It had everything to do with the fact that I have bought and sold a couple of houses through the services of a real estate agent. By applying some fifth grade math percentages to the information that the real estate agent provided to me about their commission, I was able to figure out that selling my house for $10K more (by keeping it on the market for a couple of extra weeks) would only result in a couple of hundred dollars' increase in the agent's commission. Then again, the same could be said for any salesperson working on a commission. The longer that they have to work to make a sale, the less valuable that sale becomes to them. Again, the book failed to show me the "hidden side" of real estate transactions, as the publishers claimed that it would.

Maybe I'm the wrong demographic for this book. Maybe a lot of the topics covered here are more obvious to those in an older demographic. I found the book made some good, quirky points at times but never really "freaked me out", as the title of the book indicated it would. And, in the end, I felt let down by it overall. Your assumption that I didn't like the book because I simply didn't understand it is way off base.

I've read other books in a similar vein and have enjoyed them much, much more. Have you read anything by Malcolm Gladwell? I read "Outliers" a couple of years ago and I found that he did a much better "job of pointing out how we often make judgments and decisions based on inadequate, incomplete, or inaccurate information". Yes, I realize that Gladwell endorsed Freakonomics. That was one of the reasons why I picked up the book in the first place. However, I disagree with endorsement.


Oliver Actually shawnyboy, big time crack dealers are perceived as having glamours lifestyles. Many people believe that they have tons of money to spend so they lucratively spend it on women, jewelry and more drugs. So you're wrong. The chapter title is perfectly relevant.


David I both agree and disagree with you. This isn't a textbook to teach economics, period. As an engineer I'm sure you were looking for the nuts and bolts of economics and for sure this book isn't it.

This is pop-economics for the lay person to help them see angles they haven't seen before.


Richard I think David's comment hits the mark, this book is not aimed at economists, it's supposed to pique your interest and get you thinking, and to review your opinion based on your new perspective is flawed. It's similar to an adult, upon re-reading the Mr. Men books, claiming that they are full of plot holes and logical inconsistencies.


Alyssa Miller the crack dealer part of this book was almost racist, really... read like a bunch of rich white guys who have no idea what they're implying is offensive.. that, and they added no new knowledge to the table, like much of this book. I'm surprised its still on the shelves at Barnes and Noble today, I figured the hype around it would have died once people actually started purchasing this book and reading it.


Stephen Costello Jim, I couldn't have said it better.


Fernando Plascencia The problem, in my opinion, is that it's too shallow but very specific.
The hidden side of the things this book talks about is not that hidden and not so interesting for me


Fernando Plascencia The problem, in my opinion, is that it's too shallow but very specific.
The hidden side of the things this book talks about is not that hidden and not so interesting for me


message 14: by John (last edited Jan 25, 2014 01:51PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

John To be fair, there is the popular stereotype that anyone and everyone involved in the illegal drug industry makes tons of money. The only way this stereotype can be dispelled is enough people get some personal knowledge and insight into the drug trade, or, listen to someone that has personal knowledge, such as the authors of this book. I've known for most of my short life that the "street level" drug dealers that sell drugs to passers-by don't make much money; the vast wealth of the drug business is lies more at the importation/wholesale level than the street level. Then again, that's not household knowledge.


message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Wright The book really isn't about economics. The authors seek to understand and, most importantly, help us understand. It's like an educational book over anything else. It's different. It is special. Even if it may not be the best, which I think it is, (however I lack enough experience to say so yet) I strongly believe it does not deserve one star.


Jason Carr If you wanted more academic details the Notes section is comprehensive and detailed. For example, there must be at least eight peer-reviewed journal articles supporting pages 124-32 of the book alone.

Read those articles and then come back and talk to me about Levitt's shallow analysis.

I have a M.S. in Economics and I love all the Freakonomics books and pod casts. I am not impressed with the specious elitist criticism of this fascinating book.


Jason Carr If you wanted more academic details the Notes section is comprehensive and detailed. For example, there must be at least eight peer-reviewed journal articles supporting pages 124-32 of the book alone.

Read those articles and then come back and talk to me about Levitt's shallow analysis.

I have a M.S. in Economics and I love all the Freakonomics books and pod casts. I am not impressed with the specious elitist criticism of this fascinating book.


Amanda Freakonomics was great I strongly suggest you to


ELIZABETH DURAN Go on


ᴡᴡᴡ.Cassandra_Lê.18sexy.pw Hi, very interesting review. If you consider this book as shallow for economics, what book would you suggest for a beginner who are interested in studying economics? I really like to delve into the subject but I don't know where to start.


Artem R u nuts? Why would anybody read it more then ones? It is not a book on economics. It states so in the very beginning. This is just fun with some interesting facts. I doubt u guys need to learn economics if you can't figure that out... Cheers.


message 22: by Josh (new)

Josh Goldman Hi Jim,
Thanks for an interesting review; I found it while I was considering reading the book.

I wonder about the last point though, based on JOEL, that Levitt admitted to authoring ridiculous papers and that some of his material might be unconcerned with a result.

This got me to thinking about your intention in this comment, which I admit is 9 years old; did you find a lack of careful analysis in the book or is that it tries to shed inveterate modes of thought and method?


Purita I agree. I wanted more too which would have made the fun facts more fun.


message 24: by Serena (new)

Serena Nelson I'm failing to understand why Alyssa thought the crack chapter was RACIST?

And full disclosure here - I haven't read the book. I actually came here to see if I should... though being an ex crack addict myself, my dealer's place was freakin amazing. He had EVERYTHING and ANYTHING one could want/need/hope for. It was such a clean, rich, and envy-fuelling place.
I lived in no rich city or part of town, and nor did they. We were all just middle class people able to function enough to maintain full time jobs, so I'll admit I/we all weren't at the bottom of the barrel. But there are soooo many layers in status & class of the area and people they deal to, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY- whether the dealers take the drugs themselves!!!
It's a loaded topic and there is no one answer (or question) that can be asked about it. There's many. Many many many.
And yeah some of us live with our mums, even still. A decade later in my case.

I can't be bothered to scroll up and see the name of the reviewer - but you're obviously just way too smart and see right through this book and that it's just a bit fat phony, right? It couldn't possibly be for people other than yourself, who might actually GET the point of the book, and even then - just take it on face value and not feel the need to take each sentence to heart, or fight it as fiercely as you've felt the need to.


message 25: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Serena wrote: "I'm failing to understand why Alyssa thought the crack chapter was RACIST?

And full disclosure here - I haven't read the book. I actually came here to see if I should... though being an ex crack a..."


Serena wrote: "I'm failing to understand why Alyssa thought the crack chapter was RACIST?

And full disclosure here - I haven't read the book. I actually came here to see if I should... though being an ex crack a..."


Yeah just to follow up on a key distinction (and I have read the book), the drug dealers studied here were residents selling at Cabrini-Green type housing projects. A different type of drug dealer than the type who live in houses with a variety of customers with cars, etc.


Brian Sacco This is not a book about theoretical economics, the field of economics in which one often studies in the academic setting. Instead, uses the basic principles of economics to analyze social situations. If you were hoping to learn more about economics in the financial setting, you would be better served to read textbooks authored by Mankiw, Ceccheti, and Schoenholtz. That may be more what you are looking for!


Darren Lim I have to agree with what you said about the lack of in depth economics. It depends on what kind of book a reader was looking for. A book with interesting revelations and facts that may or may not value add to our lives? A book that critically analyses how people think? Very important to manage expectations.


message 28: by Garba (new)

Garba Tasiu Good reviews, I will really have to read this book.


message 29: by Jacksonsophat (new)

Jacksonsophat Sounds like this book is about random stuff!


Vanessa Jaramillo Michaelis Bueno, un libro especial para demostrarle especialmente a estudiantes universitarios de primer semestre que la economía no solo se aplica en áreas muy específicas como en la financiera, sino que también estudia los motivos para cambio en resultados y decisiones del día a día


message 31: by Manasi (new) - added it

Manasi Hi, I understand that you wanted to know more about the the hypothesis and the logic behind the tests run and the overall methodology. If you would like to know more about that you can refer to their paper's. I've read some, rather I am pursuing masters in economics and I've read some as a part of a course called "Law and Economics" dealing with implications for law coming out of economic theory and those papers were interesting. You might like them. However, please acknowledge that this book was actually meant to be for a layman and a casual reader, thus, the tone and the way it goes talking about things is meant to be more conversational to engage the interest of a common reader. The authors could've talked about endogeneity and estimation issues and using instrumental variables etc. In detail If they wanted to like they have in their papers. Just pointing that out. I've read a few reviews lately that criticise the book saying that their work is baseless or sounds too weird, almost made up, but you can find economic papers in which their discuss their methodology in detail. It just seems harsh to me that people aren't bothered to actually see if the claim is thoroughly researched or not before assuming that is isn't.


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