Book Review: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

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freakonomicsFor the two of four financial books to read for 2015, I read Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  I have always been meaning to read Freakonomics, something I have meant to read for years.  I had this conception that this was a true blue financial book but after I read it, I realize it's not really about economics per se.

It kind of is, it sort of is a blend between a typical financial book at the book by Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers The Story of Success.  If you're curious you can check out my review with that link.  Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything explores why the things are the way they are and gets you to think about what we see in our world on a deeper level rather than accept things at face value.  Some of the answers that are derived are quite shocking, but make a lot of sense when you think about it.

The book is divided into a number of chapters including:

  1. What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?
  2. How Is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?
  3. Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?
  4. Where Have All the Criminals Gone?
  5. What Makes a Perfect Parent?
  6. Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

Things I Liked about Freakonomics

I did like the questions the authors asked and I liked the detail and depth they went to to research the answers to these questions.  I liked the way the authors think and challenged conventional wisdom.  I liked learning how the Ku Klux Klan is like a group of real estate agents (and I liked the catchy title of each chapter).  I liked learning about how real estate agents sell their homes slower and for a higher price than their clients' homes.  It made sense to me why my real estate agent encouraged me to sell my home for a lower price (because he wanted to price it and get rid of it).  I also liked learning that it isn't much about what you do as a parent that matters in the chapter “What Makes a Perfect Parent?” and it gave me a bit of relief if I were to have children.

I really liked how they said everything boils down to incentive:

“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”

I like that quote 🙂

Things I Did Not Like about Freakonomics

Although the authors did emphasize that they are aware there is no unifying theme in the book (and in fact, they are proud of this fact) it bugged me.  Perhaps I'm a Type-A personality who likes order and progression when I am reading a book.  It was difficult to read about How the Ku Klux Klan is like a group of Real Estate Agents and then skip to What Makes a Perfect Parent.  Although I appreciate that these are questions that the authors pondered about, it was a little too tangential for my liking.

In addition, I thought the Revised and Expanded Edition was a little redundant.  When I got to the middle of the book I realized that the book was actually finished.  However, the expanded edition just started and it included even more nonunifying themes and blog entries (something about going to Las Vegas but I forget because it wasn't unified!).

Finally, perhaps I am a pragmatist, but I didn't really like reading so much about the deep history (for example, the deep culture and history of Sumo Wrestling and of the Ku Klux Klan) because at certain points I asked myself what the relevance was and found myself skimming certain paragraphs.  Later on as they talked about the relevant piece (for example, teachers and real estate agents) I found myself getting more interested and seeing the relevance.

Well, there you have it, I finally read Freakonomics and it was a bit anti-climactic for me, but I'm sure many people really like the book because it is very popular (so popular that they made a revised and expanded edition of course!).

Apparently, Freakonomics is so popular that they have written follow up books and also made it into a  movie in 2010.

Readers, what do you think?  Have you read Freakonomics?

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Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

4 Comments

  1. Barry @ Moneywehave on April 1, 2015 at 10:53 am

    I remember reading Freakonomics a while back but the sumo chapter was very interesting. Even though it’s all “rigged” I still plan on catching a sumo match when I’m in Japan.



  2. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist on April 4, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    While Freakanomics was an interesting book that makes you think, I really could have done without all the tangents on the author seems to go on. The real estate example is the only one that really sticks out for me.



  3. Young on April 6, 2015 at 10:56 am

    @SC-haha we must think alike then! 🙂



  4. Young Millennial on April 7, 2015 at 7:38 am

    I like the podcast. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are engaging speakers and make some of the most boring topics interesting.

    I found all the books fairly interesting, but not sure if you will enjoy them based on this review and the final thoughts.



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