Page #2: Freakonomics

INDEPENDENT BOOK READING REVIEW #2

FREAKONOMICS by STEVEN D. LEVITT & STEPHEN J. DUBNER

EDDIE HA

dazzling indeed

dazzling indeed

“The book is a delight… It shows what plain old-fashioned economics can do in the hands of a boundlessly curious and superbly skilled practitioner… Ingenious.” This quote from The Economist introduces this non-fiction book as an intellectual delight, a source of inspiration for many readers worldwide.

Stephen J. Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner, an author and journalist for The New York Times Magazine and Steven D. Levitt, a John Bates Clark Medal (awarded to the best American economists under forty) economist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD from MIT cooperated to write this book that explores one of the quirkiest perspectives of the world. Other than the accomplishments listed above, Steven D. Levitt’s stack of awards is a certainly very prestigious one. He is currently a professor at the University of Chicago, and mainly focuses his work around Crime and Politics. He is the director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He is certainly an esteemed economist that more than qualifies him to perhaps write a book about the world. Together with one of the top-class journalists Stephen J. Dubner, the two co-authors presents to the readers a modern “economist” book: Freakonomics.

Steven D. Levitt

Steven D. Levitt

This book’s central idea is simple: “if morality represents how people would like the world to work, then economics shows how it actually does work.” The book delves into the “hidden side of everything,” digging up connections and relationships from the most bizarre and unthinkable comparisons. From the relationship between school teachers and Sumo Wrestlers to the reason why drug dealers live with their moms, the book is certainly an interesting read throughout.

The structure of the book is quite simple. The table of contents and the index highlights the non-fiction aspect of the book, and lines out the ideas divided chapter by chapter. Each chapter plays with an idea, presenting to the readers anecdotes, statistical data, and hypothetical situations to prove a point. The writing style of the book seems at first very formal with the uses of conventional sentences to approach the readers, introducing the two authors and the purpose of the book. But as the book opens its eyes on interesting real-life stories the writing style at times becomes very descriptive of the short plots, and even sarcastic at times, bringing about humor to the book. The humor behind the writing is an essential component of the book that helps the readers stay on the pages that contain delightful ideas.

maybe just...

maybe just...

One of the first ideas that the book brings forth is a controversial issue that pertains to every aspect of the world: incentives and cheating. “Who cheats? Just about everyone… How cheaters cheat, and how to catch them.” The book brings insights to the whole purpose of incentives and the false intentions that they bring about. One of the most interesting examples that the book mentions is the punitive incentives ingrained in a daycare center for babies. This example talks about how people “pay off” their guilt with a small punishment when that option of punishment is given to them. Despite the fact that only a few parents came late to pick up their babies when there were no punitive measures, a surprisingly increasing number of parents arrived late when they were allowed to pay few dollars as a “punishment.” From here the authors lead into the investigations of how sumo-wrestlers in a honorable league in Japan and the teachers in the states cheat in order for them to maximize their benefits by utilizing the given incentives.

where information is powerful

where information is powerful

Another interesting idea that the book explores is the power of information. The second chapter narrates non-fiction stories of President Kennedy’s policy towards the Ku Klux Klan, an economist’s investigation of the abuse of information through the Internet, the abuse of information of real-estate agents and the truth behind the show Weakest Link and online daters. This chapter inspires how President Kennedy outwitted the Ku Klux Klan with undercover investigations, how Internet is manipulated, how real-estate agents aren’t actually working for their client’s best interests but their own, how racism affects the game Weakest Link and how online daters never tell the truth. The points that the authors discuss regarding the power of information is just too interesting.

the real deal

the real deal

The ideas above are a couple of intellectual gems that I have discovered from this non-fiction book based on looking at the world in an unconventional point of view. The book speaks neither of a journalist’s or an economist’s point of view, and delves into ideas that are inspiring and enlightening. I rarely pick up non-fiction books because of my personal dislike towards the rigid and solid language that those books revolve around. But I have discovered that to be an erroneous generalization on my part. This book that I picked up because of its interesting title, and my interests in economics (hence the title “Freakonomics”) was a fortunate discovery for me. Not only was it an interesting read throughout the book but it let me realize what kind of writing non-fiction books can be.

apple or orange or tangerine or lime or...

apple or orange or tangerine or...

I think one of the main ideas that we ought to take from this book is the fact that nothing is what it appears to be. The quirky book cover itself testifies for this very statement (is it a green apple, or an orange camouflaged as a green apple?). Under the surface are connections and ideas never explicitly shown or explored that can bring many insights. We ought not to make generalizations or assumptions about any occurrence in the world but to look for hidden factors that may influence the way the world revolves. In that respect, I appreciate these two author’s efforts in creating this book for it has certainly been a tremendous inspiration to me.

freakonomics-black-apple-just

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