Sunday, April 29, 2007

Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics has a subtitle: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

This subtitle is a bit misleading, but Levitt (who does the number crunching) and his author Dubner, who is a writer for the New York Times, do a good job of looking at a number of different social phenomena using economist’s methods and mindset. They mostly use complex statistical correlation tracking to draw conclusions from data on a variety of topics quite unrelated to what most people think of when they consider the dismal science.

They tackle Sumo Wrestling (it’s rigged), teacher cheating to improve student performance on standardized tests (they do), the pyramid scheme of Chicago crack dealing, the correlations between infant name selection and socio-economics, and most controversially, the relationship between the passage of Roe v. Wade and a drop in crime rates.

Of course, economics is really little more than a set of theories to interpret data which is based on statistics, so it applies nicely to these sorts of topics.

Levitt and Dubner are interesting, convincing, and the book is certainly written for the layman. No background in math, statistics, social theory, or economics? No problem. Just let the boys explain a few basic principles for you, then sit back and be dazzled by their factoids.

The book is delightful, fast to read, and will encourage you to think, however briefly, about the world in a slightly different way. And that’s never a bad thing.

Thanks to Tucker for loaning me this one.

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