professional reviews of Super Freakonomics

The Telegraph (UK) MIXED: Essentially, Superfreakonomics consists of more of the same. This might get wearying were it not for the fact that Levitt and Dubner’s zeal for statistical anomalies is as undimmed as their eye for a good story. … Sex, as you will have gathered, looms quite large in this book, at least at the start; Levitt and Dubner know the importance of softening up their readers with a bit of smut before hitting them with the heavier stuff. Their research into Chicago prostitution reveal that prostitutes’ wages have plummeted in real terms in the last 60 years. … What, you may wonder, has this got to do with people responding to incentives? Unless I’m missing something, the answer is absolutely nothing. Yet perhaps this is the wrong way to read Superfreakonomics. Perhaps it’s best to forget any ideas of cohesion and just lie back and let Levitt and Dubner’s bouncy prose style carry you along from one peculiarity to the next.

WSJ blog POSITIVE:  “SuperFreakonomics,” by the economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, is not only a book with mind-blowing ideas, innovative research and quality investigative journalism, it’s also a story about creativity and what it takes to get the mindset to turn conventional concepts upside down. The authors have found their stride with “SuperFreakonomics.” As good as the first “Freakonomics” was, I found this read much more enjoyable and interesting.

The Guardian (UK) NEGATIVE:  The genius of the original book lay in its ability to turn hard data into stories as interesting as the best anecdotes. This book treats mildly interesting anecdotes as though they were substitutes for hard data. … The real problem is that there is too much of people like Allie [one of the anecdotes] and too little of Levitt. We hear something of his latest research – about how drink-walking is more dangerous than drink-driving, or why children’s car seats may be no safer than seatbelts. But we don’t hear nearly enough and too many questions are left unanswered; for instance, whether more people die walking home drunk because they are simply so much drunker than people who still think they can drive. … Superfreakonomics is not a bad book, but it’s not a patch on the first – it has very little of the charm or the originality. Yet in their rather smug preface, the authors say that they believe the second book “is easily better than the first”. Can they really think this?

Financial Times (Tim Harford) POSITIVE: This book is a lot like Freakonomics, but better. … In the end, a book such as SuperFreakonomics stands or falls on its entertainment value. And on that count, there’s no doubt: it’s a page-turner. … More revealing, though, was that I’d folded over at least a dozen pages, resolving to go back, follow up the references, and find out more. This is a book with plenty of style; underneath the dazzle, there is substance too.

The Independent (UK) POSITIVE: Levitt and Dubner, in this “freakquel” to their wildly successful 2005 book Freakonomics, offer another collection of “things you always thought you knew but didn’t; and things you never knew you wanted to know but do”.” Such as, why it’s more likely that you’ll die as a drunk pedestrian than a drunk driver, and how monkeys can be taught to use money. So it’s great fun. … Would I recommend this book to an economics teacher? Yes, provided they were comfortable discussing with their students what might be described as “adult themes”. Some of us were brought up to understand the laws of supply and demand in terms of how they affected the market for apples, cups of tea, or cars. Not our freakonomists, who instead turn to the market for paid sex in Chicago, then and now, to stimulate the reader.

LA Times POSITIVE: Thank goodness they are back — with wisdom, wit and, most of all, powerful economic insight. … The examples the authors use in “Super Freakonomics” won’t disappoint, though these are now more concentrated on edgier topics. Prostitution, terrorism and the altruistic indeterminacy of just about everything form much of the landscape in this book. Topics are simultaneously interesting and profoundly disturbing — in other words, freaky. … Surprisingly, the book left me hopeful that we can tackle seemingly intractable social problems. Human ingenuity is clearly in no short supply in “Super Freakonomics,” and we can thank Steve and Steve for making Le Freak still chic.

Washington Post (blog – Ezra Klein) NEGATIVE:  Super Freakonomics is getting a lot of flak for its flip contrarianism on climate change, most of which seems based on incorrectly believing solar panels are black (they’re blue, and this has surprisingly large energy implications) and misquoting important climate scientists.  But before people begin believing that the problem with Super Freakonomics is that it annoys environmentalists, let’s be clear: The problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one. … It’s terrifically shoddy statistical work. You’d get dinged for this in a college class. But it’s in a book written by a celebrated economist and a leading journalist. Moreover, the topic isn’t whether people prefer chocolate or vanilla, but whether people should drive drunk. It is shoddy statistical work, in other words, that allows people to conclude that respected authorities believe it is safer for them to drive home drunk than walk home drunk. It’s shoddy statistical work that could literally kill somebody. That makes it more than bad statistics. It makes it irresponsible.  But hey, it makes for a fun and unexpected opener.

And don’t miss The Guardian’s parody:  Some decisions are very easy. Like the one to cash-in on an unexpected bestseller. But some are very hard. Would you rather drive home pissed from a party or walk? Sayonara if you choose to walk, because you’re far more likely to be run over by all the other people driving back from the party pissed! … Does it seem odd that so many top sports stars are born at the same time of year? Almost certainly not, because Malcolm Gladwell already covered this in Outliers earlier this year and it wasn’t interesting then, as it was just a spin on educational year cohorts that most people already know. But here’s the twist: a study by Captain Nemo from the Nautilus Institute shows that 99.9% of all readers won’t remember where they read it first, so we can claim this factoid as our own.  [And much, much more…]

4 thoughts on “professional reviews of Super Freakonomics”

  1. I have not read this book yet, and probably won’t, because I saw a 20/20 interview with the authors a few days ago, and it was less than impressive. From what I could extrapolate from that interview, I would tend to agree with the Guardian’s review. There were endless anecdotes and few facts. It seemed like the authors were more interested in selling a book that jumps on sensational topics like feminism and prostitution, and pulls the rug out from under conventional thinking around these issues (i.e. the feminist movement’s greatest achievement has been in increasing opportunities for women in the high-end sex industry). I could not disagree more.

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