Thursday, September 08, 2005


Always one of my favorite topics of conversation!

I did read Freakonomics over the weekend. It's a fast, fun read-- I think I got through it in a couple of hours. I enjoyed the book, but I think all its hype left me expecting more from it. I can't say I thought it was "dazzling" or that it changed the way I viewed the world, as the blurbs seem to promise.
Also, as people have pointed out, very little of it is really about money. It's really about why things happen, viewed through economic analysis, and as the authors explain, economics isn't necessarily about money, it's about incentives and how they influence people's behavior. The topics are diverse-- a financial analysis of selling crack, cheating among teachers and sumo wrestlers, the popularity of certain names... if you like playing around with numbers, as I do, it will make you think being an economist must be quite a fun, creative job, and you'll find yourself wanting to do the same kinds of studies of odd things you notice in your own everyday life.
One of the most money-related parts was the story of the Bagel Man. He distributed bagels to offices and collected payment via the honor system, keeping meticulous records. Among other things, the records showed that the bagels eaten by high-level executives were paid for much less frequently than those eaten by lower-level workers. (Which doesn't surprise me at all. The more money people have, the more they expect, and get, freebies. Ever read about all the stuff that goes in goodie bags for the Oscars, etc?)
The downside of the book? It touches rather lightly on the particular examples it studies. It was kind of like that feeling of eating Chinese food and soon after, realizing you're still hungry. Also, there is a bit of an identity crisis going on. Is it an admiring profile of Levitt by Dubner, as the glowing chapter opener quotes would imply? Or is it a book by Levitt with Dubner's assistance, as the cover would imply? I just found it a little weird-- there is a place for blurbs, and that is the flaps and back cover, not within the content of the book. Call this a petty criticism by a publishing insider, I suppose no one else would care.
But on the whole, I'd say the book is worth reading, and its position and longevity on the bestseller lists is encouraging. (I love it when more serious non-fiction gets on the bestseller list, proving that there are still people who will read things other than How to Make Love Like a Porn Star and biographies of wrestlers.) The hundreds of thousands of Americans who read Freakonomics are at least being reminded that correlation and causation are not the same, and that can only be a good thing.

Others currently being read right now:
How Not to Get Rich, by Robert Sullivan
Bait and Switch, by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity, by Edwene Gaines
Middlemarch , by George Eliot (money, and particularly debt, play quite a large role!)
Vol. 5 of In Search of Lost Time (wherein money just seems to be spent, not earned)
and a French novel which I'm having difficulty understanding so it's hard to say if money has anything to do with it.


Flexo said...

I bought Freakanomics for a friend, perhaps I'll read it as well. Two things about your review though. First of all, when I eat Chinese food, I find that afterwards I realize I'm more satiated than I originally thought. Secondly, there's nothing wrong with How to Make Love Like a Porn Star. Plus, entrepeneurs and personal finance-minded people can learn a lot from Jenna Jameson and her porn empire. :>

Madame X said...

Thanks Flexo, now I know what my next book review will have to be!