Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Superfreakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ------ 4 STARS

Well after taking nearly two months to finish one book (The Stand), I finished the next book in only two weeks (SuperFrekonomics). What a nice, quick, interesting read it was. In the same ilk as the Malcolm Gladwell books, and a follow up to their hugely successful Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner follow the same pattern as their earlier books: look at a bunch of data, make some pretty amazing conclusions and throw them all together and try to find a 'theme'.

Since my last sentence pretty much summarized the whole book, I'd like to get into some of their findings. They were new, cool, out there, sometimes applicable and always interesting. Here were some of their views:
  • It's safer to walk drunk than drive drunk
  • Bringing T.V. to India helped a lot of women
  • Public schools today are worst than 50 years ago mostly because smart women found other jobs (no offense out there --- just a gigantic generalization)
  • You obtain mastery in anything through deliberate practice and doing what you love
  • In the 70's violent crime was twice as high in cities who got TV earlier than those that didn't
  • With many injuries (and kids over 2), seat belts work better than car seats
Now, to perhaps the most interesting set of conclusions (all about global warming):
  • cud-chewing animals (cows and sheep) produce 25 times more carbon dioxide than cars
  • buying local produced food increases increases carbon dioxide
  • carbon dioxide levels were much higher 80 million years ago and have gone down since
  • carbon dioxide levels have risen after temperature increases
  • there is an easy fix to global warming but people don't want to try it
With all these various conclusions, perhaps the biggest lesson of this book and their first, is that PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES -- this is perhaps the biggest answer for all things economic (and not).

Overall, this was a great book to read if you like this sort of thing... unlike Gladwell's book it is more data driven and a bit more random in the subjects. You might also like it if you would like more depth to the 'conclusions' I provided above. Each story and background about those views is included and well written. My only complaint of the book is that most of their subjects have little to nothing to do with each other. Although they do a fairly good job of relating most issues in the same chapter to some common theme and conclusion, the book as as whole is fairly random. Nonetheless, I recommend this book to most readers. If you like the original Freakonomics, do check this one out.

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