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This is the follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Freakonomics’, which I read earlier this year.  It basically follows the same format of taking various apparently unrelated situations and comparing them to see what they have in common.  They also look at certain problems in various communities, and how traditional reasoning failed to solve them, but a bit of imaginative thought did provide solutions.

Most importantly this book – like its predecessor – encourages people to look at things slightly differently, and not to be afraid of not always accepting the first and most obvious reasons for things being what they are.  It also points out that experts can overthink matters when trying to solve a problem – and very often the solution is easy, cheap and practical (for example in one chapter they discuss why there was such a high death rate in a maternity ward in Washington – until a doctor suddenly realised that just by the doctors thoroughly washing their hands before dealing with patients, this death rate could be drastically cut).

The most interesting chapter for me personally was the one which looked at apathy and altruism.  It cited the real life, well known case of Kitty Genovese – a woman who was brutally assaulted and murdered in New York in 1964, while several neighbours looked on and did nothing.  This chapter really illustrated how the media twist facts – or simply don’t do thorough research – and how as a result, their interpretation of events somehow becomes accepted as truth.  This particular chapter also described how altruism might not always be what it seems, and is very often not a selfless act at all.

The book is written, for the most part, in an engaging and lively style, so that you almost feel that you could sit down and have a chat with the authors over a couple of drinks.  However, there is a sense that this book could have been made up of parts which were written for the first book, and for whatever reason were not included in it.  Not that that makes it any less enjoyable. 

My only gripe with this follow-up was the final chapter about global warming.  While the authors seem to have an objective stance on more or less everything else in the book, they are considerably more subjective in this chapter, and it seems somewhat out of place alongside the other chapters.  (It actually felt like they were making a point of promoting a company called Intellectual Ventures – a company which invents products to try and combat problems such as global warming.)

Despite this however, the book is overall an interesting read, which makes you think.  Not as enjoyable as the excellent Freakonomics, but still worth reading if you enjoyed that book.

(Authors’ website can be found here.)

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A collaboration between a Chicago economist (Levitt) and a New York journalist (Dubner) this book takes the subject of economics, and doesn’t so much turn it on its head, as tilt it to see things from a different angle.

They ask such questions as What caused the crime rate to fall dramatically in the 1990s?  What do Sumo Wrestlers and Schoolteachers have in common?  How much does a child’s name matter?  They then attempt to answer such questions with a combination of empirical research and statistics.  The book often disputes conventional wisdom and explains things from a different angle.

The narration is lively and fun to read.  The subjects covered are all interesting and certainly make the reader think.  It doesn’t always go hugely indepth, but it definitely provides enough to make someone want to go and find out more.  It also encourages the reader to ask more questions and perhaps not always accept the first and most obvious answer to questions.

Most importantly, it’s fun to read, and never patronising, and if it causes interest in subjects which previously a reader may have thought boring or too complicated, that can only be a good thing.

I would certainly recommend this book, and look forward to reading the follow up, Super-Freakonomics’.

(Authors’ website can be found here.)

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