I am not normally a great reader of non-fiction, mostly because I read for escape and entertainment and as interesting as real life is, fantasy is even more exciting. However after my last intense, fantasy/science-fiction bath book I decided I wanted something a bit different to read while I soak and that’s when I found Freakonomics in the book cupboard. Unlike me, Mr O almost exclusively reads non-fiction so he has lots of interesting things hanging around. I soon learned that (like they say) the truth really is stranger than fiction.
Essentially Steven D. Levitt is an economist who is interested in applying economic theory to more unusual sets of data than the kind of financial economics one would usually expect. Instead he tries to find the correlations between seemingly happenings to find elements of truth. And Stephen J. Dubner is the journalist who helped him turn his thoughts into articles and ultimately a book.
With the suggestion that economics is essentially about incentives, Levitt and Dubner explore everything from why and how both sumo wrestlers elementary school teachers cheat to why drug dealers are likely to live with their mums. Of course the most controversial connection they have made is between the legalisation of abortion and a subsequent drop in crime rates approximately 15 – 20 years later.
As someone who works with data and attempting to find connections between a multitude of different channels, workflows and external factors (although none as exciting as those explored in the book) I was fascinated by Levitt’s theories and how he approached the data. I won’t pretend that I managed to follow all the steps or that anything I do is anywhere near as complex but I could definitely appreciate the craft.
The articles were written in a fun and engaging way and despite the fact that technically what they’re dealing with could be quite dry it’s just as exciting as reading a novel. Of course with any data it’s all about the interpretation and whether you agree with all of the connections made is entirely up to you and how much you trust their theory.
At the end all I wanted was more theories, which to me is definitely the sign of a good read. If you’re at all interested in data, economics, incentives or what really makes the world turn, I think Freakonomics is an essential read and one that will expand your mind.