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Freakonomics #2

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

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The New York Times best-selling Freakonomics was a worldwide sensation, selling over four million copies in thirty-five languages and changing the way we look at the world. Now, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner return with SuperFreakonomics, and fans and newcomers alike will find that the freakquel is even bolder, funnier, and more surprising than the first.

Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?

SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
How much good do car seats do?
What's the best way to catch a terrorist?
Did TV cause a rise in crime?
What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?

Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling like no one else, whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it really is – good, bad, ugly, and, in the final analysis, super freaky.

Freakonomics has been imitated many times over – but only now, with SuperFreakonomics, has it met its match.

270 pages, Hardcover

First published October 20, 2009

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About the author

Steven D. Levitt

29 books3,756 followers
Steven David "Steve" Levitt is a prominent American economist best known for his work on crime, in particular on the link between legalized abortion and crime rates. Winner of the 2003 John Bates Clark Medal, he is currently the Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy published by the University of Chicago Press. He is one of the most well known economists amongst laymen, having co-authored the best-selling book Freakonomics (2005). Levitt was chosen as one of Time Magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World" in 2006.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,826 reviews
204 reviews2 followers
September 7, 2010
Mostly more of the same as Freakonomics with riffs on Malcolm Gladwell's books thrown in. The glaring difference is the chapter on climate change which attempts to go waaay beyond the author's expertise in behavioral economics and contains unfortunate misrepresentations of climate science. For a detailed critique, I'd recommend: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/... Still, there's no denying that convincing the public to recognize the need to curb CO2 emissions is an almost impossible task.

Also, there's a laughable line about how Congress undid the repeal of the estate tax for 2010. Apparently, the authors had a deadline to meet and tried to predict that the Senate would behave rationally! All in all, I'm starting to think that behavioral economics is better at explaining after the fact than predicting.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
May 6, 2015
All the chapters in this book start with 'How is' and then two subjects are compared or contrasted, so in this spirit I ask,

How is a follow-up book like a Shepherd's Pie?

Because shepherd's pie is made with the bits of meat discarded or not finished at a previous meal. And so it is with this book. Chapters not good enough to make it into the superb Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything have been recycled into this book. It's ok, but like anything that isn't first-choice, it's not got that wow factor, amaze me, tell me all these things about the world I'd never even thought of. More, uh huh, really, yeah, interesting to know...

3 stars.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews986 followers
August 7, 2023
Nowhere near as enlightening as Freakonomics, this time the two Steves, among other things looked at the economics of prostitution; the cheap and accessible solutions to climate change and it's evident real causes; how to easily identify potential suicide bombers; and how washing hands revolutionised medical care in the 19th, and indeed the 21st century!

One of the hard realities exposed by research/data was how no matter how serious the issue, if it didn't directly or even immediately (smoking? booze?) impact on an individual, behaviour change was nigh impossible! This second book tell us the that the data is there, that we just need to find the right, most effective and wherever possible cheapest and most attainable solutions. I made this a 7 out of 12, Three Star read.

2019 and 2011 read
December 21, 2018
Incredible, fast, entertaining read. Thinkers like this one occasionall remind me just why I have chosen my profession.

Short Synopsis says it all!
Putting the Freak in Economics

In which the global financial meltdown is entirely ignored in favor of more engaging topics.
The perils of walking drunk…The unlikely savior of Indian women…Drowning in horse manure…What is “freakonomics,” anyway?…Toothless sharks and bloodthirsty elephants…Things you always thought you knew but didn’t.

Chapter 1. How is a Street Prostitute Like a Department-Store Santa? In which we explore the various costs of being a woman.
Meet LaSheena, a part-time prostitute…One million dead “witches”…The many ways in which females are punished for being born female…Even Radcliffe women pay the price…Title IX creates jobs for women; men take them…1 of every 50 women a prostitute…The booming sex trade in old-time Chicago…A survey like no other…The erosion of prostitute pay…Why did oral sex get so cheap?…Pimps versus Realtors…Why cops love prostitutes…Where did all the schoolteachers go?…What really accounts for the male-female wage gap?…Do men love money the way women love kids?…Can a sex change boost your salary?…Meet Allie, the happy prostitute; why aren’t there more women like her?

Chapter 2. Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance? In which we discuss compelling aspects of birth and death, though primarily death.
The worst month to have a baby…The natal roulette affects horses too…Why Albert Aab will outshine Albert Zyzmor…The birthdate bulge…Where does talent come from?…Some families produce baseball players; others produce terrorists…Why terrorism is so cheap and easy…The trickle-down effects of September 11…The man who fixes hospitals…Why the newest ERs are already obsolete…How can you tell a good doctor from a bad one?…“Bitten by a client at work”…Why you want your ER doc to be a woman…A variety of ways to postpone death…Why is chemotherapy so widely used when it so rarely works?…“We’re still getting our butts kicked by cancer”…War: not as dangerous as you think?…How to catch a terrorist.

Chapter 3. Unbelievable Stories About Apathy and Altruism. In which people are revealed to be less good than previously thought, but also less bad.
Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered?…With neighbors like these…What caused the 1960s crime explosion?…How the ACLU encourages crime…Leave It to Beaver: not as innocent as you think…The roots of altruism, pure and impure…Who visits retirement homes?…Natural disasters and slow news days…Economists make like Galileo and hit the lab…The brilliant simplicity of the Dictator game…People are so generous!…Thank goodness for “donorcycles”…The great Iranian kidney experiment…From driving a truck to the ivory tower…Why don’t real people behave like people in the lab?…The dirty rotten truth about altruism…Scarecrows work on people too…Kitty Genovese revisited.

Chapter 4. The Fix is in—and It’s Cheap and Simple. In which big, seemingly intractable problems are solved in surprising ways.
The dangers of childbirth…Ignatz Semmelweis to the rescue…How the Endangered Species Act endangered species…Creative ways to keep from paying for your trash…Forceps hoarding…The famine that wasn’t…Three hundred thousand dead whales…The mysteries of polio…What really prevented your heart attack?…The killer car…The strange story of Robert McNamara…Let’s drop some skulls down the stairwell!…Hurray for seat belts…What’s wrong with riding shotgun?…How much good do car seats do?…Crash-test dummies tell no lies…Why hurricanes kill, and what can be done about it.

Chapter 5. What Do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common? In which we take a cool, hard look at global warming.
Let’s melt the ice cap!…What’s worse: car exhaust or cow farts?…If you love the earth, eat more kangaroo…It all comes down to negative externalities…The Club versus LoJack…Mount Pinatubo teaches a lesson…The obscenely smart, somewhat twisted gentlemen of Intellectual Ventures…Assassinating mosquitoes…“Sir, I am every kind of scientist!”…An inconvenient truthiness…What climate models miss…Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?…“Big-ass volcanoes” and climate change…How to cool the earth…The “garden hose to the sky”…Reasons to hate geoengineering…Jumping the repugnance barrier…“Soggy mirrors” and the puffy-cloud solution…Why behavior change is so hard…Dirty hands and deadly doctors…Foreskins are falling. (c)
Profile Image for Caroline.
506 reviews586 followers
May 16, 2016
Reading this book was an enormous pleasure. It was like sitting down with a superb raconteur, and hearing story after story of amazing and extraordinary events. "Oh no" you exclaim, "surely that one can't be true!" But yes, it is! And so you leap on hungrily to the next peculiar story.

This is a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in psychology, economics or just sheer human cussedness. The people behind the book work brilliantly together - economics lecturer Steven Levitt, and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner... Please can we have more academics and journalists working in tandem? The result here is so good.

For me there was no real overarching theme - rather the book was a series of rollicking anecdotes about the unexpected and contrary. It makes a great follow-on to the authors' first book - just called Freakonomics. I reckon both book are amongst the most entertaining I have ever read, and I can't recommend them highly enough.

I shall end with my usual medley of notes about some of the things that particularly caught my attention. Warning...these notes are a real hotch-potch.

Profile Image for Ryan Melena.
31 reviews
April 11, 2011
Ugh, pop culture trash masquerading as economics (in turn masquerading as hard science).

There were so many glaring flaws in the authors' assumptions, "logic", and conclusions that within just the introduction they had already lost all credibility.

Right up front the authors declare that fears about global warming are overblown because the issue will likely be solved by technological innovation and then offer as proof the fact that cars eliminated the problems caused by horse-based transportation. So, you know, don't worry everyone we're sure to have a "solution" to global warming with even larger negative externalities any day now! That's not even taking into account more subtle problems with the "we always innovate our way out of problems" argument like survivorship bias, or the assumption that human ingenuity is unbounded, or the assumption that we'll recognize pending catastrophes in time to act, or the assumption that global changes will be politically acceptable on a global level, or the complete disregard for loss of life while waiting for the technological solution, etc.

I quickly concluded that this book wasn't worth the effort to finish.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,302 reviews22.1k followers
February 2, 2010
I liked this book more than I expected I would like it and liked it more than their previous effort – but have given it less stars this time than the last one. The reason for this is that their last book introduced me to the whole field of behavioural economics and one is always fond of books that introduce entire new fields.

I had some real problems with some of the contents of this book – or rather, not the contents so much as the underlying philosophy. There is a lack of consistency of thought behind this one that is quite startling. Look, I’m more than happy to go with the whole Walt Whitman thing about being large and complex beings and therefore admitting of contradictions, but only so far.

The underlying premise of this one is that people respond to incentives. The problem is that people don’t necessarily respond to incentives in the ways that we might expect. As a theme this is utterly fascinating (although a much better book on this subject is Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions). The problem with this book is that the thinkers here aren’t able to hold an idea like that in their heads the whole way through and to see where their examples illustrate that idea and when their examples contradict that idea.

What the lesson of this book ought to have been.

The world is a very complex place. We learn rules and laws and tendencies of behaviour mostly by holding all the endless numbers of variables more or less equal while fiddling with only one variable at a time. Sometimes this brings great insight, often not – but in trying to understand incredibly complex systems this method of fiddling has the advantage that in holding all other things equal we get an idea of what the particular knob we are fiddling with effects when you turn it. With human behaviour (even economic behaviour) you are always dealing with incredible complexity. However, people tend to behave in ways that are fairly predictable and we can devise experiments that test how they will behave that do hold some of the other variables pretty constant. Some of those experiments say incredibly fascinating things about what it is to be human. But don’t ever forget that people are not simple – they are always complex – and just because you think you have them down pat they are always, ALWAYS capable of surprising you either with how nice they can be or with how bloody appallingly they can behave.

If this book had done this and been consistent in having done this I probably would have given it five stars. As you see, I don’t ask much. I don’t think this book really does know what message it truly wants to get across and so it reads like a series of sometimes interesting bits of information that are spat out one after another before they have been properly digested or even properly masticated. The whole thing is a bit of a mess, really, saved only by the inherent interest there is in the subject. This might be best illustrated with an example from the first book where they spoke about the Israeli day care centre that started charging parents for being late – fascinating example of incentives and unintended consequences – but if you want to understand this example then don’t read about it in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, get hold of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

I would have thought that the lesson this book would have wanted to make abundantly clear would be that complex systems respond in unpredictable ways to simple interventions. There may be consistent patterns that we can understand, but overall you are better having an open mind when you come to a new example of incentives and interventions and go back to the data (rather than theories) to judge the effectiveness of particular interventions. And this is the lesson of the book in part – when they are discussing car accidents or drunk walking they do go back to the data. The fact that I think they seem to have misrepresented some of the data and that I would rather they had given more detail to support their views is a little beside the point, at least they were behaving in a way that I could follow, if not necessarily agree with.

But when they started solving climate change I figured they had completely lost the plot of their book entirely. I’ve no idea if pumping the upper atmosphere with sulphur really is a low cost solution to climate change (and great if it is), but the authors were so keen to prove their thesis that simple solutions are always best and that governments are congenitally incapable of ever coming up with a simple solution that I’m rather certain most readers of this book will tragically believe that global warming has now been solved by an ex-owner of Microsoft. I mean, if it was someone who had helped set up Apple I might have believed that such a solution to global warming might even exist – but Microsoft??? Don’t be silly. As if simple and Microsoft were words that could reasonably be used in the same sentence.

After telling us that the climate is so difficult to understand that we can’t even really model it they then say they have the solution to all our problems and all it involves is a great big bloody hose pumping rotten egg gas into the sky. Like I said, maybe global warming all will be quite so easy to solve – but even so, you are messing with a complex system, you shouldn’t be too surprised if your simple intervention has unpredictable consequences. And what if this intervention is too effective – I know it might only take three years for things to get back to normal, but how are we to survive without food for three years? Do you really want someone from Microsoft pissing around with our climate? It makes my skin crawl that Microsoft have something to do with my computer (and really, in the great scheme of things my computer doesn’t really matter if itcrashes), but leave my planet alone!

The part of this book that dealt with the story of a woman being raped and murdered in New York while 38 people watched on was interesting as it showed there was much more to this story than just that people are arseholes. Whenever a story seems a little too pat there is probably going to be more to the story. That they explain that this story is not so simple is probably worth the price of the book. It is a service provided to humanity that the authors deserve to be praised for.

The stuff on prostitution was interesting, as was the stuff on Indian women and television. I quite liked the stuff on how to get doctors to wash their hands – but what was most interesting about many of these examples was that they were about finding ways (incentives) to change a culture and that often the way found was cultural rather than financial – that is a lesson you will find much easier to learn and understand from reading Predictably Irrational than it is to get from this book. And why? Well, I can only assume it is because it is a lesson the authors here have not quite learned themselves yet.

I’ve made it as plan as I can – this book has a couple of interesting examples, but very few interesting insights. If you want to read a book that actually will do what this book promises to do – that is, change the way you see the world – then don’t read this, read Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,103 followers
March 21, 2020

Ever since I read the first Freakonomics book years ago, I became a super freak and LOVED the real-world expose on things we always seem to take for granted.

Incentives work. Period. They work more to control our behavior than anything else.

Prostitution was huge, years ago, because it paid very well compared to any other kind of work that a woman could do. Often ten times the going rate of anything. Cops turned a blind eye because they could partake of the services. Those other really moral people who tried to stop it found they couldn't because they didn't understand the full circumstances. So what reduced prostitution? Higher wages for women in general. Choice. It was never a matter of morality. It was a matter of going where the money is.

If we compare a geophysical engineering event such as setting off a volcano to combat global warming, it would cost a lot LESS than Al Gore's whole PR campaign that tried to browbeat everyone into altruism. And it would be more effective.

The threat of terrorism is often much more effective than actual terrorism. So put away your bomb and just do some more talking about it.

Microeconomics uses real data, is only as effective as the questions being posed, but is still extremely interesting. And enlightening.

Car seats for kids? No statistical difference in saving kids' lives versus seat belts. The seat belts are the real saviors. So instead of having this huge weird industry with mismatching standards for car seats, why don't we have cars with easily adjustable seatbelts?


The numbers don't lie. But human psychology is FULL of blind spots.

Like doctors and washing hands. To find out that one hospital's doctors only washed their hands 9% of the time they OUGHT to have been washing their hands, proven by swabs and analysis of their hands, versus their self-reporting of 60% or so? Or the other many excuses such as time and effort? No incentive fixed that situation better than putting screensavers up on all the computers that showed a magnification of a single caught doctor's hand.

What kind of truly effective incentives do we need to roll out now, with the Coronavirus? Will washing hands truly make the grade? Maybe we should all get a picture of the virus for our screensavers.

But will that take care of all the people who don't WANT to take it seriously? Those people who will prolong the problem for everyone else by spreading it to their friends and neighbors and to their own family members... all of whom might be trying, very carefully, to quarantine themselves?

Maybe we need a shame bell. The same shame bell that was so ... yeah ... in Game of Thrones.
181 reviews
April 1, 2010
Does anyone actually believe this crap?

The first chapter (about the economics of prostitution)in this one was way better than the entire Freakonomics. As a result, I had faith that the authors would stick more to their field. As it turns out, they get more and more ridiculous as the book progresses, finishing off with a pair of shitshows. I'm still trying to figure out if the global cooling chapter and the monkey chapters are jokes. What bothered me most about the global cooling chapter wasn't so much the views the authors develop but that they were trying to influence people on something they seem to know little about. While earlier in the book, they explain how economics has expanded to "social economics" (a.k.a. sociology, political science and psychology), they never really explain why economists suddenly can become scientists. Why didn't they stick to the economics of global climate change? That would have been just as interesting and more their field. Instead, they take it upon themselves to select a handful of "geniuses" who have found simple solutions to a complex problem.

Entertaining? Yes. Funny? Yes. Interesting? Often. Legitimate? Hell no.
305 reviews
January 19, 2010
TABLE OF CONTENTS (close to verbatim):

Intro--In which the global financial meltdown is entirely ignored in favor of more engaging topics:
the perils of walking drunk
the unlikely savior of Indian women
drowning in horse manure
what is freakonomics
toothless sharks & bloodthirsty elephants
things you always thought you knew but didn't

Chapter 1--In which we explain the various costs of being a woman:
LaShanna, part-time prostitute
One million dead "witches"
The many ways in which females are punished for being born female
Even Radcliffe women pay the price
Title IX creates jobs for women; men take them
1 of every 50 women a prostitute
The booming sex trade in old-time Chicago
A survey like no other
The erosion of prostitute pay
Why did oral sex get so cheap?
Pimps vs. Realtors (pimpact vs. rimpact)
why cops love prostitutes
where did all the schoolteachers go?
what really accounts for the male-female wage gap
do men love money the way women love kids?
can a sex change boost your salary?
meet Allie, the happy prostitute; why aren't there more women like her?

Chapter 2--In which we discuss compelling aspects of birth & death, though primarily death:
the worst month to have a baby
the natal roulette affects horses too
why Albert Aab will outshine Albert Zyzmor
the birthdate bulge
where does talent come from?
some families produce baseball players; others produce terrorists
why terrorism is so cheap & easy
the trickle-down effects of Sept 11
the man who fixes hospitals
why the newest ERs are already obsolete
how can you tell a good doctor from a bad one?
"bitten by a client at work"
why you want your ER doc to be a woman
a variety of ways to postpone death
why is chemotherapy so widely used when it so rarely works?
"we're still getting our butts kicked by cancer"
war: not as dangerous as you think?
how to catch a terrorist

Chapter 3--In which people are revealed to be less good than previously thought, but also less bad:
why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered?
with neighbors like these...
what caused the 1960s crime explosion?
how the ACLU encourages crime
Leave it to Beaver: not as innocent as you think
the roots of altruism, pure & impure
who visits retirement homes?
natural disasters and slow news days
economists make like Galileo & hit the lab
the brilliant simplicity of the Dictator game
people are so generous!
thank goodness for "donorcycles"
the great Iranian kidney experiment
from driving a truck to the ivory tower: John List,economist
why don't real people behave like people in the lab?
the dirty rotten truth about altruism
scarecrows work on people too
Kitty Genovese revisited

Chapter 4--In which big, seemingly intractable problems are solved in surprising ways:
the dangers of childbirth
Ignatz Semmelweis to the rescue
how the Endangered Species Act endangered species
creative ways to keep from paying for your trash
forceps hoarding
the famine that wasn't
300,000 dead whales
the mysteries of polio
what really prevented your heart attack
the killer car
the strange story of Robert McNamara (seatbelts at Ford)
let's drop some skulls down the stairwell
hurray for seatbelts
what's wrong with riding shotgun?
how much good do car seats do?
crash-test dummies tell no lies
why hurricanes kill and what can be done about it

Chapter 5--In which we take a cool, hard look at global warming:
let's melt the ice cap!
what's worse: car exhaust or cow farts?
if you love the earth, eat more kangaroo
it all comes down to negative externalities
TheClub vs. LoJack
Mt Pinatubo teaches a lesson
the obscenely smart, somewhat twisted gentlemen of Intellectual Ventures
Assassinating mosquitoes
"Sir, I am every kind of scientist!"
an inconvenient truthiness
what climate models miss
is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?
big-ass volcanoes and climate change
how the cool the earth
the "garden hose to the sky"
reasons to hate geoengineering
jumping the repugnance barrier
"soggy mirrors" and the puffy-cloud solution (over water)
why behavior change is so hard
dirty hands and deadly doctors
foreskins are falling

Epilogue--Monkeys are people too
microeconomics experiment teaching monkeys to use money
price shocks & income shocks
gambling: loss aversion
crime pays
fear of damage to monkey social structure ends experiments

Profile Image for Jesse.
154 reviews44 followers
August 28, 2011
the first few chapters were just a continuation of the first book in terms of ideas, tone and excecution; thus, i was feeling pretty satisfied that i was reading such a book and becoming more of a "cold-blooded economist", than a "warm-blooded humanist" (or whatever condescending, self-congratulatory phrases they used were). and then these guys got derailed, in a very sad, strange and self-defeating way. they did this weird about face, where in one chapter they talk about the law of unintended consequences and then - in the very next chapter - they talk about solving global warming (the phrase they consistently used, instead of the more accurate global climate change) by spraying sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. seriously. and after i picked my jaw up off the floor - because i mean talk about unintended consequences - i listened to them list there reasons why this would be a good idea and why other people (you know actual climate scientist, as opposed to inventors and economists) were afraid of this idea because of some ingrained dogma. and they did all this while consistently misrepresenting facts, stating easily falsifiable quotes without challenge, and dissing al gore, noble prize winner. did i mention they didn't talk to actual climate scientists. this was another stange aspect of this chapter: while in other sections they used large amounts of data to come to their conclusions, in this chapter they talked with the folks at "intellectual venture" and presented everything they said as truth without: 1)checking their statements for factual accuracy, 2)checking for logical fallacies and specious arguments, or 3) talking with a disinterested or antagonistic party to try and understand the full scope of the idea. if i took their chapter at face value, i would think that the solution for global climate change was simple cheap and without scary consequences, but a real easy (and fast) google search showed me the many mistakes that they made. they started their climate change chapter by presenting the "gobal cooling scare" of the 1970's as something that was scientifically agreed upon and reported in trade journals, when in reality (again, a quick google search) there were publications in popular magazines (with natgeo being the most "scientific", but not exactly peer-reviewed), and scattered papers that were never conclusive and there was nothing even close to the scientific consensus that we have today about human induced global climate change. the story about cooling in the 70's is something you hear alot from global warming skeptics, which is concerning when you read it in a book by so-called "cold-blooded economists", a simple look at the meta-analysis will show you there was no scientific conclusion about the 1970's "global cooling".

this chapter made me pause, and wonder about the whole freakonomics phenomenon. when i read the first book, i was astonished at how many things they discovered that were caused by simple adjustments to human incentives, or were just sitting there in the data the whole time and they were the ones smart enough to find the pattern. but now it makes me wonder how much of their "data" and "conclusions" were just a presentation of one side of the arguement. because just the way they use the phrase "cold-blooded economist" makes it sound like if you don't agree with their conclusions it must be because you are irrational and don't see the workd for what it really is: one large incentive experiment (which i don't wholly disagree with). but maybe the authors are missing their own incentives: having a new york times bestseller and becoming known for irreverant, yet spot on conclusions that others just "fail to see" - these are very strong incentives. just look at james frey, people will do alot to be famous and be seen as a genius. i'm not saying that this is what they did, just that if i learned anything from these books, it is to find out where the incentives come from and there you will usually find your causation. maybe the pressure to live up to the success of their first book got to them, or maybe they wanted to try and show how you could solve the world's biggest problem with a simple, cheap solution. or maybe, against all odds (and most climate scientists) they actually believe all that they wrote to be true. but i can't see how people this intelligent would take a problem this complex and ignore the power of unintended consequences – of which they just wrote – and take the word of just one company (for-profit, I might add), consult zero climate scientists and pretend that they have some sort of actual solution to climate change. following incentives on this one, it’s hard to conclude anything else but a selfish desire to appear clever, forward-thinking, and best-selling - and using a seriously dangerous problem to do so. and this is sad, from two guys who really can do great work.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
January 14, 2016
Those renegade, cold blooded micro economists are back for more fun filled worldly observations and scathing attacks on the status quo.

This time around the pair explore the economics of the worlds oldest profession and the myths and realities of global warming. Makes me want to consider the incentives of most every occurrence and transaction.

Levitt is on to something pretty cool here.

17 reviews
February 9, 2018
I enjoyed the original, which, if memory serves had much more cohesive chapters around specific theses. While the chapters treated the topic at hand, they seemed to be much more scattershot in terms of finding a number of correlations in data that "swirled" around the main hypothesis of the chapter.

As with many reviewers, I think that Dubner and especially Levitt have stepped a little outside their expertise with some of the topics in this book and with the ongoing Freakonomics "brand," particularly their podcast. In my opinion, Steven Levitt is now the major force behind this brand, and the result has been a reduction in academic quality in favor of sensation. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not where the series started.

And whether it is Dubner or Levitt to blame, their forays into natural science have been pretty disappointing. Of course there are the problems with the climate science in this book, but also there have been several episodes of their podcast that have seemed overly credulous, particularly when it comes to "rogue scientists" who fit well with the "rogue economist" brand.

In short, while I always like the popularization of science, whether natural or social, It must be done with care. And I fear that Dubner and Levitt are slowly leaving that caution behind as they pursue their brand.
Profile Image for Abyssdancer (Hanging in there!).
131 reviews19 followers
February 9, 2022
This book is an enjoyable foray into using the scientific method through behavioral economics to approach fundamental yet quirky questions about the way the world works. They cover topics from hand washing (or the lack thereof) in medical settings to solutions regarding climate change. All of these topics are explained and described with a beautiful combination of warmth and humor - I found myself laughing out loud at some of their insights.

Here is a longer list of topics they explore:

What types of personality traits are present in potential terrorists? What are the “side effects” in society of the potential for terrorist acts?

How can hospitals improve the work flow in the emergency room?

What is the efficacy of chemotherapy?

What are the long-lasting effects of the inaction taken to help Kitty Genovese during her fatal attack in the street?

How has television influenced crime and violence?

Is altruism a natural behavior in humans?

What are the monetary incentives for women to enter the world of prostitution?

How does germ theory affect the behavior of doctors and other medical personnel?

Delineating these topics does not portray the humor used to approach these weighty subjects, or the brilliant insights from all these behavioral experiments. The authors describe these situations in a way that is not fear-mongering or accusatory. They transition between topics within each chapter with such grace and ease, it’s hard to believe you’re learning so much about the ways humans interact with each other and the world at large.

I enjoyed reading this book - it made me carefully reflect on my own behavior in these situations, and critically think about the various solutions to these problems.
Profile Image for Feli.
90 reviews46 followers
December 15, 2021
3,5/5 ⭐

“Most of us want to fix or change the world in some fashion. But to change the world, you first have to understand it.”

This was the second book I read on behavioral economics and I did not enjoy it as much as the first one - it is worth clarifying the first book I read on the topic was Freakonomics.

Just to give you an overall idea of what the book is like, it has the same structure as Freakonomics. Each chapter goes over a situation and it is analysed using statistics with psychology and, as expected, economic assumptions. So if you didn't like the previous book, you will not like this one either.

Concerning the facts given on this book, I believe in their veracity. Though if you want to use them to sound smart in a conversation I would double check beforehand.

There is a particular chapter that I found myself unable to go through, though at the end I succeeded - the climate change chapter. The thread of the topic went beyond economics at moments and, for a person like me who doesn't know much about climate change, it could be a bit boring. Besides that one chapter, the book was entertaining.

To conclude with, it is a fun read and reminded me of why I like economics.
913 reviews409 followers
June 21, 2010
A reluctant 3 stars. I'll give this book the benefit of the doubt and say that it probably would have worked better for me had I read it rather than listening to it. While I love the fact that audiobooks allow me to multi-task, it means that I'm less focused when I'm listening to them. That's fine if it's a book like Savannah Blues but this book demanded more concentration, especially since the writing style was highly tangential to begin with.

Those who read “Freakonomics” are familiar with what the authors offer: a conglomerate of light, entertaining facts which offer new ways of looking at things, generally falling under the umbrella of studying the way people respond to incentives, a.k.a. behavioral economics. “Freakonomics” was probably the first book of its kind that I read and I enjoyed it thoroughly; I have since discovered Malcolm Gladwell and no longer find this genre particularly novel although that doesn't diminish my enjoyment.

In fact, there were some interesting and entertaining tidbits here -- the career path of a successful self-employed call girl, the truth behind the "38 bystanders" of Kitty Genovese's murder (a fundamental topic when I studied social psychology – who knew that the facts were misreported?), experiments with teaching monkeys to value currency, etc. Unfortunately some of the other topics bored me, particularly when the authors focused less on behavior and more on science (e.g., global warming and global cooling). The authors often lost me in part because of my own distractibility while listening, but I found that it was hard to come back once I did lose focus.

I highly recommend the first Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything book. Though there's room to quibble with a lot of the authors' claims, it's provocative and entertaining reading. There were moments where this one lived up to the standard set by the first, but overall I can't recommend it with the same enthusiasm.
Profile Image for Yousif Al Zeera.
239 reviews80 followers
July 9, 2016
This book is even better than Freakonomics. The amount of insights and information (from different fields) you get exposed to is incredible. I am liking "economics" much more after reading their books (Levitt and Dubner).
Profile Image for The Book Whisperer (aka Boof).
343 reviews235 followers
October 21, 2009
From monkey prostitution to raising a terrorist......

I found this book interesting, frustrating, fascinating and infuriating (mostly at the same time). The duo that brought Freakonomics with answers to why drug dealers live with their mothers and how the name that your parents gave you can determine which job you end up getting have now given us Superfreakonomics.

To rogue economists or mad scientists this books meanderings may be make perfect sense, but to the likes of me I had a job trying to fathom how we got from one subject to another and then back to the original one at times. It almost seemed like a couple of kids that get so excited about their school project that they just want to tell you everything all about it all at once. That said, some of the themes and questions posed I found fascinating:

Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?
Why is May the worst month for a baby in Uganda and Michigan, USA to be born?
How did 9/11 start the trickle down effect of the credit crunch?
Why could eating kangaroo meat help save the planet?
Why did 38 people watch Kitty Genovese be murdered and say nothing?

When I read Freakonomics a few years ago I gave it 2 stars. It attempted to tell us that teachers cheat, estate agents lie and black kids are usually given different names to white kids. You don't say! After having read this second offering I have decided to accept it for what it is - fun and light entertainment. Some of the findings are really fascinating and some are pretty banal and even confusing (the global warming section had my eyes glazing over).

However, to end on a positive note, the epilogue was genius! If you have ever wondered if monkey prostitution exists, wonder no more.....
Profile Image for Paul.
48 reviews24 followers
October 1, 2012
The basic premise of this book is simple: to apply economic principles and methodology to understand the reasons why people do the things they do (or as the authors call it, the incentives behind behavior).

Or, as the authors paraphrase Gary Becker on page 12, the "economic approach."

That being said, it is very similar to their first book, which I also read. This one builds upon it in that it goes on to explain more cases of things that seemingly have no connection or common theme, but in fact do once you look a little deeper.

They use the same processes as any other data-driven field of study: they make a few guesses, do an experiment or ten (or get others to do it), collect data, analyze the data, and then revise their initial guesses in light of what the data says.

The book is a fun, quick, and for the most part easy read. If anything it'll make you think a bit more about why people do the things they do, at least in a more "economic" sense. When they use jargon, they do so sparingly, and they always either include an explanation or use the context of what they are discussing in order to explain the concept to the reader. They try not to get too technical or complicated in their explanations for anything, and when they do, they almost always include a separate "this is what we're trying to say" way of explaining it. They realize who their audience is (non-economists), and do their best to keep our attention and focus on what they're saying.

Most important of all, though, is that they include their sources in the endnotes - their own studies and the sources and studies of others who they included in the book. This is important because while they are writing for a more general, non-economist audience, they also know that they need to show their sources so people who are interested can follow up. More than that, though, is the fact that all of this is legitimate research that has been used by other organizations and institutions (including the government), and thus is subject to peer review and analysis.

So their inclusion of their sources indicates that while the book may seem a bit... silly... at times, it is really a well-written cover for some serious research and investigation. This, I might add, is a bit more of the journalistic side of the book - taking the hard to understand stuff and distilling it down into something that the rest of us without Ph.Ds in economics can understand, and in this, the authors have done a pretty good job, to say nothing of the investigation and fact-digging and checking that was probably done while this was being written.

Some of the reviews on here about this book have said that the authors got this thing right and that thing wrong, and while that may (or may not) be true, the fact is this: they've included their research sources, so if you really do have an issue with them, then it's game on.

However, that isn't their aim with this book. While they are using economic principles and methods to explain some rather unusual, non-economic things, they aren't trying to be the end-all source of wisdom. They probably say it best here:

"Many of our findings may not be all that useful, or even conclusive. But that's all right. We are trying to start a conversation, not have the last word. Which means that you may find a few things in the following pages to quarrel with.
"In fact, we'd be disappointed if you didn't." (pg. 17)

It seems that they're just trying to use their own discipline-specific approach to understand and examine things in a way so that they can be discussed, in order to try and understand why people do the things they do. That's all.
1 review
June 28, 2011
coming from a research background heavy in statistics, I immediately recognized the interpretive errors contained in Freakenomics. Initially I found it amusing to see the absurd conclusions made through cherry picking outlier results based on correlational and/or poorly designed research studies. Half way through the book, I got bored but continued through just so I could quote my concerns first hand during debates with the many non-scientists that became so excited about the book. The second book, SuperFreakonomics, didn't bore me or amuse me, it scared me. Once again, statistics is used to over-rule proper research design and the requirement of all good research to provide support from literature reviews based on quality methods was ignored. It's one thing when Levitt is using stats to make funny conclusions that any scientist would see as light hearted humor, it's a whole other thing to use statistical manipulations and faulty logic to try to debunk the REALITY that human behavior is the MAIN contributor to environmental toxins in the air and propose outlandish and un-researched solutions such as pumping even MORE toxins into the air to create shade. This book only serves to enable those that are still holding on to the hope that they are not responsible and don't have change as they feed their greed and addiction to over-consumption.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book141 followers
September 25, 2018
An interesting dog's breakfast of apparently unrelated essays supposedly on microeconomics, though the chapter on global warming ended up almost entirely on "global" issues. One gets the impression they wrote a bunch of columns for a newspaper, say the New York Times, then decided to cash in on the fame of their previous book by publishing the essays together. Oh. That's what they did!

That global warming chapter "What to Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?" is the best in the book. No, the answer is not because both spouted a lot of hot air; it's "Gore and Pinatubo both suggest ways to cool the planet, albeit with methods whose cost-effectiveness are a universe apart."

The cost-effectiveness ratio of the $40 asking price is out of whack, too, but I found it on the "80% off table". At $8 it's lots of fun.
112 reviews
October 27, 2009
I wanted to love it, because I loved Freakonomics. But, alas, I did not. I don't know if they really chose less captivating topics than last time, but it felt like it. Also, if you happen to have read all or several of Malcolm Gladwell's and Atul Gawande's books, and even that Oshinksy book about the history of polio in the U.S., this book will feel largely like something you've already read somewhere else. I think my review might be a bit unfair. Perhaps if you haven't read any of those other books, this one might feel original and interesting. But I bet it still won't feel as interesting as Freakonomics was.
Profile Image for Gavin.
1,091 reviews344 followers
January 29, 2020
Contrarianism unbound by prior plausibility. Most chapters contain something wrong and/or harmful. e.g. the drunk-driving vs drunk-walking claim.

I'm relatively fond of geoengineering, but their uncritical acceptance of Myhrvold's irreversible schtick is scary and foolish.

A bit more reliable than Gladwell, but this isn't saying much.
Profile Image for Paul Weiss.
1,252 reviews236 followers
August 23, 2023
You just gotta think outside the box!

Economics may not be considered one of the sexier sciences. But, first with FREAKONOMICS and now with SUPER FREAKONOMICS, rogue economists and best-selling authors, Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, have proven that economics can be fascinating, funny and out-of-the-blue surprising as well!

No cow is so sacred as to escape the scrutiny of Levitt and Dubner's micro- and macro-scopic analysis. For example, would any of us have thought to question the value of infant car seats in preventing child injury or deaths in car accidents? I certainly wouldn't have but Levitt and Dubner show that children's car seats are no more effective than regular seat belts at preventing injury. How many millions (or billions) of dollars are swirling into a voracious black hole in pursuit of this particular sacred cow?

I expect their tongues were planted firmly in their cheeks when they examined the economics of pimping and street prostitution, but I, for one, found the analysis of the precipitous decline in the cost of oral sex to be absolutely fascinating. Not only is Levitt and Dubner's analysis interesting economics but their conclusions say a great deal about the evolution of world culture.

Is global warming a reality? Who knows for sure but, whether it is or it isn't, Levitt and Dubner have presented a rather critical commentary on the economics of possible solutions to a problem that may well be considerably less daunting and costly to solve than the likes of Al Gore would have us believe. While SUPER FREAKONOMICS may smack of libertarianism, it's hard to argue with Levitt and Dubner's broader conclusions that government policy frequently falls victim to the law of unintended consequences and that governments rarely, if ever, choose a small-scale inexpensive solution to a problem when a flashier, bigger and more expensive solution is available.

With no punches pulled, SUPER FREAKONOMICS might be brash and cheeky and it certainly isn't textbook economics, but it is thoroughly entertaining and informative. If it causes any voter to raise an eyebrow and question government policy more critically or if it causes any consumer to be more wary of future purchases and less accepting of dogma, publicity or advertising on faith, then Levitt and Dubner will go to bed this evening pleased with the work they've done. And, along the way - what a bonus - it's a certainty that you'll experience a good laugh or two!

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
Profile Image for Emily.
933 reviews104 followers
March 23, 2010
Once again, Steven and Stephen have provided food for thought in the form of odd but illuminating juxtapositions and intentionally provocative questions. It's refreshing to know that there isn't just one way of looking at the world; the "common knowledge" that is so pervasive it's not even questioned anymore can be not just wrong, but spectacularly so. It's also a bit unsettling. I learned about the "bystander effect" in my entry-level under-grad psychology course; it was a fact, a given, in my study of basic group dynamics. And it's a complete fallacy. So does it follow that I should question absolutely everything I "know" to be true? Some level of taking things on faith is necessary to function in the world, but it certainly makes me more skeptical of those who purport to have the single correct scientific interpretation of any set of data or events.

A few years ago, Freakonomics set off a trend of similar books (some are even very good), with the result that this book doesn't have the sparkle of originality found in the first. The structure of each chapter occasionally makes it hard to follow because Steven and Stephen like to set up all of their seemingly unrelated examples first before pulling them together and drawing the conclusion that links them all. But in spite of all of the copycats and the sometimes disorienting randomness of examples used , the book is a compelling reminder that not all is as it seems and that multiple perspectives are valuable if only because they serve to force my mind out of its rut.

For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.
Profile Image for Dhruv Sharma.
129 reviews22 followers
August 23, 2019
Educating, entertaining & fascinating!

Dubnar & Levitt did it again and much better this time. Its an amazing book and couldn't be better. This book (Series actually of freakonomics& super-freakonomics) helps the reader seeing the word from an economist (or homo economicus) point of view where everything is understood, explained and presented purely based on data. This is one hell of a thing to implement in one's life, and if you do, you always talk about stuff in numbers & by which you effortlessly convince people on your point of view, simply put it in terms of data and they will agree with you.

Let me appreciate the author's effort and put further review in terms of quantified measurements:

1. Out of 5 chapters 4 were amazing and 1 was above avg. so (20*4+10)=90% of book will keep you glued to it.

2. The facts & data presented will educate you on various topics about which usually people have misperception, so 100% educating.

3. Author will make you laugh on Avg. every 2 pages even though it is on serious issues so 100% marks on entertainment.

4. The social pain areas topics like prostitution, global warming etc. gets your attention and makes the whole read 100% fascinating.

Am a big fan now of authors now.

Full marks, 5 out of 5.

Profile Image for Mike.
65 reviews4 followers
July 29, 2011
I really enjoy reading books that challenge you to question conventional wisdom. If you like Malcolm Gladwell I definitely recommend this book. HOWEVER, many of the topics are covered it Gladwell's books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, so be prepared to hear some regurgitation (the brutal murder in queens with 38 onlookers who didn't call the cops, how the month you were born greatly affects your ability to play professional sports, and many others that have been covered in other more popular books). Also, many of the statistical conclusions are nothing short of outlandish, for example, telling me that statistically I could drive in a car continuously for 285 years before I would be likely to die in a drunk driving accident. The assumptions leading up to that conclusion are vague and weak.

With that caveat out of the way, most of the book was facsinating and it was a very quick read (only 200-ish pages). For example, the accidental death rate for soldiers in the 1980's was larger than the hostile death rates for every year since we've been in Iraq/Afghanistan, therefore, training for war in the 1980's was more dangerous than actually fighting a war, yikes. Also there's an interesting piece on prostitution and how lucrative it used to be, who knew that they made the equivalent of over $100k/year plus medical/dental/education/food/apartment benefits paid for by the brothel owners. Also, definitely look up the group called "Intellectual Ventures", they are brilliant minds who believe the best solutions are cheap and simple. I had heard about them before this book but finally decided to look them up, very good stuff.

I definitely recommend this book but read it WITH A HUGE GRAIN OF SALT. Nothing should be taken literally or for truth. But I really believe their fundamental premise that "the laws of supply and demand are often more powerful than the laws made by legislators."
9 reviews
January 7, 2010
If you are going to write a book being contrarian or challegning orthodoxy then it would probably pay to

a) accurately quote your sources
b) do basic fact checking before going to print

Inexcusably sloppy and intellectually dishonest.
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