Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: Freakonomics/Superfreakonomics

"A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything."

My brother recommended these books to me. In fact, I'm not even sure whose copies I read, whether they belonged to my sister or what. But in any case, my brother has a knack for seeing things the way the are, without strong emotional coloring. So it is with these books.

Both books read relatively quickly, so it is something that even those who are most pressed for time can find a way to fit these books in. They are entertaining and thought-provoking. Best to read the first one first, but if you happen upon the second one and read it without having read the first, you won't be confused.

These books take historical and current events alike and explore the motivations behind the way that they work. No topic is off-limits. Teacher cheating, prostitution, drugs, abortion, and monkeys with money top the list. Some shocking discoveries are made through the use of statistics that were never designed to be used in the way that the authors and other researchers use them.

One of the main premises is the examination of incentives. More specifically, how can people be convinced to do things, and who really benefits? Cows emit more toxic gas than cars, but no one is suggesting we start using hybrid cows, and the dairy and meat industries certainly don't want their profit margins to decline as a result of environmental conscience.

Or, they could do something to negate the effects of emissions, and we can go on living our carbon-footprinting lives. Read the second book; it's quite astonishing. And cheap, and easy, which is why it won't happen.

You see, change is difficult. People don't want to do it, certainly not JUST because it is a good idea. Instead, people really only change if they feel they have something to gain and other options along the same lines as what they've been doing just aren't working.

You'd think that the guy who discovered that handwashing in hospitals saves lives would have been hailed a hero, but you'd be wrong. Because for the doctor at the time to increase handwashing would mean a change in routine AND an admission that he could be carrying something on his hands. His skilled, educated hands. Just to be clear, though, I am referencing this example because of my experience with hospitals, not out of disrespect for doctors.

As a person who likes the hidden sides of things and, more importantly, the logical, rational, and EASY solutions whenever possible, I appreciated these books greatly. I would recommend them to anyone with the caveat that because of some sensitive materials, relating to sex, drugs, and violence (but not Rock n Roll), parental guidance/previewing is suggested. This is not the type of life-changing text that will have you red with rage over the state of our worldly affairs. It's just not that deep. Instead, these books will have you saying "a HA!" and perhaps will pique curiosity in your everyday life.


Janet said...

I loved those books, too, for all the reasons that you mention!

As a total aside, the word verification text I'm being shown right now is "hoser", and as a Canadian I find this completely hilariously appropriate :)

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