Thursday, April 8, 2010


Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Steven D. Levitt
Stephen J. Dubner

Sometimes, when you pick a book for a book discussion, you hold your breath, cross your fingers and hope it's one where you don't get asked the question: "What the heck did you pick this book for?" I have usually been lucky. The book discussion group I moderate have liked, and sometimes loved, the books picked for discussion; it has been rare that I have had irate group members.

Freakonomics is one I held my breath, crossed my fingers and hoped. Just because I liked it, how would my book group feel about it? Economics can make my eyes glaze over, how would it be for some of the book group? On a miserable, cold rainy night fifteen brave souls came out to discuss this book, and what a discussion we had!

Dubner and Levitt have taken a subject, economics.... interesting,  but never something I could follow,  but it helped me, and it seems some of the group, to look and think about things in different ways. They put a spin on it that made it and interesting.
Where else would you finally find out why drug dealers still live with their moms? That a crack gang works pretty much like the standard capitalist even has it's equivalent of a CEO. It's amazing to find out that what school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common is cheating! Is the Ku Klux Klan really like a group of real estate agents?Abortion and crime? Who knew that the decision about Roe vs. Wade just might be the reason crime decreased instead of becoming the out of control coast to coast crime wave that was predicted? It seems all those criminals that would have been born....weren't.

Interesting tidbit: When Ceausescu came to power in Romania, he outlawed abortions. He wanted a stronger Romania, and if women didn't get pregnant, they were charged a fine. When Ceausecu's regime was overthrown, he was lynched by young men....who might not have been born if it wasn't for Ceausecu.

We had a good time with this book for many reasons. While economics is about monetary, fiscal matters that shows how the world works; Freakonomics suggests that morality represents the way we would like the world to work, and that conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed. Yes, there was some skepticism about some of the data they analyzed in the book. We didn't agree with the finding on some of the topics, especially the part about parenting. Does it really make a difference to a child if Mom and Dad are home or not? Does nurturing children and reading to them every night make a difference in how they turn out? Or are they born to be what they will be? What does the name given to a child say about the parents?

Interesting tidbit: Two boys: One is African-American, abandoned by his mother, raised in an impoverished and unstable household, his family ran a cocaine-crack business from his aunt's house, his father was a drunk who abused him. During his high school years young man led a double life--excelled in sports at high school while selling marijuana and carrying a gun.
The young white boy grew up in a privileged home, the cherished son of parents who gave him everything he wanted or needed, including a house full of books and his having books read to him. Brilliant in school, especially in mathematics.
Both young men graduated from Harvard University with honors and because college professors.
The young African-American is a Harvard economic advisor who has been honored by President Obama, Roland G. Fryer.
The young white man is Ted Kaczynski, aka....the Unabomer.

I'm glad I read this book, and so was the majority of the group. It was pointed out that the cover should have been a give-a-way for the subject inside: a Granny Smith apple, cut open to reveal an orange inside.

Point taken away from the book? Look closely at what you may not be what you think it is.

Happy Reading!


le0pard13 said...

I remember reading this book awhile back, based on a recommendation by a friend of mine. It brought some interesting perspectives and made economics (the thing that bored me to tears in college) absorbing. It's caused a large degree of discussion since (I think sociologists take a different view of their conclusions, IIRC). Still, it was a fun, fast read. Thanks, Bev.

Bev said...

Thanks le0pard13 for stopping by. It was a fun, fast read and had some very interesting points.
As I posted...I didn't agree with all of it, but it does make you re-think your perspective of something or someone....which isn't always a bad thing.