Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything




As someone who reads a lot of nonfiction, I have seen ‘Freakonomics’ referenced in quite a few books I have read over the last few years. I thought it was time to see what all of the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.


Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life, from cheating and crime to sports and child rearing, and whose conclusions regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.
Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives; how people get what they want or need especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of…well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter.
©2005 Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner; (P)2005 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.


If swimming pools are more dangerous to children than guns, why do parents have a larger fear of their children being shot? This is the type of question that economist Steven D. Levitt, along with journalist Stephen J. Dubner, attempt to answer in ‘Freakonomics.
Levitt is a world famous economist who explores many complex questions that might otherwise be overlooked by mainstream thinkers. Perhaps the most controversial of his theories is that it was the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s that led to a drop in crime in the early 1990s.
Levitt makes several compelling arguments such as the abortion one mentioned above. He also lays out the evidence for each of his theories which helps you to understand how he arrives at his conclusions. According to ‘Freakonomics’ all of life is based on incentive.
If there is a low likelihood of a person being caught committing a crime, they are more likely to attempt such a crime. If a bonus is rewarded to teachers who produce high test scores, the teachers are more likely to fudge the numbers to earn those scores. The incentive of getting to the top of the food chain is what keeps many men in the crack gangs, but that equation can change once the shooting starts.
There are many theories that are put forth in ‘Freakonomics’ and they all have something in common. They all put the conventional wisdom, the things we are told are true by experts, to the test.
‘Freakonomics’ admits that it has no unified theme. That’s how you can go from the world of sumo wrestling, to crack gangs to abortion to the importance of baby names.
I appreciated that the authors seem to go out of their way to point out and address some of the criticisms of their work. The theory about abortion and the connection to a change in crime rate was demonized on both sides of the political isle. I realized that any theory that can make everyone mad has to have at least some validity.


The partnership between Levitt and Dubner came about when the latter was tasked to profile the former. This is the first of several books that the pair have worked on together. Together, they make a strong combination. Combining Levitt’s theories and understanding of incentives with Dubner’s storytelling makes for an incredibly easy and compelling listen.


Stephen J. Dubner serves as both author and narrator of the book. After writing several reviews in which the author has served as the narrator, I have come to the conclusion that this works better for nonfiction titles such as this. Dubner does a satisfactory job of narrating the book. He speaks in a very conversational way that makes you feel like you are sitting at a table across from him and could ask him all kinds of questions.


This is one of the most bizarrely put together audiobooks I have ever encountered. The 6 chapter stops do not come at the beginning of each of the book’s chapters, they come in the middle of the actual book chapter. What makes this particularly strange is that at the end of each audio chapter, a musical cue is heard and there is another musical cue to start the next chapter. So you will hear a thought expressed, then musical cues, and then more information related to that thought.
Other than that strangeness, there is nothing wrong with the track. No glitches are heard and it is at a consistent level throughout. Aside from the musical cues, there are no other sound effects on the track.


After reading Freakonomics, I can say that Levitt and Dubner have converted me into a fan. I am eagerly looking forward to reading more in the future. I recommend this book to anyone who is not willing to settle for the conventional wisdom as being the be all and end all explanation for why things work the way that they do. Anyone who considers themselves to be open minded should give this a listen as it may challenge their own view of the world.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner Stephen J. Dubner Harper Audio Business & Economics 04/15/2005 6 hours, 30 minutes 9/10



This is a review of the first edition. A revised edition is also available in audiobook format.