The Book Description
From Publishers Weekly: Forget your image of an economist as a crusty professor worried about fluctuating interest rates: Levitt focuses his attention on more intimate real-world issues, like whether reading to your baby will make her a better student. Recognition by fellow economists as one of the best young minds in his field led to a profile in the New York Times, written by Dubner, and that original article serves as a broad outline for an expanded look at Levitt’s search for the hidden incentives behind all sorts of behavior. There isn’t really a grand theory of everything here, except perhaps the suggestion that self-styled experts have a vested interest in promoting conventional wisdom even when it’s wrong. Instead, Dubner and Levitt deconstruct everything from the organizational structure of drug-dealing gangs to baby-naming patterns. While some chapters might seem frivolous, others touch on more serious issues, including a detailed look at Levitt’s controversial linkage between the legalization of abortion and a reduced crime rate two decades later. Underlying all these research subjects is a belief that complex phenomena can be understood if we find the right perspective. Levitt has a knack for making that principle relevant to our daily lives, which could make this book a hit. Malcolm Gladwell blurbs that Levitt “has the most interesting mind in America,” an invitation Gladwell’s own substantial fan base will find hard to resist.
Why I Liked It
Like reading books about economics? Yeah…me neither.
In fact, in college I was awarded a $1,000 scholarship that had one string attached—I had to take an economics course for each semester that I had the scholarship. (I was a journalism major and the scholarship was from a company that hoped to groom journalists with a background in economics.) I struggled for 3 semesters in various economic courses—macroeconomics, microeconomics and the single most boring college course I ever took, “The Great Economists of the 19th and 20th Century.” (Seriously, I could not stay awake in that class. I kept doing the head bob and then rocketing awake with a start. The professor had an awful monotone, the classroom was stuffy, and the subject as presented was as dry as burnt toast.) All I came away with was a headache and a vague knowledge about the relationship between supply and demand.
So you know what I did? I told the dean that I didn’t want the scholarship. I gave it up. It wasn’t worth it to me. Yeah…it was that bad. (To my amazement and eternal gratitude, they found another scholarship for me that didn’t require any economics courses.)
I thought my hate-hate relationship with economics was over then. But then I saw co-author Steven J. Dubner talking about this book on The Daily Show and I was intrigued. It sounded very interesting and a bit out there. And the title alone let me know this wasn’t your average economics book. So I got a copy, read it, and it was AMAZING! Seriously, the ideas in this book are fascinating and presents economics in a way that even I could understand and comprehend. This is economics applied in a way I didn’t know it could be applied—to real-world situations and things that happen in my daily life. I was completely engrossed in this book and will probably reread it again someday.
There is some controversial stuff in here, and it isn’t boring in the least. It will open your mind to think about things in ways you’ve never thought about them before. It will encourage you to seek connections between things that don’t seem connected. It will shine a light on your everyday world and ask you to look at it from a different angle. If economics had been presented to me like it is in this book, I would have stuck with this course of study. As it was, I’ll just settle for this book.