Super Freakonomics

Freakonomics & Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner takes our normal life, look at it in a strange way, and then make us realise that not everything is so normal. Combining statistics (sometimes this can be fun), economics and the powers of deduction the books make you look at the world in a new way.

Are you more afraid of sharks or elephants? You have probably said the former, but statistics state that the latter is actually more dangerous. How? You are probably asking, well it is all about perception. When someone is attacked by a shark the whole media circus arrives and you are sure to know that it has happened. But when an elephant attacks a person this is mostly not noted in the media, and by the way, are elephants not really cute (e.g. Dumbo). Now onto the real numbers, on average 5.9 people die a year from shark attacks, about 200 die from shark attacks (that is more than 30 times as much!).

This example is only one of the many featured in both books. Chapters bear titles like: “Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?” and “The role legalized abortion has played in reducing crime, contrasted with the policies and downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu”. In their research, the authors come across all kinds of places in the world. Investigating the role of pimps and hookers (they are better off with pimps) takes them to lunch with prostitutes on their Saturday morning. And explore the topic of why removing foreskin could help reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

A topic of special interest for parents is the chapter on the effect parenting has on their children. When looking at other factors like economic and social status of the neighbourhood the effect of parenting almost completely disappears. The amount of books you have in your house is a good predictor of the reading proficiency of your child, have read them does not add anything to the predictive value. Does this mean that you as a parent have nothing to add? Of course not, you are of great influence on which neighbourhood you decide to live in, how many books you buy and how you raise your children. But sometimes there are things at play you do not think of instantly.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are one rogue economist and one extraordinary writer on the loose. Since 2003 they have been working together and have not only produced two most interesting books but have built a whole Freakonomics empire including podcasts and a regular blog. Their two books are easy to read and perfect conversation makers, they should be the next two on your list.