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Freakonomics This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     In Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner seek to expand the minds of readers with the idea that economics can be found in the most obscure situations.

Levitt initially states that there is no “unifying theme” to the book, but there is: The introduction establishes the underlying idea that conventional wisdom is often full of misunderstandings, since one does not look into the motivations behind a situation to find the truth.

Levitt states that Freakonomics’ rationale is to “strip away a layer or two from the surface of modern life and see what is happening underneath.” It does this by comparing two superficially different people or situations and uniting them with some complex economic similarities and motives. For example, the book compares the dealing of crack cocaine to the production of DuPont nylons in 1940s, ethnicity to standardized test scores, and explains how something as simple as a name can affect one’s life.

These topics may seem controversial, but Levitt’s basic argument is that personal incentive is a hidden factor that causes most occurrences; morality represents the way people would like the world to work, and economics represents how it actually does.

Levitt draws his arguments from textbooks, interviews, and articles that prove true some urban myths. He presents and quickly disputes common misconceptions about his arguments. Levitt also occasionally displays evidence through lists (for example, the most common low-income Caucasian girls’ names, how many weeks of compensated pay one would receive for each damaged body part, or the patterns of standardized test answers that showed up in different classrooms of cheating teachers).

Levitt presents his argument about the origin of conventional wisdom using the example of juvenile crime. The urgency to end this behavior reached its peak in the 1990s - when crime rates began to fall. To compensate for this unknown decline, experts began to formulate arbitrary theories. These theories reached the media, and then the public, and they became labeled “conventional wisdom.”

Levitt then sets up ideas for the rest of the book by diving into this concept of conventional wisdom and showing the reader what to consider when analyzing a situation, event, or behavior of a group. The book leaves the reader somewhat confused, with many loose ends and questions, until the surprising closing paragraphs that validate Levitt’s thesis.

For the most part, Levitt’s comparisons of incentives between people are legitimate; however, some of his conclusions feel like they’re a stretch. For example, Levitt discusses the similarities between cheating teachers and sumo wrestlers. It is valid to say that these two groups are alike in a miniscule way, but their motivations are more different than alike.

Levitt provides the reader with the excitement of discovering new ideas and a fascinating approach to analyzing and drawing conclusions from data and experiences. Freakonomics is written in a clear, concise fashion using casual language but also some challenging vocabulary, which is why this book can be enjoyed by high school students and adults alike. Levitt takes a controversial stance in his reasoning that would be most enjoyed by liberal-minded readers. One who is unbiased would feel this book has a new awareness of the world that may help him or her avoid “conventional wisdom.”


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 5 comments. Post your own!

Deej6595 said...
Nov. 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm:
I like how you didn't just say this book is amazing, etc, etc but, you explained and gave examples of why you should read. I also liked how you didn't agree with some things the author presented it gives us a chance to see if we will like things the author did. I am not into politics or socioeconomics but, I think I actually will read this book!
 
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WonderWisherThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Aug. 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm:
Very nice! After reading this I want to read this! It sounds very intersting and inventive. But like emlitfan said, try not to start every paragraph with "Levit". But overall very good!
 
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pullingdaisies said...
Aug. 3, 2013 at 5:33 am:
wow i read the book last year and didn't like it, after reading ur review, i think i might gie it a second chance 
 
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emlitfan said...
May 7, 2013 at 2:51 pm:
i read this book a year ago. Only critique - Do not start each paragraph with "Levit". but good job!
 
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Hope.BThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Mar. 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm:
Wow what an awesome review i really want to get this book now!
 
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