Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (2009)
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics was an outstanding first book and I'm certain it must have been a hard act to follow. Nevertheless, the sequel SuperFreakonomics is a great read that I think surpasses even the original.

The authors cover some of the same timely topics as The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell, but Gladwell's approach is generally from a psychological perspective. Levitt and Dubner put the world into an economic focus, looking at a variety of incentives that motivate people in their everyday activities.

A lot of ground is covered here. The economics of prostitution are explained, just as the economics of dealing cocaine were covered in the first book. The section on altruism and apathy is absolutely first rate.

If you listen to politicians discuss global warming, you hear a lot of extreme talk. Those on the left often suggest climate change immediately threatens our way of life, civilization, even life on earth, while those on the right are fond of calling global warming a scientific fraud. It is therefore refreshing to read an intelligent discussion of the topic here. The authors propose that even complex environmental problems may have elegant and inexpensive solutions, and they suggest that a viable approach may already have been worked out. Maybe it's not a perfect solution but possibly it's an advance. In any event, it would be nice to see this insightful book change the tenor of our political debates on the matter. Doubtful, though.


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