BOOKCASE : Superfreakonomics

• Steven D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner
• Allen Lane TPB
• RRP $38.00

We took economists increasingly seriously over the past 10 years and where did that get us? In schtuk. Well, perhaps that is something of an exaggeration, but that’s what makes things interesting.
So, here again are storytellers, one an economist, the other journalist, with the follow-up to their enormously successful first book Freakonomics, published back in 2005. And what now do they have to say, these messrs Levitt & Dubner? In many respects, just more of what they said before.
So, if you want to be entertained, enlightened and encouraged to think differently about good many fascinating and previously not so interesting things, this book is for you.
Some critics have, predictably, taken the authors to task for the accuracy, or at least the questionable interpretations and conclusions drawn from some statistics they offer in support of unconventional hypotheses. But that, it seems to me, rather misses the point of the book.
This is book, as was its predecessor, to encourage thinking differently about conventional “truths” or, as is often the case with economic conclusions, “half truths”. This is an ideas book and, in my experience, economists are generally short on ideas on just about anything – or at least ideas that can be turned to any seriously useful account. When the all-too evident human truths behind stark figures slap them in the face, economists frequently fail to take heed and offer anything other than their particular brand of “conventional wisdom”.
Well, Superfreakonomics offers very “unconventional wisdom” on range of topics from, as the cover says, “global cooling, patriotic prostitutes and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance”. The book is again irreverent and appears to not always take sufficient heed of technical facts that might make conclusions drawn from research data impractical. But the book is not irrelevant.
I perhaps enjoyed the first book more, but that might be because of the freshness of its approach. Superfreakonomics is enormously entertaining and simultaneously educational, both of which add to its value. Because it is deliberately entertaining, more people will read it and question the issues it raises and that, surely, is the point. It will, in all likelihood, excite readers to think and go in search of more information on vital or trivial issues, depending on their propensity for and preferences in life. It certainly did me. My copy is seriously dog-eared and bookmarked.
This is perfect summer holiday reading for managers who want to look differently at the world around them. • Reg Birchfield

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