Saturday, November 28, 2009

Super Freakonomics, not that impressed

I immensely enjoyed Stephen Dunbar and Steven Levitt's book Freakonomics when it came out, have enjoyed reading articles of theirs elsewhere and was looking forward to Superfreakonomics. Reading it, I was disappointed.

First, the pair have established themselves. They don't need to try and draw attention to themselves. Yet the chapter titles are written as if they are trying to get Digg hits. I forget the exact wording of the first chapter title but it is something like "How prostitutes are like mall Santas". The chapter is largely about prostitution and may be the only chapter similar in style to the original book. But the answer comes way late in the chapter and is a bit of an iffy connection. They cite a study of Chicago prostitutes and find that in one area of Chicago, the prostitutes only really operate on the 4th of July weekend. That area contains a large park and many families have reunions there which apparently result in fellows getting bored (and horny) and looking for action. So, at least in this case, prostitutes are like Santas in that they are seasonal. Lame, right?

Which brings me to the second issue with the book. With the exception of the first chapter, the rest of the chapters read like connected blog posts. It felt like Dunbar and Levitt just tried to cram a whole bunch of research studies into the book that were loosely connected and then threw chapter headings on like groupings. Some of the studies I know I have read before and I'm not that into any of the fields discussed. Unlike Freakonomics, which had a lot of original, somewhat obscure research that made you think and maybe wanting to learn more, the sequel felt like I was reading old news and it left me lukewarm.

Of course, you can't read a review of the book without seeing the discussion on the fifth chapter involving global warming. Unlike other denizens of the internet, I didn't have issues with it. If you're interested in the discussion, just Google the book. Having studied environmental and energy policy years ago, I enjoyed their alternative solutions to the global warming issue (and the possibility that there is no issue) and wish that more people would be open to solutions rather than just stomp around morally outraged.

To me, this is a fun book. There's not enough deep exploration of any given topic to make me feel like having this as a book is an improvement over just taking snippets of the chapters and turning them into blog posts. Sort of like they already do.

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