Freakonomics. The start of 2017’s book challenge.

The New Year always brings with it the obligatory goals of getting fitter, drinking more water, saving more money or sometimes the opposite with people vowing to go out and see more of the world. Whilst most, if not all of these are something I could benefit from I have decided one of my ‘New Year’ goals is to stay curious and read more books to help aid this.

I like to think I have always had a curious nature but recently I’ve found myself urging to learn new facts more than ever…so to start my ’52 books in 52 weeks challenge’ I decided to go with Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. 

Non-fiction has always scared me a little, I normally use documentaries as my source of new information, and I think this is down to the fact that although I have a curious mind I don’t class myself as being academically intelligent. Non-fiction, in my brain, was a genre reserved and appreciated by academically intelligent people. People who graduate from university with a tough degree, people who listen to radio 4, people who know proper grammar – I don’t and I apologise in advance for a rogue comma or an improperly used semi-colon.

 At the end of 2016 I decided to be brave and picked up a book called ‘Mary Boleyn: The great and infamous whore’ and much to my surprise I loved reading a book that wasn’t pure fiction. Having facts and figures laid out in front of me was actually enjoyable and most importantly I didn’t feel unintelligent when reading it. Reading is such an enjoyable hobby for me, the last thing I want is for that hobby to make me feel bad about myself and surprisingly non-fiction didn’t do that.

I had caught the non-fiction bug and after hearing about Freakonomics on countless podcasts and episodes of QI I decided to it was time to give it a go.

The important information:

  • Number of pages: 284 
  • Price: £9.99 full price. I bought mine online for £2.80
  • Genre: Non-fiction 
  • Time to read: 3 days

It is always a little nerving starting a book that is so highly revered however Freakonomics is definitely one of those books that is truly worth the hype. From the introduction to the snippets from the Freakonomics blog there were moments that made me literally go ‘ahhhh!’ (Which got me some discerning looks on the tube.)

Every single chapter was insightful and fun to read whether it be comparing teachers cheating habits to those of sumo wrestlers or decoding what really made the perfect parent to what names are attributed to different classes in society. The authors took the nitty gritty facts and figures turning them in to easily understood chapters that left me feeling like I had a sneaky insight in to many different worlds.

There were two stand out chapters that have stuck with me and had me gagging to tell anyone that would listen about the new facts I had learnt:

  • “Why do drug dealers still live with their Moms?

It may come as a surprise, as I sit here sipping mint tea on a Friday night, that I am not the most clued up person when it comes to the world of drugs and drug dealers so to read all about the world of the Black Disciples was an education. Naively I have always assumed that drug dealers are well off with lots of spare cash but Levitt and Dubner break down, with the use of some strangely obtained data, the inner financial workings of an American drugs gang that by the end of the chapter it made complete sense as to why drug dealers still live with their Mums. Not to give anything away I think even if you considered yourself rather streetwise this chapter would shock you, however this could be down to the narrative created by Levitt and Dubner whch makes you care for JT, the leader of the Black Disciples, whilst you are also being given a lesson on the financial accounts of the gang.

  • “Where have all the criminals gone?”

This chapter explored the dramatic drop in crime in the US during the 90s. It takes the most commonly cited reasons from the media and debunks them one by one, showing that ultimately this dramatic fall in crime was down to a certain medical procedure being legalised in the 1973. Can you guess what procedure it is? I’ll let you have a wee think…got it? No? Well the answer is the legalisation of abortions. Initially I was so perplexed but once again Levitt and Dubner’s easy to follow narrative helped me understand and say ‘of course!’ by the end of the chapter.

Obviously the insane comparisons (Estate Agents and the KKK), intricate details and funny moments make this book so popular however for me the narrative stole the show. The narrative is so unlike what you expect a book written by economists to be; it made Freaonomics easy to read and most of all thoroughly enjoyable.

Rating: 5 out of 5 sumo wrestlers


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