Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, William Morrow & Company, 288 pages, $29.99, Hardcover, November 2009, ISBN 9780060889579
This could be the shortest Jack Covert Selects ever: Great book; end of story; next!
Well, let me offer a little more information to help explain my enthusiasm. Levitt and Dubner are the authors of the international best selling Freakonomics,
a book that transcended the business book genre because of its approachable economics lessons via quirky storytelling. Superfreakonomics
is more of the same, but unlike most sequels, the same is quite welcome and can stand tall on its own merits.
First and foremost, Superfreakonomics
offers more of Levitt and Dubner's "read to the stranger in the seat next to you" stories. These stories make accessible rather arcane economic terms like "price discrimination" and "the principal-agent problem" and the examples used to illustrate these terms are fun, unexpected and memorable. Thumb through the chapters, "How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?" and "Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?" and you'll quickly get the picture.
No one can accuse Levitt and Dubner of playing it safe with their material. As well as using rather esoteric subject matter, they also tackle such topics as the often sensitive and still confounding issue of why women MBAs earn less than men. Ultimately, they discover that it may come down to the fact "that many women, even those with MBAs, love kids." They explain that women MBAs with children work 24 percent fewer hours than men (this after experiencing the obvious job discontinuity that comes with having a child) and that this slows down their career trajectory.
The authors' also argue, rather convincingly, that it is safer to drive drunk than to walk home from the bar—with the obvious caveat that "a drunk walker isn't likely to hurt or kill anyone other than her- or himself." Using government statistics, they find that on a per-mile basis, "a drunk walker is eight times more likely
to get killed than a drunk driver."
They've taken the most heat (no pun intended) from environmentalists for suggesting that we can possibly "geoengineer" our way out of global warming, and challenging the dogma that reducing emissions is the only way to save the planet. Uncomfortable deductions? Yes. But you won't soon forget them and they will certainly make you look at what principles fuel our culture a bit differently.
As with Freakonomics,
Levitt and Dubner use sharp analysis, unpredictable stories and discomforting deductions to enlighten (and delight) readers. The authors have also done something that is very hard to do: they have created a second book that is as good, if not better than, the first one.