Thursday, December 29, 2011

Completed: Freakonomics

Dear Jenny,

As I skid into the end of 2011, I am writing up my final book on my TBR pile. Not sure that I have much to say about this book -- it's pretty much exactly what everyone said it would be: a highly readable account of a variety of interesting statistical observations.

From the Introduction, I expected it to be a little faster paced -- I would not have minded simply being bombarded with the cocktail-party facts that we've all heard: "The crime rate in the 90s can be correlated to the legalization of abortion in the 70s!" "Houses with swimming pools are more deadly than those with guns!" I didn't really need a whole chapter explaining why (One sentence would do: "There are far more drowning deaths each year relative to pool-owning homes than shooting deaths relative to gun-owning homes."Done!) but I understand that most people are probably more interested in the path taken to get to the information than I am. I'm pretty trusting about this sort of thing (You're an expert on this subject and this is what you've found? 'Nuff said.) but I think they did a really good job of explaining without getting into the nitty-gritty data.

My Favorite Topics
The information about parenting, which supports some things I've speculated on in the past, particularly when talking about daycare v. non-daycare and single parents v. "intact" homes. Someone I work with was recently spouting off about "our nation's problem" of "broken homes." It's hard not to get my hackles up when someone goes down this road with me... I come from a "broken home" and, well... I like to think I turned out okay. I really enjoyed the layout of this chapter, as well -- it had direct comparisons between factors that do affect a child's success and those that don't. For instance:
Matters: The child's parents are involved in the PTA.
Doesn't: The child frequently watches television.
I thought that whole chapter was just fascinating.

I also really loved the chapter on names and what a name does (or doesn't) mean for a child with that name -- I've always found the topic of name popularity interesting, so I really got into that. The Social Security website provides a ton of information on name popularity by year, region, etc. It's like a little Easter egg on a boring government website. Have you seen it? Check it out here. I spent an afternoon poking around there a few years back, so I was really interested to read the Freakonomics take on how it all breaks down.

Obviously, house sales are on my mind right now, so all of the data about what sells a house (and what doesn't) was super interesting to me. Corian! Got it! (Referring to specifics in an ad generates more interest than general terms like "Charming," "Fantastic," etc.) However, our real estate agent is a dear friend of ours, so comparing her to the KKK was a bit tough to swallow. I get the stats, but still.

Loved the Endnotes
I might have enjoyed the endnotes in this book as much as the text itself. Lots of great little factoids back there -- expanded lists, interesting notes on the research, etc.

What I particularly loved about this book is that the endnotes were not referenced within the text and I am so grateful to these authors for that that I could kiss them on the mouths. Whenever I see the little superscript number in text, I always feel compelled to race to the back of the book and read the endnote right away, thereby disrupting my reading. I hate that. So thanks, Steven and Stephen for leaving off the tiny numbers and letting me wait until the end to read the notes!

Hated the Quote Pages
As much as I loved their endnote treatment, there was another choice they made in the book that struck me as odd: Epic quotes about the greatness of one of the authors (the economist) throughout the book -- each chapter was proceeded by an excerpt from somewhere or other basically extolling the brilliance of Steven D. Levitt. Since he's a co-author on the book, it felt like he was there saying, "Look how great I am!" I would not have been bothered as much if the other author was listed as the single author, examining the research of the economist, but it was so weird to me that an author had pages in his own book extolling his own greatness.

This review feels rushed and... it is! I gotta get going out the door right now and the end of the year looms large, so I'm sticking a fork into this one.


1 comment:

  1. K,

    You know what's so great about this review? It covers a bunch of stuff that I had completely forgotten. I read Freakonomics when it came out and really enjoyed it. But, of course, I had forgotten most of it.

    Although I do vividly remember the chapter about black kids vs. white kids names. I'm sure you noticed that Darius' name made it onto the black kids list. Heh. I spent a lot of time looking at the social security names index when I was pregnant. I was DETERMINED not to saddle my kid with some uber-popular name--- a la Jennifer. I hated always having to be Jenny J. when I was little.

    Here's something funny. I completely forgot about the endnotes. Like you, I prefer them to footnotes. Any opinion of reading footnotes on a kindle vs. a book? I like how you can click to them and then go back.

    Interestingly, even though I loved Freakonomics, I never had much interest in the sequel, SuperFreakonomics. However, once in a while I dig around in their blog, which continues to have interesting topics.