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Ever had the sensation of staring at a print by M. C. Escher and thinking that if you could just look at it from the right angle you'd be able to see behind the surface to the trick? Well, the same is certainly true for economics, where the most powerful economist in the world, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, is notorious for speaking impenetrable gobbledygook and Harry Truman famously asked for a one-handed economist because: All my economists say, "on the one hand...on the other hand'. Economics presents us with vast arrays of numbers, often contradictory, even self-contradictory and always confusing. What the renowned young economist Steven D. Leavitt offers us is unique angles for seeing inside some of those numbers and, perhaps, making some sense of them. This is necessarily a hit-or-miss business--for instance, his attempted correlation of Roe v. Wade to the decline in crime seems a big miss--but the hits are more frequent and even the misses force us to think them through.

Most will be familiar with Mr, Leavitt's work through the series of essays he's co-written--or inspired? or whatever--with Stephen Dubner. Having run in the NY Times Magazine they've generated big, and worthy, buzz and this book followed. As interesting as the topics they cover are, there's something disconcerting about the manner in which their material is presented. Are the two men actually co-authors, or is Mr. Dubner writing pieces in Mr. Leavitt's voice because he can make them more accessible to a general readership or has the time to do so or both? If you've not read their work this may seem a minor point, but it's actually quite distracting and detracts from the book significantly, though not fatally. indeed, the book remains enjoyable and the essay on how the cheating in sumo wrestling relates to cheating by teachers to improve their students' standardized test scores is worth the price of admission all by itself.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Stephen Dubner Links:

    -BLOG: Freakonomics
    -AUTHOR SITE: Stephen Dubner
    -Steven D. Leavitt (Professor Department of Economics University of Chicago )
    -EXCERPT: What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common? from Freakonomics
    -ESSAY: Abortion, and how it cut crime (Steven Levitt, 6/26/05, Times of London)
    -ESSAY: Monkey Business (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, 6/05/05, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: The Search for 100 Million Missing Women: An economics detective story. (Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, May 24, 2005, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Trading Up: Where do baby names come from? (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, April 12, 2005, Slate)
    -ESSAY: A Roshanda by Any Other Name: How do babies with super-black names fare? (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, April 11, 2005, Slate)
    -PROFILE: Toward a Unified Theory of Black America (STEPHEN J. DUBNER , 3/20/05, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: What the Bagel Man Saw (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, June 6, 2004, NY Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Why Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms: If you had a job paying $3.30 an hour, you'd be bunking at home too. (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, April 24, 2005, LA Times)
    -TRIBUTE: Stephen Dubner recalls the cardinal as a peacemaker -- between him and his mom. (STEPHEN J. DUBNER, May 5, 2000, New York)
    -AUDIO REPORT: Conversion: In the first of a two-part series, our reporter, Stephen Dubner, himself a convert and author of the book TURBULENT SOULS, looks at the experience of John Curry, principal of a school for at-risk students in New York. (Stephen J. Dubner, 11/20/00, Religion & Ethics)
-EXCERPT: Chapter One of Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper: Finding Franco Harris by Stephen J. Dubner
    -REVIEW: of The Exes By Pagan Kennedy (Stephen J. Dubner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THERE ONCE WAS A WORLD: A Nine-Hundred-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok By Yaffa Eliach (Stephen J. Dubner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HEART OF A SOLDIER: A Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th By James B. Stewart (Stephen J. Dubner, NY Times Book Review)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: 'Freakonomics': Musings of a 'Rogue Economist' (Scott Simon, April 9, 2005, Weekend Edition)
    -CHAT: 'Freakonomics' -- A New York Times Writer and a Rogue Economist Explore the Hidden Side of Everything (Stephen Dubner, June 8, 2005, Washington Post)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Notes on "Confessions of a Hero Worshipper" (Bill Littlefield, 1/25/2003, Only a Game)
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A with Stephen Dubner: Author of Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to his Jewish Family (
    -PROFILE: 'It's not like I go looking for trouble': The offbeat take of 'Freakonomics' author Steven Levitt (May 11, 2005, AP)
    -PROFILE: Odd numbers (Tim Harford, April 22 2005, Financial Times)
    -ESSAY: When Numbers Solve a Mystery: Meet the economist who figured out that legal abortion was behind dropping crime rates. (STEVEN E. LANDSBURG, April 13, 2005, Opinion Journal)
    -ESSAY: The Miracle That Wasn't (JOHN TIERNEY, 4/16/05, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Pre-emptive Executions?: The notion that legalizing abortion drives down crime rates is logically flawed and morally repugnant. (Steve Sailer, 5/09/05, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: A good book errs on link between abortion, crime rate (THOMAS ROESER, 5/14/05, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "Stephen J. Dubner (New York Magazine)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: freakonomics (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything By Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Jim Holt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (Gregg Easterbrook, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (The Economist)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Freakonomics of Race and IQ (Steve Sailer, April 25, 2005, V-Dare)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (Dean Barnett, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (Justin Fox, Fortune)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (Andrew Leanord, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Freakonomics (John Coleman, Townhall)
    -REVIEW: of Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper: Finding Franco Harris By Stephen J. Dubner (FRED WAITZKIN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper (Todd Leopold, CNN) -REVIEW: of TURBULENT SOULS: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family By Stephen J. Dubner (JONATHAN WILSON, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of TURBULENT SOULS: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family By Stephen J. Dubner (JULIE SALAMON, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Turbulent Souls (LORE DICKSTEIN, Forward)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Hoodwinked? (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, 1/08/06, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Why bagels could hold the key to human behaviour: Sumo wrestlers, Chicago school teachers, drug dealers who live with their mothers and even the humble bagel - rogue economist Steven Levitt says it's the little things in life that help explain the way the world works. (Gary Younge, June 21, 2005, The Guardian)
    'Freakonomics' Abortion Research Is Faulted by a Pair of Economists (JON E. HILSENRATH, November 28, 2005, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
    -ESSAY: The Original Freakonomics (Max Borders, 6/03/05, Tech Central Station)
    -ESSAY: Life after birth: Everyone blames the parents - but some scientists say parenting has zero impact on how kids turn out (Emily Wilson, April 13, 2005, The Guardian)