SuperFreakonomics: This isn’t EBGN 201

If the thought Principles of Economics makes you cringe, then “SuperFreakonomics” is a book for you. This book takes the dismal science, economics, and applies it to case studies of the weird, exciting, and intriguing. What may have been boring in the context of oil exploration and profitability becomes interesting in the context of prostitutes, monkeys, and even monkey prostitution.

This book, published in 2009, is a sequel to another book, “Freakonomics.” Both books are New York Times Bestsellers, and their popularity is largely justified. The books are the result of collaboration between economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. Together, the pair have designed a book that uses the quantitative and analytical approaches behind economics to explain interesting phenomenon. For example, “Does a real estate agent or a pimp secure more value for their clients?” The answer, surprisingly, is based on an analysis of the marginal benefits accrued by the pimp and real estate agent. The result? Sell a house by yourself, but hire an agent if you’re thinking of selling sex.

Do not be afraid of the words quantitative and analysis. The book does not have any equations, graphs, or extravagant figures. Rather, the authors present economic concepts like the margin, supply and demand, and externalities through clever analogies and examples. The book’s focus always ends on human behavior and incentives, rather than on mathematical models.

Besides prostitution, the other topics in the book run the gamut from mundane department store Santas and car seats, to global warming and terrorism. The analysis is insightful and clever, and is sure to challenge the typical perspective. For those students who enjoyed Principles of Economics, this book is a light read. While interesting, some of the proposed ideas lack the technical evidence expected to justify the claims the authors are presenting.

For those who have read “Freakonomics,” this book lives up to the name it shares. The only real difference between the original work and this sequel are the topics. The chapter organization, theme, and writing style are consistent with the original book. “SuperFreakonomics” is also available in an illustrated edition, with visuals that add to the imagery already present in the narration.
The book poses questions that many may never have asked, and answers questions that many have always been asking. It mixes economics and human behavior into stories that are told in the unique voice of a humorous economics professor. In short, if any book were to redeem the dismal science, “SuperFreakonomics” is the one.

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