Review of “When To Rob A Bank . . . And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Levitt and Dubner became famous ten years ago when they published Freakonomics, a book with many thought-provoking and counter-intuitive insights into human behavior and society. Most of those insights were stimulated by careful economic analysis. Among their more startling conclusions was that the pronounced drop in crime statistics that occurred in the early 1990’s coincided with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion throughout the country. They reasoned that the decision greatly reduced the incidence of the birth of unwanted children, who are more likely to grow into adults who commit crimes.

The authors followed up with a sequel entitled Think like a Freak, a somewhat less successful effort to apply similar analysis to a new range of phenomena. They also began to publish a blog. This book is a compilation of their favorite blog posts. Because each entry is short and not likely to be related to the next one, the book is ideal for reading in spare moments. It can be sampled or read consecutively.

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The articles cover such subjects as an argument for the abolition of the penny, and why it would probably do Pepsi little or no economic good to know the formula for Coke. They discuss why so many Americans over-estimate the probability of a terrorist attack, and make several interesting suggestions to reduce gun violence in America (not including making guns illegal — that, after all, seems to be impossible). They explore what might help you win at poker, why there are so many fake memoirs in the world, and if growing your own food is really better for you and/or for the planet. They point out that companies singled out in business literature as exceptional are often not very successful five to ten years later. And yes, the best time to rob a bank is . . .never – the return on investment related to risk is terrible.

Evaluation: This book is full of very short, entertaining essays (some just two pages long) about everyday phenomena that become less mysterious when subjected to simple economic reasoning. At the very least, you will come away from this book with some fascinating conversation starters.

Rating: 4/5

Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

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About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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4 Responses to Review of “When To Rob A Bank . . . And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Oh, I love books like this! I need to look for it.

  2. Rachel says:

    This sounds really good. Have you listened to the Freakomonics podcast? It’s the same kind of stuff. I really like it.

  3. litandlife says:

    Sounds like a great nightstand book for me. I love these guys – they always make you think of things in new ways. Used to work for a small company that was honored about five years before I started working there as the best small business in the city – five years after that it was holding on by a thread. I’d be eager to hear why these guys think that happens.

  4. Sounds like it would be an excellent book to read before going to bed, one short essay at a time!

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