I’ve been in kind of a weird situation over the last few months, as I have started about five books at the same time, as they all seemed important for me to read now. The list consisted of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, The New Art of the Leader, Smart Mobs, and The Wisdom of Crowds. Once I finished the first three, someone recommended the book Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I put Smart Mobs and Wisdom of Crowds aside (again) and grabbed this one.
What an easy and interesting read! Steven D. Levitt is what some people call a “Rogue Economist”. His knack is looking at questions that people fail to look at and finding some amazing answers in the data surrounding these questions. This book hits a ton of really interesting questions, and Mr. Levitt does a really good job of walking you through the data and explaining the answers he has found by looking at the data from a different perspective.
When this book was first recommended to me, I was reticent to pick it up. Economics always seemed boring to me, mainly because I didn’t actually know what it was. One look at the table of contents piqued my interest and convinced me that I had to pick up this book.
Mr. Levitt attempts to answer some pretty bizarre questions. Some of these questions include:
- What Do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have In Common? – in which he explores the “beauty of incentives as well as their dark side” – in other words, cheating
- How is the Ku Klux Klan like a Group of Real Estate Agents? – Talking about the power of information, or more specifically the power of hiding information.
- Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms? – In which he explores the corporate like structures of the drug industry
- Where Have All The Criminals Gone? – The effect of things like Roe vs. Wade on the drop in crime rate
- What makes a Perfect Parent? – In which he discusses parenting and things like the effect of your name on your ecomomic future
The most interesting thing I got from reading this book is the value of data analysis and of what economics really is. The study of data and its effect on the social system. The subject matter is fascinating and another really good example of taking an academic area such as economics and bringing its value to people by articulating it in real world applications that make sense to the common man. The subjects he uses to illustrate basic concepts like incentives and cheating are something that every person can relate to, making the book a really quick and information packed read.
On a personal level, this book was extremely valuable as it showed me the practical benefit one can realize by looking at the data that is floating all around you. Finishing this book motivated me to spend a week digging for data to realize the effects of our conversion over five year period to an automated build process and open source tools to articulate the business value these decisions have made on the productivity of our development team, which was mentioned in the closing paragraph of a previous post I wrote this morning. Not only was I able to articulate the bottom line cost savings these decisions helped us realize in labor and licensing, but it also finally gave me a personal feeling of satisfaction over the amount of progress our teams have made over the past five years and gave me the tools I needed to interpret it and share it with the people who made it happen.
I highly recommend that everyone read this book. I realized a lot of personal value out of reading it and I’m sure you will too. This one was definitely worth the anxiety I felt putting off the completion of my reading queue to read.
Now I have to finish the last two books so that I can actually talk meaningfully about them with Tom the Architect.