Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review: Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I read the first Freaknomics back in 2007 and really liked it, but it's taken me a while to get to this one. I guess it's probably a good thing I waited; had I read it too soon after the first one, I would have been pretty disappointed.

For the most part, Superfreakonomics amuses and delights in the same way that the original did: discussing the law of unintended consequences in seemingly unrelated fields, often exposing flaws in conventional wisdom. For the most part, I found the discussions in Superfreakonomics quite thought-provoking, particularly the ones about the economics of prostitution (and the circumstances under which it can be a valid career move) as well as identifying criminals and terrorists based on their bank activities. Similarly thought-provoking was the possible upside of the exportation of American values through television: eating disorders and Big Macs on one hand, but better educational opportunities for women and less wife-beating on the other.

I do, however, have a gigantic rant about one line: advocating circumcision as prophylactic against sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, is not only moronic, it's irresponsible and dangerous (it's also not applicable to American sexual behavior: studies that demonstrate that were conducted in Africa). Given the rates at which HIV transmission via heterosexual contact is climbing in the United States these days, the very last thing we need right now is to give people cause to say, "Oh, don't worry, baby, I'm cut," and avoid condom use and routine screenings because they don't think they need them anymore. GAH.

Sorry, giant public health-related pet peeve there. I have this thing about us not needlessly giving each other crotch rot over stupidity. Moving along...

Overall, I didn't like this as much as the previous one. A lot of the content was re-printed from the Freakonomics! blog and other articles the authors had published. It was also less coherent and far less organized than the original, and I also felt that the research on some subjects was pretty lacking. So while it was fairly entertaining, I'm only going to give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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