This book is kind of hard to explain. It’s nonfiction for sure, as the authors use economics to explore and explain everyday problems like crime, cheating on standardized testing, and getting parents to pick their kids up from daycare. Though it has a few themes that keep popping up over and over, it really lacks any kind of narrative thread, the way Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” does, but Freakonomics is much more likely to give you something interesting to say at your next dinner party (or whatever). It’s just chock full of things that make you go “Huh… Never thought of that, but it makes sense.”
My favorite part of the book, for example, was the chapter on the optimistic new graduate student who was sent into housing projects by his Econ professor to interview destitute Black people about how they feel about being destitute Black people. Within minutes of wandering around an area that probably looked like a sound stage for Escape From New York, the grad student stumbles into a group of teenage gang members, several of which just want to shoot him. He lamely (and absurdly) tries to get them to take his survey until the gang’s local leader shows up, befriends (in a way) the young graduate student, and eventually teaches him how the drug-selling gang’s org chart looks almost exactly like that of a McDonald’s franchise.
Some of what Freakonomics has to say is a jagged little pill to swallow. One of the authors, for example, is infamous for demonstrating how legalizing abortion led to a nationwide reduction in violent crime (not including, of course, violence against fetuses; that went up). And then there’s the chapters on what about a parent does and doesn’t matter in terms of their childrens’ future success. The authors, though, remain surprisingly objective through all the rough spots, and they even manage to view issues from various perspectives when needed.
So this is easily a great book. Chances are you’ll find five or more things that surprise you just inside the first hundred pages. I know I did.