WWFD? (What Would a Freakonomist Do?)

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Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner want to help you look at the world like they do in Think Like a Freak. The problem? They abandon the things that make Freakonomics special to do it.



Freakonomics is not a book. It’s a brand. What started out as a quirky take on cost-benefit analysis has exploded into a movie, radio show, website, and consultancy group, just to name a few of their ventures.  Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner has now become a commodity. Freakonomics is no longer a clever title for a populous take on economic theory, it’s become a way of thinking. Think Like a Freak – Levitt and Dubner’s third book in the Freakonomics series – solidifies that fact by reading more like a self-help book and less like an economics one.


Think Like a Freak consistently asks its readers to break their “conventional views” of problem solving. Advice such as “think like a child” or “never, ever think people will do something because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do” are littered throughout the book. These, let’s call them “lessons”, are usually framed by interesting connections between seemingly incongruous stories that the series has been known for. The problem? In Think Like a Freak the economic connections between stories – which has been the series’ bread and butter up to this point – take a back seat to the “lessons” that the book wants to share.


Think Like a Freak cover

Can’t help but feel ‘Think Like a Freak’ should have been more about economic theory and less about the “lessons” Levitt and Dubner wanted to share.


Sure, the various stories Think Like a Freak harks on are still great – particularly loved the one about why Nigerian email scammers pick Nigeria over any other foreign country – but they aren’t the primary focus of the book. It’s a book on how to think about a problem. It’s a self-help book. While that’s great and all, Think Like a Freak stumbles because it gets away from the economic theory that it’s all based on.


To put it bluntly, Think Like a Freak comes off as the obnoxious doctoral candidate in economics that keeps interrupting everyone’s stories at a dinner party to tell them “it’s all about the incentives!” The last two books in the series – Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics – made similar points but made them more compelling because the “lesson” itself was never the focal point of those books. It was always about the economics. Without the basis of economic theory being the main backbone of the book, all the advice given by Think Like a Freak feels incomplete and half-backed. What you end up with is a book that has flash, but with very little substance.



Reviewer’s Take: Out of the three Freakonomics books in the series, ‘Think Like a Freak’ is by far the weakest. It gets away from what made the series great in the first place, its take on economic theory. If you’re looking for something akin to the first two books – ‘Freakonomics’ and ‘Super Freakonomics’ – you should really skip this one and give their excellent podcast a try.  



[Photo Credit: Freakonomics, Penguin Books]


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