A Tapas Take on Freakonomics

When to Rob a Bank Header

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s new book, When to Rob a Bank, goes back to what makes Freakonomics so great. The throwing around of insane ideas. 



You can tell from our review, we didn’t much care for Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s third book, Think Like a Freak. In that review we wrote, “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.” We thought Think Like a Freak got away from what made the concept of Freakonomics so special, it’s focus on insane connections to life’s antithetical problems.


This was disappointing, because at the time, their work on The Freakonomics Blog was a medium that Levitt and Dubner would throw around ideas ranging from the half-baked to deep-dives into connections that we take for granted. The blog looked to be a safe space for them to throw around ideas that no major publishing company would touch, like “Would Paying Politicians More Attract Better Politicians?” or my favorite “If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?” For that reason, Think Like a Freak just felt a little bland in comparison.


Their newest book, When to Rob a Bank… And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants, takes their more interesting posts from their Freakonomics blog and curates them into a single book. Not surprisingly, it’s one of their best books in years.


When to Rob a Bank Book Cover


What the Freakonomics blog gets right is in its casual nature in which it asks questions. When Levitt and Dubner write in the blog, you can tell it’s an endeavor in experimentation. Many of the questions they ask are never fully formed ideas or even questions per say, sometimes blog posts are just rants. While to some, the blog might seem chaotic and shallow compared to their fully formed book series, in actuality it has the opposite effect on the Freakonomics formula. The blog gives Levitt and Dubner room to experiment with topics, turning random questions into fully fleshed observations that only the guys at Freakonomics could possibly decipher.


When to Rob a Bank, in that sense, is essentially the “best of” from the Freakonomics blog. Levitt and Dubner specifically take the best and most interesting posts from their blog and compile it into a book. While this might sound like a money grab, When to Rob a Bank works because all the posts are curated with a strict eye to detail. Each section/chapter is segregated into various themes like “We Were Only Trying to Help” and “If You’re Not Cheating, You’re Not Trying.”


Even though the book never goes into the same depth as Freakonomics or Super Freakonomics, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. It’s essentially a “tapas” take on Freakonomics; smaller, more varied takes on connections and stories. The result is something that is experimental, but not messy. Every topic they introduce in When to Rob a Bank specifically creates interesting – yet brief – connections and observations.


When to Rob a Bank acts as a fantastic introduction to those not familiar with the Freakonomics take on the world and great for those that are already acquainted to the series. It will be interesting to see what Levitt and Dubner do next, but if When to Rob a Bank is any indication, we couldn’t be more excited!



(Photo Credit: Freakonomics.com, Amazon.com)


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