Last week I finally got my hands on "Freakonomics," courtesy of the Brookline Public Library (via ILL at the SPL). I found it to be a quick and interesting read. Levitt (economist) and Dubner (journalist) don't get too far into the math behind all this econ, which is fine by me since I don't know the first thing about economics, let alone the math behind it. And really, that's ok with me.
Anyway, as I was saying. I enjoyed the book, though I think it's safe to say that people who know stuff about econ and math will probably be disappointed that there is so little to back up the claims in print. This is not to say that the topics and analysis they write about are pulled out of thin air; rather, they don't go into the details of how they used the data they had to figure out what they figured out. Each chapter had plenty of end notes, to cite some of the stats, which was enough for me.
The idea driving the book is that the math and analysis traditionally used by economists can be applied to things other than the economy to find out neat and interesting stuff. So, to that end, in this book Levitt looks at things like why drug dealers live with their moms and how to look at kids' scores on standardized tests to figure out when the teachers are cheating. Another good chapter focused on why crime really went down in the 90s: according to Levitt, when you adjust the numbers to take into account all the things that are typically credited (more cops, better policing, etc.) none of them have any major impact on crime. What does? Roe v. Wade. That was a fascinating chapter. Go read it — there's so much to this argument that I can't sum it all up here, but suffice it to say that I thought what they were saying made sense. There's also a chapter about names — they start off looking at whether or not a strange or unusual name can hurt someone's job prospects, and in doing that research found some trends in baby naming — names trickle down the economic ladder over the years.
There are random facts strewn throughout; the one that sticks out the most to me is in regard to sexual assaults: according to the authors, the typically-quoted statistics for sexual assaults against women in the US (including attempted assaults) is that 1 in 3 women will be assaulted in her lifetime. In reality, they say that this statistic is closer to 1 in 9. For men, what's quoted is usually 1 in 8; in reality it's closer to 1 in 40. (You'll have to forgive me for forgetting exactly where they got their data — I had to return the book already, but they cite the source in the end notes, and it was a national crime statistics report or database of some kind.)
Overall, I found it an interesting read and it made me think — without making my head hurt! Yeah! Track it down if it's been on your list.