Tag Archives: Stephen J. Dubner

Book: SuperFreakonomics

Superfreakonomics
Sequel to Freakonomics.

Crowd-pleasing. More Freakonomics.
320 pages, ★★★★★

SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

  • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
  • Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
  • How much good do car seats do?
  • What’s the best way to catch a terrorist?
  • Did TV cause a rise in crime?
  • What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
  • Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
  • Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
  • Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?

SuperFreakonomics pleases the same audience as Freakonomics (excitable rebellious young males—the Top Gear crowd). In fact, when I first read this book aged 21, the idea that volcanoes, stratospheric aerosols and specific types of clouds can have a huge influence on global temperatures fascinated me. I liked it so much that I copied basically the entire chapter on climate change completely unknowingly into an ‘important’ university essay. I began researching contrails and cloud-brightening ships obsessively, and even applied to do PhD projects on climatology. That’s how much this book inspired me!

This book inspires other young people, too. Best of all, SuperFreakonomics gets kids reading. ★★★★★

Also consider: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (similar level, more sociological); and The Big Short by Michael Lewis (advanced level, more about finance than economics).

Book: Freakonomics

Freakonomics
Classic.

Modern classic. Trains logic, rational thinking and rigid essay structure.
336 pages, ★★★★★

Freakonomics is a collection of humorous essays that use economics to explain real-life situations. Its overall message is that prejudice can be overcome by rational thinking.

I taught to students at a Beijing secondary school back in 2011, and they loved it. First, kids love reading about money. Second, it sates kids’ appetite for controversy: where else can you learn about abortion, drug dealers, racism and the KKK in one class? Finally, its highly logical structure allows you to lose concentration half-way through and still understand the rest of the book. Similar books (e.g. David Brooks’ The Social Animal and Neil Strauss’ The Game) also gripped them in a way that novels and fiction didn’t.

Freakonomics‘ only shortcoming is that it lacks an overarching narrative. You could read the chapters in reverse order and still get the same message! While it would be easy to teach just rational, logical non-fiction, schools should balance this book with ‘realistic fiction’ to develop character arc and story structure skills in their English curricula. ★★★★★