BY ANN MARLOWE
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow, 242 pages. $25.95.
Freakonomics is the latest in a recent genre of nonfiction book that explains in non-stick prose how the world really works, popularizing a science or scientific insight while forever hitting the reader on the head with how damnably clever the author is. It’s the Malcolm Gladwell syndrome, signaled by a Gladwell blurb on the cover of Freakonomics stating that Steven D. Levitt has “the most interesting mind in America”-and by a peculiar typo in the publicity materials for the book referring to “Mr. Gladwell” as the author, rather than Mr. Levitt and his collaborator, Stephen J. Dubner. If you are, say, in the camp of Richard Posner in suspecting that Mr. Gladwell wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what an interesting mind is (see Mr. Posner’s elegant takedown of Blink in the Jan. 24 issue of The New Republic), this might put you off Freakonomics entirely.That would be too bad. It’s a sloppily organized group of essays on completely unrelated topics, but it’s entertaining despite its strenuous efforts to be so. And Freakonomics may be worth the cover price in our real-estate-mad city just for matching up the adjectives in real-estate ads with higher or lower sales prices. Who knew that “granite” is correlated with higher prices and “charming” with lower? Sadly, the original research isn’t cited. (more…)