Bowdoin Reads

Chris Gravallese '14 is reading...

Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics, by co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, is not like your typical economics class. Levitt and Dubner blur the lines between economics, sociology, and psychology to better understand the world. According to the co-authors, the study of incentives defines economics. Consumers in any market intend to maximize the amount of utility—happiness—that they can gain through transactions with firms and people. Using these basic premises, the authors explore different aspects of daily life. No topic is off limits for the authors. They observe the similarities between teachers that help students cheat on state assessment exams, and Japanese sumo wrestlers that collude to rig tournament results. Levitt and Dubner also discuss such topics as the economics of drug dealing (it is not always as lucrative as one would think), whether an increase in crime-fighting spending actually reduces crime (the authors contend that Jane Roe plays a part in the decreased crime rate of the 1990s), and the impact a person’s name has upon their relative success in life (which is less trivial than one would believe). They also published a sequel entitled SuperFreakonomics that observes even more issues, and also maintain a blog at While not always perfectly argued, Levitt and Dubner’s book proves that economics goes beyond just numbers, accessibly to everyday people and economists. Economics affects every aspect of life, whether one appreciates it or not.

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