SuperFreakonimics is a Fun Way to Challenge Your Assumptions

Whoever thought that economics could be fun?  Well, it IS fun when Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt put their “freaky” spin on the myriad decisions and assumptions that we make.   I read the original “Freakonomics” and enjoyed it so much that I purchased “SuperFreakonomics” as soon as I saw it.

SuperFreakonomicsThe reviews are mixed on SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. There are people who have read “Freakonomics” and were disappointed because “SuperFreakonomics” is more of the same.  And then there are those who loved it because it was more of the same.

Personally, I enjoy Dubner and Levitt’s writing style and storytelling.  Reading “SuperFreakonomics” to me was like eating lobster.  I loved it the first time.  I’ll certainly have it again.  But I don’t think I’d want to eat it every day.

Like its predecessor, “SuperFreakonomics” is filled with timely and unusual questions like:

  • 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?

I mean, how do you even get to asking or wondering about this stuff?  Some of the fun in reading this book came from the interesting cast of characters:  economists, hip and cool “dude-like” scientists and prostitutes.  These folks all had enough curiosity and open-mindedness to put their assumptions and choices to the test.

SuperFreakonomics Makes You Stop and Think

Perhaps the best thing about “SuperFreakonomics” is that it makes you think about how easily we are blinded by our assumptions and what we THINK is true rather than what data really show.

My favorite example of this came in Chapter 4 where they talk about a fatal childbearing condition, puerperal fever.  Doctors had no idea what caused it.  And it took the persistence and curiosity of Ignatz Semmelweis, a young Hungarian-born doctor, to pull together potential causes, collect the data and to discover that by simply washing their hands, doctors could virtually wipe out puerperal fever and deliver more healthy babies.

There are dozens of stories just like this one.  Each story features different intuitive assumptions that we all make and each assumption is proven wrong by simply collecting data and analyzing it.  Over and over, Dubner and Levitt’s stories punch their point home; don’t assume you know what’s happening and why.  Look at your existing data.  Reverse your assumptions. Open yourself up to other answers you may not have considered.

Read SuperFreakonomics For the Fun

At a time when “it’s all about the economy” this was a fun, entertaining and educational read.  While I wouldn’t say that there are explicit action items that you can take away from this book to improve your business, I would say that each story will make you think and wonder about what you see is true (or not true) about your business.


Ivana Taylor Ivana Taylor is the Book Editor for Small Business Trends. She is responsible for directing the site’s book review program and manages the team of professional book reviewers. She also spearheads the annual Small Business Book Awards. Ivana publishes DIYMarketers, where she shares daily do-it-yourself marketing tips, and is co-author of "Excel for Marketing Managers."

5 Reactions
  1. Hi Ivana,

    Thanks for the review.

    As you say, “SuperFreakonomics makes you stop and think.” Yet how many of us catch ourselves in the moment? The same brain that enjoys reading about others who were easily blinded is poorly equipped to catch itself in the same pattern.

    This is why we entrepreneurs must learn clear, structured thinking. That should be the action item.

    A simple, often overlooked, example: How can we, as business owners, quickly and easily spot assumptions that may be about to take us down?

    Answer: Generate alternatives. “If we couldn’t do A, as much as we want to and think it’s a great idea, what WOULD we do?” The exercise of generating and comparing alternatives is the best way to unearth assumptions.

    Dov Gordon

  2. I read the first book, Freaknomics and found each section started off strong when it was based on the facts. When the authors then used their own judgments to interpret those facts I found the book went off into speculation and opinion – kind of going against the intent of the book.

  3. Superfreakanomics, and its predecessor is now firmly on top of my must-read list! The conditioning we are subjected to by the press, the church and conservative family, not to mention the television set, equips us with blinkers that blinds us to the glaringly obvious sometimes. A refreshing, paradigm-shifting reading session sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

  4. I love books like this! They’re not only interesting to read for those of us out of school but actually keep un-interested students captivated by the stories…putting real life examples on theories + economic studies which is a far departure from memorizing straight from the textbook (like we all had to do back ‘in the day’).

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