Thursday, February 04, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 1 (2/4) -- Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

If you've been anywhere near a bookseller in the past couple of months, you've either already seen Superfreakonomics or you have an amazing ability to overlook the obvious. (If the latter, perhaps I should introduce you to my younger son, who, when recently asked to get something from under the sink, was monetarily confused and then said "You want me to pick up the sink?")

In any case: this has been a huge bestseller, and has contributed to HarperCollins's just-announced great second quarter nearly as much as That Palin Woman. It's also the "sequel" to the equally huge bestseller Freakonomics, as you might have guessed from the title.

I read the first book a few months before I started this blog, so I can't link to my thoughts on it -- they remain inchoate and locked in my skull. But Superfreak is pretty much the same thing as the first book, perhaps with slightly more "we're smart and special and rich and thus we have all the answers" attitude. (This may have been built up by their New York Times blog for the for the past few years; if there's anyone more arrogant than an economist, it's a Times writer.)

Economists can be interesting to read, but I imagine they're annoying as hell in real life, since they all have the usual monomaniac's refusal to see any other bases for behavior or explanations for events than their habitual Big Hammer. Superfreak has that glossy, quick-read bestseller style, designed carefully to give the reader the impression that he's learning things and getting smarter, while still depositing him at the end of the book smoothly, efficiently, and rapidly. It is an efficient mechanism for taking $29.99 from your pocket and leaving you with a few pseudo-daring facts that you can trot out at your next cocktail party, even if you misremember the context that Levitt and Dubner only lightly sketched to begin with.

It's very much a bestseller-style book, and exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of the form; it will read particularly well on an airplane, and will not cause the reader to change anything, or think deeply about anything, in life after reading it. I enjoyed going through it, but I must admit that I feel faintly used afterwards.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Beautiful Supermachines - The War Against Cliche
via FoxyTunes

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