Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Essay - Critical Essays

Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt

Literary Criticism and Significance

Freakonomics became an instant success upon its publication in 2005. Readers appreciated it not simply because it managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible—making economics and statistics interesting—but also because of the authors’ zippy and satirical style. The book has since been translated into at least thirty-five languages and has spawned a sequel (SuperFreakonomics), a movie by the same name released on DVD in January 2011, and an ongoing blog (some of which appears at the end of Freakonomics’s expanded edition).

Much of the book’s popularity stems from the authors’ bravery in asking questions that others might not think or be bold enough to ask. Instead of benignly listing statistics and reporting on surveys and studies as many researchers do, Levitt and Dubner consider and discuss the implications that result from those numbers and survey answers, even if those implications are distasteful to many. Freakonomics does not shy away from connecting subjects that most would not want to connect (e.g., the correlation between crime’s decrease and abortion’s increase). However, the authors broach topics such as abortion, race differences, and children’s harsh upbringings with tact, and they offer encouragement to those who might feel that statistics are stacked against them.

With the rise of nonfiction’s popularity, Freakonomics sets a high standard and creates a new category within nonfiction. What would normally be boring statistics to many becomes fascinating trivia as a result of Levitt’s and Dubner’s writing. In his May 15, 2005, review of the book for The New York Times, Jim Holt states that while

it might appear presumptuous of Steven Levitt to see himself as an all-purpose intellectual detective,

his interesting way of thinking and explaining leads to an earned presumption, one which his readers are grateful he made.