Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
When your econ teacher assigns some outside reading, this is the book to grab. It’s entertaining as well as informative. Its authors are a well-respected economist (as you’ll learn from your reading, back in 2003, Levitt received the Clark Medal as the best economist under 40) and a journalist who writes for some great publications including The New York Times and The New Yorker. Together, they look at some very odd issues and apply the science of economics to them. The result is written in a style that anyone can understand and that makes the subject fun. I mean it’s really a wacky book.
Freakonomics asks questions such as: What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? (Given the right incentives, these people, known for integrity, will cheat). What does the legalization of abortion in the U.S. have to do with declining crime rates? (This discussion is quite politically incorrect and sadly enlightening.) Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers? (Unless they are on the top of their business pyramid, they don’t make enough money to move out–but drug dealing is a ‘glamour’ job like being a movie star. Everyone dreams of making it to the top.) What can parents do to make their children smart and successful? (Sadly, everything they can do must be done long before they become pregnant or have children. So forget Baby Einstein.) Do first names help or hinder children in being successful? (The names that successful people give their children are later popular with less successful parents, and they don’t alter lives very much.) How are member of the Ku Klux Klan like real estate agents? (When they’re looking out for number one, don’t get the idea that it’s you.) What kind of profile on a dating service gets results?
In Freakonomics, you’ll learn that incentives matter—and how odd some incentives are; that the phrase ‘conventional wisdom’ was never meant to indicate that it was ‘smart’ or ‘right’ (and it still isn’t most of the time). The authors tell us that there’s no unifying theme in this book, and that turns out to be true. Reading it is just a chance to look at economics in a new way and to turn some old assumptions upside down. Lots of fun—and it just meets that 200 page requirement, so it’s a quick red. Come check it out.
P.S.—The authors wrote another book—Superfreakonomics. I haven’t read it yet, but I bet it would make another great outside reading book for econ class.