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March 17, 2005

Freakonomics - First Peek

In my current reading, I've gotten an advance copy of Steven D. Levitt's new book, Freakonomics. The title is just weird enough to draw a good-sized audience of non-wonks, and the folks at William Morrow have got their audience right. Anybody who likes Michael Crichton, Oliver Sachs, David Brooks, Andrew Hacker or Malcolm Gladwell's eyes for the interesting will be immediately sucked in.

Co-written with Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics is a smooth and entertaining read. Levitt has the mind of a scientist, but the eye of a curious wanderer who suddenly gets hooked on a subject. Anyone who reads blogs on the regular will recognize his willingness to take a curiosity and turn it inside out for inspection. But Levitt brings the rigor of statistics to bear on this as well as a disdain for simple answers. In many ways his discipline to go beyond the obvious is reminescent of business researcher Jim Collins the author of 'Good to Great', with the caveat that Levitt is a one man operation. If and when he gets to assemble the kind of team that Collins had, we will be in for a whirlwind of revelation.

Levitt is a little out of his depth when it comes to information theory, but he gets the fundamentals right. He makes timely observations about insider trading, citing Martha Stewart, but broadens the scope to look at the incentives of more garden variety professionals who interact with the public. I would have thought that the most interesting aspect of the Stewart, indeed of any high profile case has to do with identifying how any number of relatively weak individuals are suddenly rendered powerful by dint of their possession of the right info.

I've been very busy the past few days since I got it, otherwise I'm sure I would have finished by now. It will be digested this weekend. On the whole I think I will recommend it highly, and I guarantee that at least one of Levitt's stories will become the new common wisdom - like IBM's Diapers & Beer story.

Posted by mbowen at March 17, 2005 06:05 PM

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