Teaching prostitution to monkeys!

A review of Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt

Another attention-grabbing, yet misleading review title, the book is not (entirely) about monkey prostitution, but I did want to see if I could coax yet another comment out of Gerard.

Super Freakonomics : Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's followup to their hugely successful Freakonomics, which looks at how economics (or perhaps motivation is a better word) influences much of human behavior.  This time around, in addition to the concepts mentioned in their subtitle, they also look at things like getting doctors to wash their hands, child car seats, the murder of Kitty Genovese and, yes, monkey prostitution (sort of).  Deftly and interestingly told, it examines why people do certain things, avoid other things, and how researchers can (sometimes) figure out the real incentives driving human (and occasionally monkey) behavior.

If you've read and enjoyed the first volume, get ready for more of the same.  If you're new to the freakonomics bandwagon, rest assured that the "dismal science" by which some refer to economics can actually be humorous, informative, often fascinating and quite possibly enlightening.  At least when written with the skill Levitt and Dubner display.  Topped off with an extensive section of notes (including a pretty humorous dig at Levitt at note 49-56) and a good index.

I'll note up front that prior to publication, there has been some negative reaction to their chapter on global warming, with some writers and bloggers convinced that Levitt and Dubner don't give the issue (or perhaps the proposed solutions?) the deference it deserves.  And it's true that they seem to have less than fervid adoration for former vice-president Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Academy Award winning filmaker, whose policies are looked at (from an economic perspective) in two different sections of the book.  They've also discussed some of the criticisms on their chapter on global warming on their blog, prior to the publication of the book.  Their blog, by the way, also makes for some fascinating and enjoyable reading.

Don't let the bit about monkey prostitution (it's in the epilogue) keep you away!  This is, once again, an enjoyable and thought-provoking (and not always flattering) read about -- us. Available soon on compact disc or in large print.

Comments

I'm reading Ellen Shell's Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture which is primarily about how a good deal motivates human behavior. It's terrifying. I may never go to IKEA again."

Mary reviewed Better back when it came out and she made mention of the hand washing issue. Scary."

Heh, heh-heh. Monkey whores. Heh-heh.

Atul Gawande wrote a neat piece on handwashing in Better: a surgeon's notes on performance.

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