Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: Superfreakonomics

I know what you're thinking: This is supposed to be a book blog, and you haven't reviewed any books since you trashed the Sex Dungeon book back in May. What gives?

I apologize profusely, dear reader. I've been caught up with genealogy, and perhaps more important, trying to get to know my father, and we've got 41 years to catch up on (give or take), so it's consumed a lot of my time and energy. Not that I have a lot of time, what with work and being a mom and making offers on houses so that sellers can reject them.*

The end result of all this is that I have neglected my reading, and thus, have neglected you, my readers.

Since I currently have the attention span of an ADD-afflicted gnat (on espresso), I figured it was best to try to read the type of book I normally reserve for airplane reading - no complicated plots for me to get lost in, no subtle subtexts to confuse me. So when the library informed me it was my turn to read Super Freakonomics by Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner, it seemed like a wise choice.

I love these books, because they're filled with the kind of entertaining yet fundamentally useless facts and trivia that can restart a conversation lull at a party, or perhaps more important, divert a political conversation that's about to turn ugly.

  • In the pre-auto era, horses, the primary means of transportation, produced more toxic emissions than cars - not to mention created more noise and public health problems.
  • The busiest day in hospital emergency rooms is Monday, and the peak hour is 11 a.m. The number of patients being admitted for human bites is more than double the number being admitted for dog or cat bites.
  • In the nineteenth century, women were sixty times more likely to die in childbirth in a hospital than at home.
And so on. The book covers some interesting material, including a re-examination of the Kitty Genovese case, in the context of a discussion of altruism and its motivations - worthwhile reading, especially for those optimists among us who believe "people are basically good." Hang on to that thought if you like, but Cynical Girl here will be working on Plan B: filling my bank account with money to make sure I can afford all the altruism I need, if I ever need it.

I definitely enjoyed the climate engineering discussion, in part because now I can keep up when my husband joins a climate discussion with, "I was watching a show on the Discovery Channel and ..." The ideas seem crazy, and yet - it's kind of nice to know they're out there.

*It wasn't really that great: I mean, a birdwatcher might enjoy watching all those birds from the wraparound deck or hot tub, but certainly not me.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here's a very interesting article about The Kitty Genovese Case: A Fascinating Intersection of True Crime, Psychology, and Media Misinformation. I'll have to look into the Superfreakonomics book now to see how it compares the stories.



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