SuperFreakonomics

Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

SuperFreakonomics
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Sequel Explores More of the Strange

When economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner paired up to write Freakonomics four years ago, they created a runaway best-seller. Their groundbreaking book taught readers how to look at the weird world around them with the discerning eyes of an award-winning economist. The fact that their book sold millions of copies was a perfect demonstration of the joy readers get out of discovering underlying truths that can be unearthed with a little rigorous study and quantitative analysis. In SuperFreakonomics — the sequel to Freakonomics — the co-authors continue their journey into the underworld of reality, showing us how things we often take for granted really work while offering unusual advice for living in the 21st century.

While they are fun for the rest of us to read, many of the helpful hints offered in SuperFreakonomics deal with subjects that tread a controversial line. Levitt and Dubner’s previous book grew out of the latter’s piece in The New York Times Magazine detailing Levitt’s research into the impact of the legalization of abortion via Roe v. Wade on the crime rate in the United States. This flirtation with hot-button subject matter continues in the sequel and examples are reflected in the subtitle Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance.

Medical Breakthroughs and Dogged Persistence

The combination of an economist’s scrutiny and a journalist’s storytelling ability is what makes SuperFreakonomics such a fascinating book. During each of their explorations into true tales of life, crime and world-changing events, the authors help us see how one thing can lead to something else that was never intended. For example, by relating the story of emergency specialist Craig Feied and his experiences at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C., the authors show readers how a hunch about improving emergency medical care moved from speculation to theory to experiment to the implementation of one of the most important emergency medical breakthroughs of our time.

Feied was able to improve that hospital’s ability to save lives quickly in its emergency room by drastically improving its information flow. He did this by building a new type of computer system that put all of the hospital’s information into a readily accessible form where doctors and specialists could quickly use it to help their patients. The new system gave doctors more time to treat their patients and gave the hospital a more efficient way to handle its increasing patient volume. The system Feied created, which was eventually bought by Microsoft and installed in many other major hospitals, provides a perfect example of how one person’s shift in perspective combined with dogged persistence can improve the world for many others.

Unintended Consequences

The important and entertaining discoveries that Levitt and Dubner reveal throughout SuperFreakonomics offer more than an exciting way to discover how people respond to incentives in their personal and professional lives. They also show us how unintended consequences can create entirely new, unpredictable yet valuable, phenomena.