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Book Review

‘Think Like a Freak’


bookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom

William Morrow and Company

May 12, 2014



288 pages

Economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner say they were as surprised as anyone by the runaway success of their 2005 collaboration, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” followed by “Superfreakonomics” in 2009. Their new title, “Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain,” promises to show readers how to look at the world counterintuitively. In their familiar style, the authors piece together anecdotes and examples of how incentives affect and reveal human nature.

Levitt and Dubner re-tell the familiar story of King Solomon and the two mothers claiming the same baby and describe how European priests in the Middle Ages used similar tactics to trick the guilty into unwittingly revealing their guilt. Can you trick people into revealing they haven’t thoroughly read a contract? Musician David Lee Roth did exactly that by slipping a seemingly ridiculous but easily identified demand into Van Halen’s live show contracts.

To demonstrate how to “make your garden weed itself,” Levitt and Dubner describe how online shoe and clothing store Zappos initiated a clever way to incentivize new hires to cull themselves and how ridiculous e-mails from Nigerian internet scammers are designed to sort out those not gullible enough to fall for the scheme.

In advising readers to throw out pre-conceived notions, Levitt and Dubner describe how a Japanese hot dog eating contest winner revolutionized the “sport,” and how an Australian doctor ate bacteria to test his then-revolutionary theory about the cause of ulcers.

While the book may not retrain your brain, the authors’ winning formula will not disappoint the many fans of their earlier titles. CV

Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.

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