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Does Freakonomics Suck?

[for a Freakonomics status report, click here]

Our publisher has been busily promoting and selling Freakonomics, which of course is its job, and which we, not surprisingly, applaud. When something good happens — a nice review in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, or an upcoming appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart — the publisher assiduously spreads the word. But we think it’s worth considering some alternative views. That, after all, is the spirit of Freakonomics — examining the data, whatever it may be, and following it through, wherever that may lead. So here are some people who think that Freakonomics, in part or in sum, is a big fat stinkbomb:

Felix Salmon, a journalist and blogger whose review of the book is quite substantial; Steve Sailer, who has vigorously argued against the link between Roe v. Wade and falling crime (a Google search of “Sailer” and “Freakonomicswill turn up a wide variety of comments); this Newsday review, by Scott McLemee, which chided the book’s “style of evasive lucidity”; this review in Time magazine, which said that the “unfortunately titled Freakonomics” has “no unifying theory … which is a shame.” (In fairness to ourselves, we should note that both the Time and Newsday reviews were largely positive.) We should also note that one well-known American writer of non-fiction, when sent an early copy of Freakonomics for a blurb, refused to endorse it on the grounds that “the one thing missing from the section on crime is a sense of humility.”

Do these comments make us unhappy? On a personal level, sure. But on a Freakonomics level, no. Years ago, the Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz opened a kosher deli in Harvard Square, which came under protest on various grounds. Dershowitz, known as much for his embrace of free speech as his legal acumen, said — and here we are paraphrasing loosely at best — that nothing was more precious to him than the right of people to protest his deli.

So please don’t take our word that Freakonomics is a good book. Don’t believe the good reviews either. Feel free to make up your own mind — you can poke around a good bit here, on this very website. Maybe you will decide that Freakonomics is, after all, a piece of trash. We cherish your right to think so.

— Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt