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Levitt’s First B+ Since High School?

Freakonomics is almost officially for sale (Tues., April 12 is the date), and on and, where it can be pre-ordered, it has jumped onto the best-seller lists. (As of 9:00 p.m. EDT on April 9, it was #15 on Amazon.) Its authors are happily mystified. This spike seems attributable to a very nice interview of Steve Levitt by Scott Simon on NPR this morning. (All hail Scott Simon! We liked him before and we like him even more now.) The coming week will bring spring showers, lots of daffodils, tax deadlines, and, most important, a bounty of Freakonomics action: a two-part excerpt on Slate starting Tues., April 12; a review in Entertainment Weekly; and much more.

Here is the forthcoming review in Entertainment Weekly, by Benjamin Svetkey:

Do Sumo wrestlers cheat? Which is a whiter name for a girl, Molly or Holly? And what do crack gangs and McDonald’s restaurants have in common? The answers to these and other seldom-asked questions are all here, in the funkiest study of statistical mechanics ever by a world-renowned economist. Crunching numbers too offbeat for Milton Friedman–KKK membership rolls, bagel sales figures, data from online dating services–Levitt (along with coauthor Dubner) searches for logic in the messy mathematics of human behavior. His conclusions are often eye-opening (say it ain’t so, Sato!) and sometimes eye-popping (his theory that high abortion rates help reduce crime probably won’t get him invited to the White House anytime soon), but in the end he never really adds it all up to a cohesive or compelling sum. Still, give the prof his props: “Freakonomics” is a lot more fun to read than anything Friedman ever wrote.

E.W. gives each review a letter grade, and this one warranted a B+. That said, we thought it was quite good. Then we noticed: in the current week’s reviews, Ian McEwan earned only a B; Buzz Bissinger and Jonathan Safran Foer each got a B+. This would seem to be Steve Levitt’s first B+ since high-school calculus. E.W. apparently has a tougher curve than Harvard — which, frankly, isn’t saying much.