Bring Your Think Like a Freak Questions for Levitt and Dubner

book-TLaFOn May 12, Levitt and I will publish our third book, Think Like a Freak. We cannot wait for you to read it. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

The New York Times-bestselling Freakonomics changed the way we see the world, exposing the hidden side of just about everything. Then came Super-Freakonomics, a documentary film, an award-winning podcast, and more.

Now, with Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have written their most revolutionary book yet. With their trademark blend of captivating storytelling and unconventional analysis, they take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally—to think, that is, like a Freak.

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you’ll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they’re from Nigeria.

You can read more about the book, check out our tour dates, and of course preorder it: the book will come in all formats including e-book, audio, large-print, and in translation around the world. We will also start up our fee-signed-bookplate-mailing program so that you can get your books autographed.

In the meantime, how about a Freakonomics Radio FAQ episode about the new book? Use the comments section below to ask us anything you want. Here’s the book’s Table of Contents to get you started …

1. What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?

An endless supply of fascinating questions . . . The pros and cons of breast-feeding, fracking, and virtual currencies . . . There is no magic Freakonomics tool . . . Easy problems evaporate; it is the hard ones that linger . . . How to win the World Cup . . . Private benefits vs. the greater good . . . Thinking with a different set of muscles . . . Are married people happy or do happy people marry? . . . Get famous by thinking just once or twice a week . . . Our disastrous meeting with the future prime minister.

2. The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

Why is “I don’t know” so hard to say? . . . Sure, kids make up answers but why do we? . . . Who believes in the devil? . . . And who believes 9/11 was an inside job? . . . “Entrepreneurs of error” . . . Why measuring cause-and-effect is so hard . . . The folly of prediction . . . Are your predictions better than a dart-throwing chimp? . . . The Internet’s economic impact will be “no greater than the fax machine’s” . . . “Ultracrepidarianism” . . . The cost of pretending to know more than you
do . . . How should bad predictions be punished? . . . The Romanian witch hunt . . . The first step in solving problems: put away your moral compass . . . Why suicide rises with quality of life— and how little we know about suicide . . . Feedback is the key to all learning . . . How bad were the first loaves of bread? . . . Don’t leave experimentation to the scientists . . . Does more expensive wine taste better?

3. What’s Your Problem?

If you ask the wrong question, you’ll surely get the wrong answer . . . What does “school reform” really mean? . . . Why do American kids know less than kids from Estonia? . . . Maybe it’s the parents’ fault! . . . The amazing true story of Takeru Kobayashi, hot-dog-eating champion . . . Fifty hot dogs in twelve minutes! . . . So how did he do it? . . . And why was he so much better than everyone else? . . . “To eat quickly is not very good manners” . . . “The Solomon Method” . . . Endless experimentation in pursuit of excellence . . . Arrested! . . . How to redefine the problem you are trying to solve . . . The brain is the critical organ . . . How to ignore artificial barriers . . . Can you do 20 push-ups?

4. Like a Bad Dye Job, the Truth Is in the Roots

A bucket of cash will not cure poverty and a planeload of food will not cure 
famine . . . How to find the root cause of a problem . . . Revisiting the abortion-crime link . . . What does Martin Luther have to do with the German economy? . . . How the “Scramble for Africa” created lasting strife . . . Why did slave traders lick the skin of the slaves they bought? . . . Medicine vs. folklore . . . Consider the ulcer . . . The first blockbuster drugs . . . Why did the young doctor swallow a batch of dangerous bacteria? . . . Talk about gastric upset! . . . The universe that lives in our gut . . . The power of poop.

5. Think Like a Child

How to have good ideas . . . The power of thinking small . . . Smarter kids at $15 a pop . . . Don’t be afraid of the obvious . . . 1.6 million of anything is a lot . . . Don’t be seduced by complexity . . . What to look for in a junkyard . . . The human body is just a machine . . . Freaks just want to have fun . . . It is hard to get good at something you don’t like . . . Is a “no-lose lottery” the answer to our low savings rate? . . . Gambling meets charity . . . Why kids figure out magic tricks better than adults . . . “You’d think scientists would be hard to dupe” . . . How to smuggle childlike instincts across the adult border.

6. Like Giving Candy to a Baby

It’s the incentives, stupid! . . . A girl, a bag of candy, and a toilet . . . What financial incentives can and can’t do . . . The giant milk necklace . . . Cash for grades . . . With financial incentives, size matters . . . How to determine someone’s true incentives . . . Riding the herd mentality . . . Why are moral incentives so weak? . . . Let’s
steal some petrified wood! . . . One of the most radical ideas in the history of philanthropy . . . “The most dysfunctional $300 billion industry in the world” . . . A one-night stand for charitable donors . . . How to change the frame of a relationship . . . Ping-Pong diplomacy and selling shoes . . . “You guys are just the best!” . . . The customer is a human wallet . . . When incentives backfire . . . The “cobra effect” . . . Why treating people with decency is a good idea.

7. What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?

A pair of nice, Jewish, game-theory-loving boys . . . “Fetch me a sword!” . . . What the brown M&M’s were really about . . . Teach your garden to weed itself . . . Did medieval “ordeals” of boiling water really work? . . . You too can play God once in a while . . . Why are college applications so much longer than job applications? . . . Zappos and “The Offer” . . . The secret bullet factory’s warm-beer alarm . . . Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria? . . . The cost of false alarms
and other false positives . . . Will all the gullible people please come forward? . . . How to trick a terrorist into letting you know he’s a terrorist.

8. How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded

First, understand how hard this will be . . . Why are better-educated people more extremist? . . . Logic and fact are no match for ideology . . . The consumer has the only vote that counts . . . Don’t pretend your argument is perfect . . . How many lives would a driverless car save? . . . Keep the insults to yourself . . . Why you should tell stories . . . Is eating fat really so bad? . . . The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure . . . What is the Bible “about”? . . . The Ten Commandments versus The Brady Bunch.

9. The Upside of Quitting

Winston Churchill was right—and wrong . . . The sunk cost fallacy and opportunity cost . . . You can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you won’t abandon today’s dud . . . Celebrating failure with a party and cake . . . Why the flagship Chinese store did not open on time . . . Were the Challenger’s O-rings bound to fail? . . . Learn how you might fail without going to the trouble of failing . . . The $1 million question: “when to struggle and when to quit” . . . Would you let a coin toss decide your future? . . . “Should I quit the Mormon faith?” . . . Growing a beard will not make you happy . . . But ditching your girlfriend might . . . Why Dubner and Levitt are so fond of
 quitting . . . This whole book was about “letting go” . . . And now it’s your turn.

Samuel Aaron Mosley

How does one get accepted into a good college (besides the obvious stuff like getting As)?


The upside of quitting

I am 25 years old with an associates of science degree. I currently have a full time job with benefits, the pays not bad (17.50/hr) but with more education, I can do better. One benefit that my employer offers is tuition assistance, up to 8,000 dollars a year. This would cover me for about 4 courses a year. I just recently paid off the last of my student loans and have no debt at the moment.

My question is..

Would it be better to stay in my current job, go to school for free part time, accumulating 12 to 15 credits a year to earn BS in about 4 to 5 years or leave my full time job, take out loan and go to school full time and hopefully earn a BS within the next 2 years while also working part time in the event industry (600-1050/month)?

William Corcoran

Talk to people about your decision process until you get sick of it and then go with your gut.


There is a popular argument that paying Politicians more would mean the smartest people (who otherwise go into high paid jobs in the city) would be more likely to take jobs in politics. Therefore the country would be run by smarter people.

However my idea would be to turn this upside down - pay politicians next to nothing in comparison, enough to live on maybe £20,000 p/a. This has economic sense. People get a derived utility from their pay, but also from how 'enjoyable' their job is to them. If we pay politicions very little, the job will only attract the people who get the most utility from working in that field; those who enjoy it most, and want to do the best for the Country. Therefore we get rid of all the dodgy politicians who are only in it for the bumper pay cheque.

Any thoughts?

Julia Simmons

Hi guys, I'm really enjoying your book . I'm a freak . I was just going over your bit on suicide and would like to shed some light on the unknown . I am suicidal . It is usually a feeling people with high emotional IQ's often struggle with if they have had an unstable childhood and often because the world is so wrapped up In the ABC's of the acedemic world we are often deemed as overly sensitive if I had a dollar for everytime I was told that I'd be rich. It is soul crushing and demoralizing to be told not to be overly sensitive when you are primarily made of emotion . So unless you have tapped into it through art or through other charitable causes the isolation and the loneliness of being highly emotional is suicidal ....... I'm not saying I'm walking around crying all the time but when I see strangers suffer I feel it when people are hungry I'm hungry when children cry I cry . So until people understand that the world is in desperate need of people with high emotions we will keep taking our lives because it's just too damn Agro . Anyways I'm only saying this because it sounded like David Lester needed some inside info


Jeff Yancey

Does an existing consumer relationships trump the better deal from an unknown?
Is our spending influenced more by comfort or the deal?
Are we more inclined to shop with someone we know (e.g. Family, Friends)?
What is the tipping point of leaving our shopping comfort zone.

Colin Earle


Did you mess up the ten commandments in the book or is your reading of the ten from a Jewish perspective rather than a Christian one? I'm not trying to start a flame war, but rather asking a sincere question. Your first commandment was the preamble, or so I thought, and you seemed to skip over "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image". I would appreciate your comments on this.


In your books you say that you prefer the small questions. Or, if you cant answer the big question, try a smaller one.vthis has gotten me thinking, is this a reasonable reaction? Will answers to a lot of small question give an image of the bigger picture.

A consept of which I want to refer is emerging properties. The individual parts does not explain the whole picture.

In Thing like like a freak, you say you try to convince David Cameron that free helth care is a bad idea. It is to expencive. In itself it might be. Still the question is, what expence does healt care have as an integral part of british society?

Thinking like a freak is by al means not a bad idea. Whats the point of staying in the fast lane if the is a trafic jam. Try something new. But your answer that if you can not answer a big question, go for a smaller one, does not seem right with me. And when I think about it, it seems like an easy way trap one self in a conclution not necesarily within reason.

Do you have any thoughts?



Eric Linneman

While vacationing on the white sands of Punta Cana, I decided to read, "Think Like a Freak". I really enjoyed every bit of this book. When I returned back to Cincinnati, I was reading through some of the news I missed and noticed John Kasich has joined the craziness we call the presidentail race. One of the first articles I read today was titled, "John Kasich's 'I don't know' answer." I thought this article was pretty interesting considering one of the ways to think like a freak is having the ability to say, I don't know. I guess not all politicians have answers to everything like we thought.


Article from my comment above.

William Corcoran

Beginning on page 66 of "Think Like a Freak", the term "root cause" and "the root cause" are used. What do these terms mean? How does one distinguish between a "root cause" and some other harmful condition, behavior, action, or inaction?