From a computer scientist (and self-professed “data nerd”) named Scott Griggs: Hi! Long time reader/listener here, looking for some quick reading list recommendations… I have submitted another application to be on CBS’s Survivor, the reality show of outwit, outplay, outlast fame. The game is physical as well as mental and includes a large social aspect concerning relationships, building trust, evaluating . . .
The first installment (“How to Screen Job Applicants, Act Your Age, and Get Your Brain Off Autopilot“) covered Chapters 1-3 of Think. Now it’s time for you to send in questions for Chapters 4, 5, and 6 (see Table of Contents, below). If your question ends up in the podcast, we’ll send you a signed copy of Think Like a Freak or a limited edition Think Like a Freak t-shirt. So fire away!
In the first chapter of our new book, Think Like a Freak, we recount an ill-fated interaction that Dubner and I had with David Cameron shortly before he was elected Prime Minister of the U.K. (In a nutshell, we joked with Cameron about applying the same principles he espoused for health care to automobiles; it turns out you don’t joke with Prime Ministers!)
That story has riled up some people, including an economics blogger named Noah Smith, who rails on us and defends the NHS.
I should start by saying I have nothing in particular against the NHS, and I also would be the last one to ever defend the U.S. system. Anyone who has ever heard me talk about Obamacare knows I am no fan of it, and I never have been.
The best part of publishing a new book — besides themediablitz — is learning which stories resonate with readers and podcast listeners, and how.
One great example is the book’s second chapter, “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language,” which is about how people are reluctant to say “I don’t know” when in fact they don’t know the answer to a question or the solution to a problem.
We explored this topic in last week’s podcast, and I wanted to share with you some of the most interesting feedback.
Our new book, Think Like a Freak, has just been published and we’d like to talk about it with you. So we are forming the Think Like a Freak Book Club.
How does it work? You write in your questions/comments/complaints in the comments section below and we’ll respond to some of them in our podcast. For now, we’re planning to do three episodes of the Book Club. (But if you know us even a little bit, you know we won’t be afraid to quit after one if it doesn’t work out!) Since there are nine chapters in the book, let’s start with questions that pertain to Chapter 1, 2, and 3 of Think. Those are: “What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?,” “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language,” and “What’s Your Problem?”
If we choose your question for the podcast, we’ll send you a signed copy of Think Like a Freak or a limited edition Think Like a Freak t-shirt. Thanks!
From a friend whose young daughter Lea, around 13 years old, grabbed the copy of Think Like a Freak that I send my friend and “is now devouring it.” But that’s not the good part:
She woke up this morning and told me that she had dreamed last night that we were at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees were winning 12-0, and when Lea looked around, everyone in the stands was reading Think Like a Freak.
And here’s a note from “an almost 13-year-old,” Charlotte, which came over the transom:
Last week, we offered some Think Like a Freak swag to the reader who came up with the best answer to the question “What Are the Three Hardest Words to Say?” Your answers were so good (and plentiful!) that we decided to choose three winners, each of whom can have their pick of a signed copy of our new book or a Think Like a Freak t-shirt. (If you didn’t win, there’sanother contest going on right now.)
Winner No. 1 is Kris Fletcher, the first (of many) to provide the same answer we provide in the book: “I don’t know.”
Winner No. 2 is Bob S., who plainly gets the spirit of the Levitt-Dubner collaboration, with “Good point, Dubner.”
And Winner No. 3 is Jake. While a lot of people answered “I was wrong,” Jake had a similar take but opted for “I’ve no excuse,” making a case for why that’s even tougher than “I was wrong”:
“I was wrong” seems to be a common phrase people are mentioning, but I think admitting you are wrong is easy if you don’t have to admit that your inner processes were wrong. All the time, you hear people say something like, “Oh, I was wrong about that, but I didn’t have the data I needed at the time.” Very rarely do you hear someone take full blame for their actions without at least assigning partial blame elsewhere. Admitting that you and you alone were in the wrong is much harder.
In our latest podcast, Levitt talked about how much he dreads going on book tours. He claims to not like being the center of attention, and having to talk to so many people. (Between you and me, I’m not sure he hates it as much as he says.)
Hearing Levitt’s complaints, a listener named Cy Helm has written in with some advice for Levitt.
Today’s the day: Think Like a Freak has just been published. Levitt and I will spend a lot of the next few weeks doing interviews for various TV, radio, print, web, and other media outlets. So how about we spice things up a bit and, at the same time, give you the chance to win a signed copy? (Winners of last week’s giveaway contest will be announced later today.)
Here’s the deal: in the comments section below, enter a word or short phrase that you’d like us to slip into one of our interviews. If we use your secret phrase, you win a signed copy of Think Like a Freak (or, if you prefer, a Think t-shirt).
Once in a while, we get a report from our publishers about how many copies of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics have been sold around the world. Last we heard — it was a while ago — we were at 5 million.
The latest report tells us we’ve just breached the 7 million mark. Here’s a rough breakdown:
• United States: 4.4 million
•United Kingdom: 1.65 million
•Translated editions: 1 million
With the global population at around 7 billion, those 7 million copies represent a nice round number: 1 book sold for every 1,000 people on the planet.
With Think Like a Freak coming out next week, I hope we get to 10 million copies before there are 10 billion people on Earth.
In our forthcoming Think Like a Freak, the second chapter is called “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language.”
I’m not going to tell you here what we argue are the three hardest words to say (although you can find out pretty easily by glancing at the Table of Contents). I want to know what you think are the three hardest words for people to say, especially in public. And by “hard,” I am not talking about pronunciation, although I guess I’m not not talking about pronunciation either.
The best answer that is left in the comments — as voted by a secret quorum of Freaks — will win you a signed copy of Think Like a Freak or a new Think t-shirt, your choice.
I know you didn’t invite me here to tell you how much I love libraries … but I’m going to do it anyway.
Without the public library in the town in upstate New York where I grew up, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. Not that I wouldn’t be alive – even I don’t think libraries are that powerful – but I don’t know if I would have become a writer.
It was in that library that I learned to read. It was in that library that I learned to write. It was in that library that I learned to do research. My first research project was a historical essay about a little overgrown Quaker cemetery up on a hill behind our house, a cemetery that nobody alive knew anything about – but the library did.
It can be found here under “Editorial Reviews.” In case you don’t feel like clicking through:
In one of the many wonderful moments in Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner ask the question: Who is easier to fool—kids or adults? The obvious answer, of course, is kids. The cliché is about taking candy from a baby, not a grown man. But instead of accepting conventional wisdom as fact, the two sit down with the magician Alex Stone—someone in the business of fooling people—and ask him what he thinks. And his answer? Adults.
Stone gave the example of the staple of magic tricks, the “double lift,” where two cards are presented as one. It’s how a magician can seemingly bury a card that you have selected at random and then miraculously retrieve it. Stone has done the double lift countless times in his career, and he says it is kids—overwhelmingly—who see through it. Why? The magician’s job is to present a series of cues—to guide the attention of his audience—and adults are really good at following cues and paying attention. Kids aren’t. Their gaze wanders. Adults have a set of expectations and assumptions about the way the world works, which makes them vulnerable to a profession that tries to exploit those expectations and assumptions. Kids don’t know enough to be exploited. Kids are more curious. They don’t overthink problems; they’re more likely to understand that the basis of the trick is something really, really simple. And most of all—and this is my favorite—kids are shorter than adults, so they quite literally see the trick from a different and more revealing angle.
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.
Good news (for us at least): our new book is done! It’s called Think Like a Freak. It will be published on May 13; but you can pre-order now on Amazon.com, B&N.com, iTunes, or any of your finer online bookshops.
Think Like a Freak is, like our two earlier books, a blend of storytelling and data. But Think has a slightly different mission than Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. Here’s how we explain it in the first chapter:
The first two books were rarely prescriptive. For the most part, we simply used data to tell stories we found interesting, shining a light on parts of society that often lay in shadow. This book steps out of the shadows and tries to offer some advice that may occasionally be useful, whether you are interested in minor lifehacks or major global reforms.
Although we tell a million stories in Think, the emphasis is usually on problem-solving:
It strikes us that in recent years, the idea has arisen that there is a “right” way to think about solving a given problem and of course a “wrong” way too. This inevitably leads to a lot of shouting—and, sadly, a lot of unsolved problems. Can this situation be improved upon? We hope so. We’d like to bury the idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way, a smart way and a foolish way, a red way and a blue way. The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favor, with neither blind optimism nor sour skepticism. That we think like—ahem—a Freak.