Voice from the Planet edited by Charles Degelman

An eclectic collection of short essays from every corner of the globe, this anthology follows its successful predecessor, the first Voice from the Planet. True to its raison d’etre, the anthology varies in range, showing the differences inherent throughout the world both in diversity and in writers; authors are both seasoned, and neophytes, and the stories cover everything from the devastation of surviving 9/11 to the mystery that is the Bulgarian fire dancers. Expertly edited by Harvard alumni, these essays and in particular, their authors serve a lofty purpose in that any proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders. Knowing that makes the reading all the richer and it is already a very rich experience, each story as diverse as a fingerprint and well worth the time taken to read this interesting volume.

Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Not wanting to be swayed by all the ballyhoo surrounding this book, I put off reading it until it was finally released in paperback, then finally broke down and bought it.

After starting to read, much to my surprise, I read it right through. A book basically about economics, no matter what anyone else has said, was grippingly interesting enough, to read cover to cover, in one sitting.

To those who have griped about the lack of theme or focus in this book, I say, shake your head, put aside your preconceptions and read it again. Leavitt is not your typical economist and that’s what makes this book so accessible and brilliant, not to mention eminently readable.

He has quantified data previously thought unquantifiable and measured effects that other economists have declared immeasurable. A rogue economist, Levitt admits to being outside the norm especially when it comes to economy and that’s what makes his work so revolutionary and so interesting.

The meeting of Levitt and Dubner, a New York Times Magazine author and journalist looking to do a profile on the young, economist at the University of Chicago with elite degrees from Harvard and MIT, plus multiple awards, was as serendipitous as it was inspired.

Dubner, researching a book about the psychology of money, had been interviewing a number of economists and was less than charmed with economist-speak – a language unto itself and not easily translated into good copy.

Leavitt’s idea’s were particularly inventive and his knack for expressing them refreshingly accessible.

At their first meeting he was almost embarrassingly self-deprecating about what he perceives as his lack of economic mathematical chops saying at one point, “I don’t know much about the field of economics…I’m no good at math…I don’t know a lot of econometrics, and I also don’t know how to do theory…”

It is this type of refreshing candour and straight-forward writing that makes “Freakonomics” such a good read.

What makes the book an important read, as well as a good read, is partly explained by one of the awards received by Professor Levitt. He is the recipient of the John Bates Clark medal, awarded to the most influential economist under the age of forty.

Little wonder then that “Freakonomics” posits scenarios that have the reader running the gamut from

intrigued to amused to educated to baffled and back again. More than anything, one is left thinking over what they’ve been reading long after they put down the book.

Just what are these scenarios that leave readers mulling over what they’ve read?  Baldly stated, they don’t sound all that earth-shattering.

The book has been out in hard-cover for some time so I don’t believe I will be giving away any spoilers here by talking about some of the specifics. However, if you have reached this point in the review and really don’t want to know what the book is about, stop here. Just go out and get the book would be my advice at this point, it’s well worth the money and the time.

Back to the meat of the book. Leavitt, with Dubner’s able help, examines, for example how and why teachers cheat in the classroom. Surprising? Perhaps not. But the why of it, and the logistics? Interesting, especially when the extrapolations are done. Add in the comparison to why Sumo wrestlers cheat and you can see where things might get very intriguing. They do.

“Freakonomics” has been said to to show through story-telling, anecdotes and example, that at its very base, economics is really the study of incentives, how people get what they want – particularly when other people want  or need the same thing.

The book is about the riddles of every day life with a new slant on what those riddles might mean for all of us, solved or unsolved, from an unorthodox yet brilliant, economist’s point-of-view. All in all, quite a romp of a read.

It was recently announced that  “Super Freakonomics” is almost ready to be released in hard cover. Bravo.