Discussion Questions For Superfreakonomics

So this wrapped up month one of the World’s Strongest Book Club. For non-fiction we read Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

For fiction we read Black Hills by Dan Simmons.

Today we’ll discuss Superfreakonomics. As I read, I wrote down questions as they occurred to me, based on the Superfreakonomics questions in the chapters.  A week after finishing the book and reflecting on it, I wrote down some more. I picked a few and those are what you will read below.

I’ll answer my own questions and you are invited to do the same whether you read the books as part of the club, or you had read them before.

1. Overall impression

A fun read. It moves quickly, it’s interesting, it’s not too long, and for someone who preaches curiosity and questioning, I still don’t ask questions quite like Levitt and Dubner. Although it examines a lot of serious issues, I would still classify this book as a beach read.

2. Do I believe the science?

Every single time I thought “Wow, how interesting!” I simultaneously asked myself: “Is that true?” This is just habit. I don’t believe everything I read, but I don’t have the background to dispute statistics about suicide bombers, global warming, and monkey prostitution off the top of my head.

Doing some research after the fact, I learned that the global warming chapter in particular has generated serious backlash and accusations. No surprises there.

You might find the following interesting:

A statement by Levitt.

The Anatomy Of A Smear by Dubner, published in the New York Times.

I found myself in the same situation I often do when reading non-fiction: wanting to be skeptical but not committing to enough subsequent study to really know for sure. I want to believe what scientists say without becoming an expert myself . So far it isn’t hurt me to do so.

How about you?

3. Is this book more valuable for its entertainment or educational value? Or neither?

The questions asked in Superfreakonomics purport to examine the “Hidden side of everything.”

As fun as it was, I kept asking myself “Are these questions worth asking?” I believe the potential benefits of finding ways to halt, reverse, or prevent global warming (depending on where you stand) are worth pursuing, absolutely.

Combating terrorists? Sure. Are we inherently more altruistic or selfish? Sure.

Actually, the more I think about it, I believe all of the questions are worth asking. If pursued to their logical conclusions, the answers could probably do a lot of good.

But to me it still felt like a beach read, no matter how earth-shattering the implications might be. Maybe that’s why I’m not in charge of anything important like a fusion reactor or Counter Terrorism squads.

4. Would you recommend it?

Yes, I would. Although the discussion on pimps and the valuation of sex acts might be a little scandalous for some. But the monkey prostitution made me laugh my head off.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss Black Hills. If you’d like to know the selections for July, please subscribe to the newsletter.

Feel free to agree, disagree, and add your own questions to the discussion.


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