When To Rob A Bank…And 131 More Warped Suggestions And Well-Intended Rants, by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, read by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, with Erik Bergman and Therese Plummer
I had mixed views of the authors from their book Super Freakonomics , and these mixed feelings continue in this book that collects together some of the blog posts of the authors and presents the more personal essay side of the authors. As a blogger myself, I am highly sensitive to the way that blogs can serve as the raw material for books, and see no problem in the writings of a blogger being anthologized in this fashion. There may be some people who do not think that books made out of blog posts are worth reading, but I am not one of them. On the contrary, there was a great deal of interest that I found about this particular book concerning its structure and the way the authors go from one subject to another without any necessary connection, a particularly Nathanish quality that I found to be intriguing as well. As is generally the case with the authors’ writings, my issue is with their worldview and content, not with the fact that they are popular economist bloggers who happen to have made it good.
The contents of this book are pretty widely scattered and, as the authors note, are made up of a bit more than 100 personal essays read by the authors (as well as a couple other people who stand in for guest writers, one male and one female). And, as might be imagined by anyone who reads their books, there is a lot of random material here, some of it good, some of it at least interesting and thought-provoking, and some of it bad. One of the authors makes a post that slavishly praises Obama and (correctly) predicts that he will be president someday. Many of the posts deal with questions of gambling and the authors’ general lack of moral fiber. At least one post deals with the economic and social tradeoffs of being an escort girl. Another post deals with supply-side explanations for the popularity of shrimp. More or less, the book itself reads like a best of collection of blog posts by people who read well, are aware of others in their field, and think themselves to be smarter than they are, which is not uncommon in the blogosphere.
Should you read this book? If you liked other books by the authors, you will probably like this work. It is a bit more casual, being culled from personal essays by the author, but it has a lot of personal charm to it–one of the best blog posts is a rant about rancid chicken, something I take personally, and another one of the best is about one of the authors’ and his daughters optimization of the best stop to get on the crosstown bus near where they live in Manhattan. Admittedly, there are some things about this book that I am not going to appreciate mainly because the authors and I are of very different worldviews. The authors view economics as a master field while I view it as a servant of other fields, and that alone accounts for much of my annoyance with the authors’ attempts to support their various opinions. Like many bloggers, though, the authors are agent provocateurs seeking support by disrupting others’ complacency, and as bloggers I find little to criticize in their approach to blogging, since it is similar enough to my own in being full of interesting connections and provocative conclusions and recommendations. I only wish there was not such a gulf between where the authors stand and where I do, or this book would be easier to like.
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