With their original Freakonomics book, Americans Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt were pioneers in popularising the use of an economics mindset – both behavioural and more traditional – to explain all sorts of parts of modern (usually American) life.
When to Rob a Bank is a lengthy collection of the best posts from the blog they launched at the same time. If you read too much of this book in one sitting, you quickly see the limitations of the blog format turned into a book: a hugely eclectic mix of topics, rarely explored in much depth and with many loose ends left flapping as the blog posts whirl past the eyes – especially as the absence of original blog posting dates means it is often unclear how much, if at all, an issue may have moved on since Dubner and Levitt wrote about it.
But treated as a book to dip into now and again (which is truer to the original blog format), it works very well and even if you’ve been a diligent reader of their books and listener to their excellent Freakonomics podcast, you’ll find nearly all the material fresh to you. It’s only if you’ve been a close reader of their blog – and can remember all the posts from years back – that you may be disappointed. Or, of course, if you’ve not been a close reader of their blog but are willing to go read the posts online for free instead of pay for a book – but with the book you not only get the different format, you also get the editorial selection process which has filtered all their many posts down to this ‘best of’ selection.
If the book is for you, there’s much to learn here, not only about the eclectic range of topics but also – and perhaps most usefully – about how some of the basic concepts of economics can be used to help understand much of what goes on around us, providing a different and useful way to look at the world even without having to go into much maths or having much of a belief in all-conquering rational individuals, two of the most common bugbears about modern economics.
If you like this, you might also be interested in The Challenge of Affluence by Avner Offer.
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