SuperFreakonomics, preview 2

I’m still working on finishing SuperFreakonomics and offering my take, but I wanted to weigh in on one thing quickly: I’m not sure what this book offers that’s new.  Unfortunately for the authors, their own success might be the problem. I’ve mentioned their blog before, but they have also helped launch the writing career of the sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, who’s been writing somewhat regularly for Slate. This was especially true for his work on prostitutes, which he was everywhere talking about after the Eliot Spitzer scandal. All of that exposure limits the success of Levitt’s and Dubner’s chapter on the work of Venkatesh regarding prostitutes. They also borrow from one of my favorite books from last year, Sin and the Second City by Karen Abbott, for a history of prostitution. So there are few pages with ideas I haven’t already encountered in that chapter.

For their chapter on apathy and altruism, the authors also introduce us to Joseph De May, a Kew Gardens, Queens, attorney who’s investigated the Kitty Genovese legend and, with those pesky facts, countered the idea that 38 people watched her die and did nothing. But I already met De May and listened to his take on “On the Media” earlier this year.

It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing interesting in the book, or that you shouldn’t pick it up. But if you’re an avid reader of the Freakonomics blog, an avid listener of public radio and an avid consumer of quirky nonfiction, you might have already encountered a lot of it.

Monica Potts