Jul 04, 2020

Students can learn “Freakonomics” Tuesday

Most people may not associate economics as exciting or life-changing, but for journalist Stephen J. Dubner and rogue economist Steven D. Levitt, economics is a means to explore how various factors impact people’s lives.

“The reason I became a writer is the same reason a lot of people become writers or scientists or whatever,” Dubner said in a phone interview with The Collegian. “You are driven by wanting to know more. You want to know more stories, see more pieces of the world and discover what really causes things to happen. All of the books I’ve written are really about how people become the people that they are. It is the big question for me.”

Dubner, co-author of the New York Times bestselling book “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” will speak on campus Tuesday night.

“I’m going to tell a few stories based on research that has developed since the book came out,” Dubner said. “These are all in the same vein as the original book, with topics such as how the health care system works like the economics of prostitution.”

“Freaknomics,” which is ranked as the 23rd top-selling book on Amazon.com, was described by the Washington Times as “[bringing] together analyses of seemingly unrelated situations, and [explaining] all of them through imparting a simple truth.”

“It is really a book about nothing,” Dubner said. “There is no one theme, as our book is about 50 different things. It isn’t so much about busting myths as it is shining a light into dark corners.

“We’ve sold a couple million copies of the book, which is very surprising to us,” Dubner continued. “We anticipated that it would be a colossal dud. The public hears about maybe 20 of the hundreds, if not thousands, of books published every year.”

Dubner attributes the success of the book mostly to luck.

“Levitt is a very clever researcher and I’d like to think that I’m a good writer. A chain of events happened where people talked about the book after it came out and it just grew popular. It is also short. People complain about short books, but people are more inclined to talk about a book they actually finished than one they tossed. Plus, the cover is really good.”

The title “Freakonomics” was conjured up by Levitt’s sister and had nothing to do with the two writers themselves, according to Dubner.

“She used to work in publishing and advertising,” Dubner said. “She came up with a list of a hundred titles that we could use. When we saw this one, we both started laughing. It was so bad that, hey, it might be good.”

Dubner is the author of three books, “Freakonomics” being his most recent, with a fourth one to be published later this year.

“I don’t do that many things well,” Dubner said. “I had some ability inherited from my parents, but I would have preferred to be a center fielder for the Yankees. Writing is just a good fallback position.”

Dubner’s lecture will be at the Satellite Student Union Tuesday night. It begins at 7:30 p.m.

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