Freakonomics

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Freakonomics Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Steven Levitt's Freakonomics. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

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Historical Context of Freakonomics

Freakonomics alludes to many historical events, including the Reconstruction period following the end of the Civil War in 1865. Following the Civil War, the federal troops of the United States occupied the Southern states until 1876. During this time, opponents of military intervention and racial equality founded the Ku Klux Klan. Over time, the Klan expanded to become a huge, reactionary group that intimidated, and in some cases murdered, blacks, Jews, Catholics, and Communists. Another significant historical event mentioned in the book is the crack epidemic of the 1980s. During this period, crack cocaine became one of the most commonly consumed drugs in the United States; in the authors’ opinions, the prevalence of crack in black neighborhoods led to a widening achievement gap between blacks and whites in the United States.

Other Books Related to Freakonomics

Freakonomics bears some striking similarities to another work of “pop sociology’ written in the 2000s: Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (2000). Like Freakonomics, Gladwell’s book uses the social sciences to study seemingly random phenomena. And like Freakonomics, Gladwell’s book spends a lot of time studying the decreasing crime rate of the 1990s, and the role of nature and nurture in child development. Additionally, Freakonomics has been compared to various other works of popular social science published between the 90s and the 2010s. Books in a similar vein include The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007), and The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker (2011).
Key Facts about Freakonomics
  • Full Title: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
  • When Written: 2003-2005
  • Where Written: New York, Boston, and Chicago
  • When Published: April 12, 2005
  • Literary Period: “Pop sociology”
  • Genre: Economics, sociology, non-fiction
  • Point of View: Third person, with frequent third person-plural asides

Extra Credit for Freakonomics

The Freakonomics empire. Only a few books ever become popular enough to be adapted as films. In 2010, Freakonomics was adapted as a documentary feature, with short segments directed by different documentary filmmakers. But that’s not all—since 2005, Dubner and Levitt have founded a podcast, a blog, and a philanthropic consulting group based on their book.

...and it’s even on Netflix. One of the most amusing shout-outs to Freakonomics occurred in Season Three of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. In the first episode of the season, one of the characters alludes to the book’s argument about the relationship between abortions and the lowering crime rate.