After years, no, make that decades of reading books I finally did it. I joined a book club. You would think with all the reading I do that at some point in my life I would have been in at least one book club, even for the briefest period of time. The truth is, I’ve always wanted to be in one, but I just never got around to doing it. But thanks to the magic of Meet Up, I recently joined the Badass Book Club PDX. And my first book with this group: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. Last month, about eight of us sat down over pints of beer at a local watering hole and talked about Levitt and Dubner’s newest book.
Published in May of this year, Think Like a Freak marks the third collaboration between Levitt and Dubner of Freakonmics fame. (Their second book, SuperFreakonomics I reviewed back in 2011.) Instead presenting a collection of interesting case studies like they did with their previous two books, this time around the authors have written a kind of “how to” book for us lowly mortals on how to solve life’s problems by disregarding long-held assumptions, popular opinions and conventional logic. Instead, we are encouraged to look at these challenges from radically new perspectives: fresh and inquisitive like a child, open and non-judgmental thanks to a suspended personal moral compass and lastly, with the knowledge that all of us respond in some way or another to incentives. Interestingly enough, in much the same way I felt about SuperFreakonomics, there are things my new book club liked about Think Like a Freak, and things we didn’t.
Let’s start with the things we liked. To varying degrees we found the book interesting and definitely worth talking about. Think Like a Freak is very readable and at times even entertaining. With a business book kind of feel about it, Think Like a Freak should lend itself well for practical application. Generally, we liked the many examples and case studies discussed throughout the book. We also found the footnotes incredibly rich.
As for the negative, more than a few book club participants thought the book was a bit superficial and lacking in hard analysis. Just has many critics have accused Malcolm Gladwell of cherry picking his supporting evidence in order to make his claims, so also did several book club participants accuse the authors of Think Like a Freak of doing much the same. Lastly, two participants felt a bit cheated after buying the book because according to them, a lot of the stuff covered in Think Like a Freak is also available for free via podcasts on the Freakonomics website.
Looking back, I’m glad I joined this book club. It’s fun to talk about a book we’ve all read, not to mention hearing everyone’s opinions. The next book I’ll be reading for this group is Steven Pinker’s 2002 bestseller The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. So look for a review of that much-talked about book in about a month or two. Can’t wait to hear what my new book club friends have to say about this one.