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Book review: Illustrated ‘SuperFreakonomics’

Your budget is connected to your income.

The income’s connected to a sales goal. The sales goal’s connected to the economy. The economy’s connected to consumer spending. And consumer spending is connected to the anklebone.

Flowcharts, studies, old songs and graphs can help you comprehend cause and effect in business, but when it comes to the world as a whole, things are messier. Or are they?

Read the newly illustrated “SuperFreakonomics” (William Morrow, $40) by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, and you’ll see connections and corollaries everywhere.

Uganda is a fair drive from Michigan, as anyone with a GPS can tell you. So how do you explain that babies born in Uganda this May and babies born in Michigan in the same month will share a higher-than-average rate of disabilities as adults?

The explanation, say Levitt and Dubner, comes from freakonomics, a word they coined to account for the freaky things that happen in the world, especially when it comes to human influence. People, the authors found, respond to incentives that are not predictable, and those responses result in unintended consequences that start a chain of events. Separate chains may be related in ways that are seemingly incongruent.

Take, for instance, those beautiful New York City brownstones. There’s a reason they were built high and imposing, and horses are almost completely to blame. And speaking of houses, sex and real estate don’t often overlap, but this book shows how it happens.

As for those private matters, how is it that prostitutes in Chicago are like department store Santas?  Are ladies of the evening — or is any entrepreneur — selling themselves short, or can they utilize an economic fact to boost income without losing customers?

Is it possible that there are advantages to things that seem disastrous? Yes, say the authors, just as there are hidden penalties for good news. Although the “Shoe Bomber” never caused loss of life, for instance, his actions cost travelers nearly 600 million minutes a year, or the equivalent of 14 lifetimes.

But back to those babies in Uganda and Michigan. Can their parents give them a leg up on becoming professional athletes? Nope. Sadly, the month of May could be doubly unlucky for them.

In the illustrated “SuperFreakonomics,” Levitt (an economist) and Dubner (a journalist) offer a wry romp through trivia, business, economy and fluff, making you think, laugh and run to your computer to look up more information. But if you read “SuperFreakonomics” when it came out last year, you may wonder if this is the same book. The answer is yes, but …

Yes, you’ll find mostly the same words, but this illustrated version contains charts, pictures and fun drawings. Yes, but this book is more a browser’s delight. Yes, but it’s zippier and the sidebars are literary peanuts: You can’t stop eating them up. Yes, it’s basically the same book, but improved.

If you’ve got a curious mind and love to play with stats and facts, don’t miss the illustrated “Superfreakonomics.” For you, it’s definitely a book to connect with.

The Bookworm, Terri Schlichenmeyer, is a Wisconsin-based book reviewer.

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