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Book Review: 'Think Like a Freak' by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

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The Freakonomics Radio Podcast for July 3, 2014 was understandably "A Better Way to Eat," which included an interview with a six-consecutive-year champ of Nathan's Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York. And that champ is Takeru Kobayashi, a slender-built man who began his food-eating endeavors during his early economic student days, as mentioned by WNYC radio host Stephen J. Dubner in his most recent book, Think Like a Freak.

The book, which was released in May of this year, was co-authored with Steven D. Levitt, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. Therefore, Kobayahsi's appearance on the current radio broadcast of the duo is perfectly timed, as the next Coney Island hot dog eating contest is right around the corner, and Dubner and Levitt are still in the throes of promoting their most recent book, of which Kobayashi's story is portrayed.

So these guys don't leave anything to chance, as perfect in their marketing timing as they have been in the rise of the sale of their books. But July Fourth hot dog eating promotion aside, this 211-page book published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, contains far more enlightening and entertaining stories and people than merely the feats of one unusually successful personality.

And that's not dissing the Independence Day hot dog eating winner at all, as his story is a lesson in and of itself, so be sure to check out the podcast or transcript of Thursday's Freakonomics Radio program for yourself (or read about Kobayashi in chapter 3 of "Think Like a Freak").

However, in the most recent book by Dubner--formerly a writer and editor with The New York Times--and his co-author, the respected and recognized economist Levitt, the men make their case for thinking like "a freak" by sharing stories of other people who exemplify the same "out of the box" mindset that resulted in astonishing feats by Takeru Kobayashi, the hot-dog-eating champ.

But now Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt no longer appear content to just entertain and educate the masses about all the exceptional people and stories they have learned about. And it isn't because they don't plan to keep putting out this information, at least through their radio broadcast. Instead, it appears that being inundated with so many questions from their book fans in the past nine years has taught them to realize their own physical limitations, as they can't answer every question that is being put to them en mass.

And that is why they are wanting you to let them re-train your brain, so you can join the freak-thinking ranks, and start helping solve the problems in your own life--and those of the world. And they have created a road map of sorts in their latest book, while building upon stories and information that they shared in their first two publications, respectively named Freakonomics (published in 2005) and SuperFreakonomics (published in 2009).

Based upon this Examiner's reading, one would categorize the first three chapters--which are titled "What Does it Mean to Think Like a Freak," "The Three Hardest Words in the English Language" and "What is Your Problem?"--as the basic foundational lessons in learning to think like Dubner and Levitt on a daily basis.

The next three chapters of the New York Times bestselling book--"Like a Bad Dye Job, The Truth is in the Roots," "Think Like a Child," and "Like Giving Candy to a Baby,"--shows fans how to find the root causes to their problem, how to have good ideas for solutions and about coming to grips with the reality that incentives motivate people the most to change behaviors and actions.

The seventh chapter is pure fun, in this writer's opinion. But it has logic and merit as well, pointing out the similarities between King Solomon of the Bible and David Lee Roth of Van Halen rock-and-roll band fame: both were Jewish, both loved a lot of women, and both had an unusual way of thinking.

On the one hand you have a man sitting in the highest justice seat of the land saying he is going to split a baby in two in order to silence two arguing women. That would go over like a lead balloon today, prompting all kinds of outcries from the public. But it was the perfect solution for King Solomon back then, especially since he never planned to carry out the deed.

On the other hand, the rock star now comes off as a lot smarter today than he was viewed years ago, when he was considered an egotistical fanatic for insisting in his contract that there not exist any brown M&Ms in his band's dressing rooms while on tour.

Dubner and Levitt explain how that page 40 contractual clause in a 53-page contract rider makes sense in light of what they know, which is that it was David Lee Roth's unusual (and fast) way of monitoring concert hall setups at a quick glance when he entered each city on his band tour. If brown M&Ms were in the candy bowl when they entered the dressing room, which was forbidden in his contracts, it likely meant the concert hall leaders had neglected to read the contract about required safety and equipment needs too. So a through check of each would be needed.

Last but not least, in Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's top-selling book Think Like a Freak, the authors give excellent advice to readers on "How to Persuade People Who Don't Want to Be Persuaded" in chapter eight, and they make the startling claim in chapter nine that there really is an "Upside of Quitting."

But if you need a book review in five-words or less for this New York Times bestseller, the authors give it to you themselves, stating it is all about "how to solve problems creatively." But they are wrong, it is so much more than that, written in a humorous, authoritative and factual manner, which should net them a writing prize, somewhere, by someone, hopefully. And it is available in hardcover format for $28.99--just in time for the Fourth of July reading season, replete with meticulous reference notes in the back.

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