Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (William Morrow, 2005)
Freedomnomics by John R. Lott, Jr. (Regnery, 2007)
Freakonomics was a minor cultural sensation when it was released. More than a decade later, it has spawned sequels, a fairly successful podcast & radio show, and a a related website (freakonomics.com). It is ##29,293 in Books on Amazon. Freedomnomics, on the other hand, is just one in a line of books by the author and is at #1,035,270 in Books on Amazon. A casual glance would indicate that Freakonomics is by far the better book.
Whether it is or not, though, depends on your point of view.
Freakonomics performed two valuable services. First, it encouraged people to consider all data sources when analyzing a problem. By doing that, and applying those data streams to what seem like simple problems, the authors were able to show that obvious answers are often not necessarily correct answers. They encourage their readers to think and simultaneously present many examples of unexpected, logical conclusions.
Freedomnomics, on the other hand, exists primarily as a rebuttal to Freakonomics. The author was bothered by the conclusions that Levitt reached, because many of Levitt’s arguments were predicated on flawed premises and incomplete data. Lott’s argument was that by selecting only the data they wanted to present and by crafting arguments to downplay outside effects, Freakonomics was not educating, it was indoctrinating. At the same time they were telling their readers (and eventually listeners) to think, they were implying, “…but we’ve already done the hard part for you, and here’s how to think about these things.” Levitt & Dubner were pretending to expand their readers’ minds while in fact they were merely creating followers.
That is the same thing Freedomnomics does. Lott is at his strongest when he argues on behalf of the free market, but many of his positions rely upon positions associated with personal or cultural biases. He does, however, effectively rebut some of the arguments in Freakonomics. The book shines when he does so accurately, and droops when crafting flawed constructions. And it is that the contructions are flawed, not that they are illogical; both books are exemplary when it comes to demonstrating logical progressions. They simply fail – intentionally – to include all of the pertinent data for their arguments.
The books are great when taken together, for that reason. They present a strong two-sided argument in favor of independent thinking and the value of considering basic economics in daily life, while helping to keep the reader from reflexively accepting any of the positions merely because they seem to be crafted reasonably.
The one key difference is that Freakonomics is better written. Lott is by no means terrible, but his technical prowess is in economics and not in English. Levitt was aided greatly by having a professional journalist co-write his book.
Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez (2005)
It’s hard to go wrong with any Martinez book. They’re light humor novels set in familiar science fiction, fantasy or horror trappings, and to date he has been among the most consistently entertaining novelists writing. Gil’s All Fright Diner was his first, and most successful, title; it features Duke (a werewolf) and Earl (a vampire) who stop at a roadside diner for a quick meal only to be offered $100 by the diner’s owner in exchange for clearing out her zombie problem.
Martinez has an easily engaging style that focuses on keeping the narrative flowing. He includes many tropes and culturally familiar items but has a penchant for getting to the root of them and adjusting them enough to make them interesting. The closest analogs to him are Christopher Moore and Robert Rankin. Moore works to create interesting worlds that are slightly different from those we’ve seen before, although with Moore they are almost always variants of the daily world in which we live, and Martinez modifies familiar fantastic worlds. Robert Rankin enjoys presenting fun, casual books that hide deeper philosophical points or multiple layers of story and springing those upon the reader late in the book; Martinez does the same.
Travelling through Gil’s, the reader encounters a ghost and a Lovecraftean apocalypse as well as a skillful take on the contemporary Southern Gothic often seen in the works of writers like Joe R. Lansdale.
One significant drawback of Martinez’ work is that, until recently, he’d never written a series or a sequel. This was changed in Robots vs. Slime Monsters, a kickstarter-backed short fiction collection revisiting the most popular characters from previous books as decided by polling the fans. The book begins with Bigfoot Dreams, a story starring Duke and Earl. Because the short fiction lacks the subtle, overarching themes hidden in the longer works it’s not nearly as satisfying as a Martinez novel, but for those who have enjoyed his books it’s a delight to be able to see old favorites again.