About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 11, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 39
Thinking Out Loud

William R. Brody

By William R. Brody

Summer Reading List

I must confess that this summer's heavy travel schedule has thus far precluded my emptying my "book box" of its weighty morsels from by spending a week or two turning pages and trying to enlighten myself.

Hope springs eternal, and so I continue to fantasize that I will indeed be entertained with the likes of Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, a novel about life on college campuses today; Richard Haass' The Opportunity, presenting a recipe for optimizing the United States' foreign policy; along with others, e.g., Rise of the Vulcans (about neo-conservatives), Nuclear Terrorism (and how we can prevent it) and Small Pieces Loosely Joined (about the World Wide Web).

The one — and only — great advantage of international jet transportation is that the movie showings run out before the plane lands, forcing passengers like me to pull out a book or two and get a jump on the summer reading list.

A couple of months ago, coming back from Europe, I sped through Tom Friedman's The World is Flat, certainly a book that should be on everyone's reading list. But by now, nearly every meeting I attend finds several speakers quoting passages from the book, so anything I might say about this insightful analysis of globalism has already been said many times over. For sure, run out and buy a copy if you are one of the few who have escaped noticing TWIF.

From my partial listing of summer books, you might have wrongly surmised that my taste runs to the serious and somber side. Actually, I especially like to read books written by authors who don't take themselves too seriously, and a little humor included is a great plus, in my mind. I particularly like books that are written by contrarians — those oddballs who often have a more insightful view of the world than the "experts." Last summer, Moneyball was such a treatise, a book by Michael Lewis that showed how one baseball general manager debunked the myths perpetrated by the experts in major league baseball and produced the ultimate sports oxymoron: a low-payroll, winning team.

So, on a flight back from Singapore, I opened my briefcase and pulled out a playfully serious book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, written by a contrarian economist from the University of Chicago, Steven Levitt, and his journalist co-author, Stephen Dubner. Levitt has been recognized as one of the stellar young academics in the field of economics, and has used common sense, wit and the dogged pursuit of truth to debunk commonly held myths and to produce startling insights into common problems. If you want to know why most drug dealers live with their mothers, about cheating by Chicago high school teachers to improve their students' test scores or what makes a perfect parent, get a copy of the book, and you won't be disappointed.

Perhaps the most controversial idea emanating from Professor Levitt's scholarly works was a paper in which he asserted that the dramatic drop in violent crime that occurred between 1990 and 2000 was not due to more effective policing, stricter gun laws or even increased numbers of police but was rather a direct result of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. I won't spoil the book by giving you Levitt's analysis and explanation, but I hope that this will tempt you into getting your hands on a copy of the book, pronto.

The one major drawback of Freakonomics (from my perspective) is simply this: it is too short to last more than a small portion of the time required to fly from Singapore to San Francisco. I finished the book wishing there were many more chapters to come. Perhaps the authors will write a second volume, but, for the meantime, I will have to content myself by rereading the book, which I certainly plan to do.

Like commencement speeches, there are not many books that I find myself wishing were longer.


William R. Brody is president of The Johns Hopkins University.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 | [email protected]