, , , , ,

When to Rob a Bank

by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

genre: non-fiction, economics

Summary from Goodreads

when-to-rob-a-bankIn celebration of the 10th anniversary of the landmark book Freakonomics comes this curated collection from the most readable economics blog in the universe. It’s the perfect solution for the millions of readers who love all things Freakonomics. Surprising and erudite, eloquent and witty, When to Rob a Bank demonstrates the brilliance that has made the Freakonomics guys an international sensation, with more than 7 million books sold in 40 languages, and 150 million downloads of their Freakonomics Radio podcast.

When Freakonomics was first published, the authors started a blog—and they’ve kept it up. The writing is more casual, more personal, even more outlandish than in their books. In When to Rob a Bank, they ask a host of typically off-center questions: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken?

Over the past decade, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have published more than 8,000 blog posts on Freakonomics.com. Many of them, they freely admit, were rubbish. But now they’ve gone through and picked the best of the best. You’ll discover what people lie about, and why; the best way to cut gun deaths; why it might be time for a sex tax; and, yes, when to rob a bank. (Short answer: never; the ROI is terrible.) You’ll also learn a great deal about Levitt and Dubner’s own quirks and passions, from gambling and golf to backgammon and the abolition of the penny.

Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, was awarded the John Bates Clark medal, given to the most influential American economist under forty. He is also a founder of The Greatest Good, which applies Freakonomics-style thinking to business and philanthropy.

Stephen J. Dubner is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality. He quit his first career—as an almost-rock-star—to become a writer. He has since taught English at Columbia, worked for The New York Times and published three non-Freakonomics books.


Why I Chose the Book

My most recent airplane book (Revenge Wears Prada) didn’t make it into my carry-on. That left me in the airport two hours early with nothing to read since I didn’t want to use up my phone battery. A quick look through the bookstore and When to Rob a Bank jumped out at me despite my concern over how airport security might feel about me reading it. I’d heard of Freakonomics, but never read any of the posts.

Initial Thoughts

Entertaining. Some of the blog posts were better than others. When I landed at my parent’s I read a few aloud to them and it was very hit or miss. Neither of them have much knowledge or interest in economics, so I’m sure that was a contributing factor to their indifference. Even so, I was enjoying it.

Final Thoughts

An incredibly quick read. An hour flight, plus four hours in the airport, plus maybe an hour reading to my parents had me 80% of the way through the book. Aside from novels like The Hunger Games which I devoured in mere days, this is probably the fastest I’ve gotten through a book in quite some time.

Some of the concepts were a little off-putting, including the idea that there should be a tax on sex. That said, once I got passed my own concervative values, it was interesting reading the opinions of a professional escort on the economics of legalized prostitution. Even so, I much prefered the answers to questions about when to rob a bank, why some fruits are as inexpensive as they are, and whether it’s changes in supply or demand governing fish markets.


If you have any interest or understanding of economics, it’s a good read. I don’t think it’s required for enjoyment of the book, but it certainly helps.


4 out of 5 stars.

-Eliabeth Hawthorne

To see what other books we’ve reviewed, check out our book reviews page.