Allen lane, £12.99. Order at £10.99 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

Think Like a Freak: How To Think Smarter About Almost Everything! by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, book review

The Freak series returns, this time as a guide to making good decisions

This third book in the Freak series differs from the bestselling Freakonomics and Super-freakonomics: here, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are prescriptive. They quote George Bernard Shaw – "Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation by thinking once or twice a week."

Too many people, they say, are too busy to spend any time thinking. But they should. And although there isn't a right or wrong way to think about solving a problem, what is important is to depend on data – facts and figures – and also to understand how the world works in order to make decisions, rather than relying on prejudices, biases, or running with the herd. This is music to my ears, having previously spent years in Whitehall advocating evidence-based policies rather than policy-based evidence.

But what is evidence? There is so much in life which isn't clear and which does not allow us to make the right decision or even any decision at all. Data is often partial and incomplete, prone to manipulation and frequent revisions. Worse, it is frequently presented as solid and irrefutable, which it rarely is. Many of the current big debates in the UK fall into this refutable category – should we stay in Europe, how to best deal with climate change, HS2, airport expansion. In many cases, we just don't know –and as the authors say, we find it very hard to admit this. Levitt and Dubner marvel at how little information people have on which to base decisions, including the hugely important ones, such as what job one should do. Surely, evidence in terms of career paths, earnings and indicators of job satisfaction should all be out there. And yet we know it often isn't.

So most people make decisions based on incomplete data, prejudices, their environment or peer and family pressure. Moreover, because they often have little idea of the impact, or import, of their choices, they leave others to make decisions for them. The authors describe how, in a controlled experiment, and with the agreement of those involved, dilemmas were resolved with the toss of a coin to such questions as: "Shall I leave my girlfriend?" . A considerable percentage accepted a random outcome and professed themselves to be happy with the choice that was made for them!

The book's coverage of issues is wide – from how to win a hot dog eating competition to an analysis of how the Nigerian email scam works and how to flush out potential terrorists. My favourite chapter heading asks: "What do King Solomon and David Lee Roth (the rock frontman) have in common?"

But it is a difficult book to like for its complacency and gimmicky nature. Their definition of "thinking like a freak" reads like something out of Private Eye's "Pseuds Corner": "The modern world demands that we all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally; that we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations; that we think with neither fear nor favour, with neither blind optimism nor sour scepticism. That we think like – ahem – a Freak.''

The easiest way to deal with this book is to accept the authors' semi- serious suggestion that it could be viewed as a "self-help" book on how to make decisions and get better outcomes.

For all the book's failings, the authors redeem themselves in my eyes by recounting a very amusing encounter with David Cameron, who they met just before the last election and who "looked to be exactly the sort of man whom deans at Eton and Oxford envision when they are first handed the boy". As they questioned the cost of some of his strongly-held pet projects, "the smile did not leave David Cameron's face but it did leave his eyes".

Vicky Pryce's book, 'Greekonomics' is out in paperback (Biteback)

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence