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SuperReading SuperFreakonomics


I’m reading SuperFreakonomics.  It recommends drunk driving over drunk walking, tells that TV has empowered the women of India, points out the ridiculously low incidence of shark attacks, and the likelihood of the climate crisis being solved more cheaply than expected with new technology.  That’s just in the introduction, where they also apologize for the last book not actually covering “everything.”  Seems like the readers are taking the title too seriously.

None of that struck me as particularly odd, but on page 20 they mentioned “between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries, as many as 1 million European women…were executed for witchcraft.”  That number struck me as a bit high since only about 20 people were killed in the Salem Witch Hunt and that’s such a big deal that everybody knows about it.  On the other hand, that’s an average of less than a couple thousand a year for all of Europe.

Looking at the Wikipedia entry, the number is 40,000 – 100,000 executions from 1480 – 1700, “the classical period of witchhunts”, by which I suppose they mean the hight of the hysteria.  This makes it hard to believe the larger period had 1 Million deaths.  Looking at the Levit & Dubner’s source,  it says “as many as one million individuals…primarily women”.  That’s only a slight deviation from the book.  Reading the source, it seems pretty grim and believable.  I’m not into researching the question further: obviously witch hunt deaths were far greater than I previously knew.

Freakonomics is a fun read and claims to use real data to explain things. I say claims because there might be some more significant inaccuracies.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy it anyway.  The first book was great and the freakonomics blog is often interesting too.


November 6, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. The number of witches killed seemed high to me too. Here’s a good analysis of the question that puts the total at around 200k.

    Comment by Jason | January 22, 2011 | Reply

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