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The Man Behind Tyler Cowen, and Freakonomics Too

Regular readers of this blog know how much we admire Tyler Cowen, especially for the Marginal Revolution blog he keeps with fellow George Mason University economics professor Alex Tabarrok. You may also remember some fulsome words of praise on this blog for Cowen’s forthcoming book, Discover Your Inner Economist.

There is a really good profile of Cowen in this week’s New York magazine. I am not surprised the article is so good, since it was written by Hugo Lindgren. If you aren’t familiar with Lindgren’s byline, that is because he is primarily an editor; editors edit a lot and write when they can, or care about a particular subject a great deal. Hugo is one of the best magazine editors I’ve ever worked with, a really dynamic thinker who is smart on several dimensions.

It was Hugo who sent me, back in the summer of 2003, to write a profile of an unorthodox economist named Steve Levitt. He gave me this assignment because he knew I was writing a book about the psychology of money and I’d been spending too much time already with economists.

I actually turned down the assignment initially — I was ready to get started on that book, and I didn’t see how Levitt would fit in — but after reading a bunch of Levitt’s papers, I changed my mind. I’m glad I did, and I’m eternally grateful to Hugo for his good ideas as well as his persistence.

It should be noted, however, that after I wrote the profile of Levitt, and we were talking about writing a book together, I asked Hugo for advice. He counseled me, quite strongly, against doing the book. Having already written two books, with a third well underway, he thought I was well past my days of co-authoring a book, especially with an academic, and that it might be a bad career move.

As smart as Hugo is, I am glad I did not listen to him on that one occasion.

FWIW, I am constantly surprised, and a little bit saddened, that more books aren’t co-authored, especially between academics (who often have great research but subpar writing skills) and writers (who spend their days trying to write well but who aren’t necessarily sitting atop a mountain of interesting research). Can somebody please do something about this?