People I (Mostly) Admire

People I (Mostly) Admire is hosted by Steven Levittthe iconoclastic University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series, who tracks down other high achievers and asks questions that only he would think to ask. Guests include all-time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, WNBA champion Sue Bird, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, and neuroscientist/actress Mayim Bialik.

EPISODE

DATE

LENGTH

24
Amaryllis Fox: “What Does This New Version of Mutually Assured Destruction Look Like?” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 24)

She spent nearly a decade as an undercover C.I.A. operative working to prevent terrorism. More recently, she hosted The Business of Drugs on Netflix. Amaryllis Fox — now Kennedy — explains why intelligence work requires empathy, and she soothes Steve’s fears about weapons of mass destruction.

4/16/2021
58:23
23
Greg Norman & Mark Broadie: Why Golf Beats an Orgasm and Why Data Beats Everything (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 23)

Steve Levitt is obsessed with golf — and he’s pretty good at it too. As a thinly-veiled ploy to improve his own game, Steve talks to two titans of the sport: Greg “The Shark” Norman, who was the world’s top-ranked golfer for more than six years; and Mark Broadie, a Columbia professor whose data analysis changed how pros play the game.

4/9/2021
42:30
22
Sal Khan: “If It Works for 15 Cousins, It Could Work for a Billion People.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 22)

Khan Academy grew out of Sal Khan’s online math tutorials for his extended family. It’s now a platform used by more than 115 million people in 190 countries. So what does Khan want to do next? How about reinventing in-school learning, too? Find out why Steve nearly moved to Silicon Valley to be part of Khan’s latest venture.

4/2/2021
44:18
21
Pete Docter: “What If Monsters Really Do Exist?” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 21)

He’s the chief creative officer of Pixar, and the Academy Award-winning director of Soul, Inside Out, Up, and Monsters, Inc. Pete Docter and Steve talk about Pixar’s scrappy beginnings, why it costs $200 million to make an animated film, and the movie moment that changed Steve’s life.

3/26/2021
45:44
20
John Donohue: “I’m Frequently Called a Treasonous Enemy of the Constitution.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 20)

He’s a law professor with a Ph.D. in economics and a tendency for getting into fervid academic debates. Over 20 years ago, he and Steve began studying the impact of legalized abortion on crime. John and Steve talk about guns, the death penalty, the heat they took from their joint research, and why it’s frustratingly difficult to prove truth in the social sciences.

3/19/2021
39:14
19
Marina Nitze: “If You Googled ‘Business Efficiency Consultant,’ I Was the Only Result.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 19)

At 27— and without a college degree — she was named chief technology officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, Marina Nitze is trying to reform the foster care system. She tells Steve how she hacked the V.A.’s bureaucracy, opens up about her struggle with Type 1 diabetes, and explains how she was building websites for soap opera stars when she was just 12 years old.

3/12/2021
38:27
18
Robert Sapolsky: “I Don’t Think We Have Any Free Will Whatsoever.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 18)

He’s one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, with a focus on the physiological effects of stress. (For years, he spent his summers in Kenya, alone except for the baboons he was observing.) Steve asks Robert why we value human life over animals, why he’s lost faith in the criminal-justice system, and how to look casual when you’re about to blow-dart a very large and potentially unhappy primate.

3/5/2021
43:04
17
Emily Oster: “I Am a Woman Who Is Prominently Discussing Vaginas.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 17)

In addition to publishing best-selling books about pregnancy and child-rearing, Emily Oster is a respected economist at Brown University. Over the course of the pandemic, she’s become the primary collector of data about Covid-19 in schools. Steve and Emily discuss how she became an advocate for school reopening, how economists think differently from the average person, and whether pregnant women really need to avoid coffee.

2/26/2021
44:36
16
Joshua Jay: “Humans Are So, So Easy to Fool.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 16)

He’s a world-renowned magician who’s been performing since he was seven years old. But Joshua Jay is also an author, toy maker, and consultant for film and television. Steve Levitt talks to him about how magicians construct tricks, how Joshua’s academic studies of magic have influenced Levitt’s life, and whether Jesus might have been a magician.

2/19/2021
42:58
15
Tim Harford: “If You Can Make Sure You’re Not An Idiot, You’ve Done Well.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 15)

He’s a former World Bank economist who became a prolific journalist and the author of one of Steve Levitt’s favorite books, The Undercover Economist. Tim Harford lives in England, where he’s made it his mission to help the public understand statistics. In their conversation, Steve gives Tim some feedback on his new book, The Data Detective, contemplates if it’s possible to tell great stories with data, and Tim explains how making mistakes can be fun. 

2/12/2021
42:30
14
Yul Kwon (Part 2): “Hey, Do You Have Any Bright Ideas?” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 14)

He’s so fascinating that Steve Levitt brought him back for a second conversation. Yul Kwon currently works at Google, but he’s been a lawyer, political organizer, government regulator, organ donation activist, and Survivor winner. Steve asks Yul why he’s so altruistic, how Google and Apple are helping track COVID-19, and whether the best way to pick a president might be a reality show.

2/5/2021
29:22
13
Yul Kwon: “Don’t Try to Change Yourself All at Once.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 13)

He has been a lawyer, an instructor at the F.B.I. Academy, the owner of a frozen-yogurt chain, and a winner of the TV show Survivor. Today, Kwon works at Google, where he helped build tools to track the spread of COVID-19. But things haven’t always come easily for him. Steve Levitt talks to Kwon about his debilitating childhood anxieties, his compulsion to choose the hardest path in life, and how Kwon used his obsession with game theory to stage a come-from-behind victory on Survivor.

1/29/2021
35:13
12
Sue Bird: “You Have to Pay the Superstars.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 12)

She is one of the best basketball players ever. She’s won multiple championships, including four Olympic gold medals and four W.N.B.A. titles — the most recent in 2020, just before turning 40. She also helped negotiate a landmark contract for the league’s players. Sue Bird tells Steve Levitt the untold truth about clutch players, her thoughts about the pay gap between male and female athletes, and what it means to be part of the first gay couple in ESPN’s The Body Issue.

1/22/2021
40:25
11
Paul Romer: “I Figured Out How to Get Myself Fired From the World Bank.” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 11)

For many economists — Steve Levitt included — there is perhaps no greater inspiration than Paul Romer, the now-Nobel Laureate who at a young age redefined the discipline and has maintained a passion for introducing new ideas to staid debates. Levitt finds out what makes Romer a serial “quitter,” why you can’t manufacture big ideas, and what happened when Romer tried to start a charter city.

1/8/2021
34:10
10
Suzanne Gluck: “I’m a Person Who Can Convince Other People to Do Things” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 10)

She might not be a household name, but Suzanne Gluck is one of the most powerful people in the book industry. Her slush pile is a key entry point to the biggest publishers in the U.S., and the authors she represents have sold more than 100 million books worldwide. Steve Levitt talks with Gluck — his own agent — about negotiating a deal, advising prospective authors, and convincing him to co-write Freakonomics.

12/25/2020
36:11
9
Moncef Slaoui: “It’s Unfortunate That It Takes a Crisis for This to Happen” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 9)

Born in Morocco and raised mostly by a single mother, Moncef Slaoui is now one of the world’s most influential scientists. As the head of Operation Warp Speed — the U.S. government’s Covid-19 vaccine program — Slaoui has overseen the development and distribution of a new vaccine at a pace once deemed impossible. Steve Levitt finds out how the latest generation of vaccines improve on their predecessors, why “educated intuition” is important in innovation, and what we can do to be better prepared for future pandemics.

12/11/2020
36:36
8
Peter Attia: “I Definitely Lost a Lot of IQ Points That Day” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 8)

He’s been an engineer, a surgeon, a management consultant, and even a boxer. Now he’s a physician focused on the science of longevity. Peter Attia talks with Steve Levitt about the problem with immortality, what’s missing from our Covid response, and why nicotine is underrated.

11/27/2020
38:25
7
Caverly Morgan: “I Am Not This Voice. I Am Not This Narrative” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 7)

She showed up late and confused to her first silent retreat, but Caverly Morgan eventually trained for eight years in silence at a Zen monastery. Now her mindfulness-education program Peace in Schools is part of the high-school curriculum in Portland, Ore. Steve Levitt finds out what daily life is like in a silent monastery, why teens find it easier than adults to learn meditation, and what happy children can teach their parents.

11/13/2020
38:39
6
Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That’s Actually a Bad Strategy” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 6)

He graduated high school at 14, and by 23 had several graduate degrees and was a research assistant with Stephen Hawking. He became the first chief technology officer at Microsoft (without having ever studied computer science) and then started a company focused on big questions — like how to provide the world with clean energy and how to optimize pizza-baking. Find out what makes Nathan Myhrvold’s fertile mind tick, and which of his many ideas Steve Levitt likes the most.

10/30/2020
47:30
5
Susan Wojcicki: “Hey, Let’s Go Buy YouTube!” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 5)

She was the sixteenth employee at Google — a company once based in her garage — and now she’s the C.E.O. of its best-known subsidiary, YouTube. But despite being one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, few outside of Silicon Valley know the name Susan Wojcicki. Levitt talks with her about the early days of Google, how her background in economics shapes the company’s products, and why YouTube’s success has created a range of unforeseen and serious issues.

10/16/2020
30:36
0
Steve Levitt: “I’m Not as Childlike as I’d Like to Be” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Bonus Episode)

Steve Levitt has so far occupied the interviewer chair on this show, but in a special live event — recorded over Zoom and presented by WNYC and the Greene Space — the microphone is turned toward him. His Freakonomics friend and co-author Stephen Dubner checks in on the wisdom Levitt has extracted from his interviews, finds out why Levitt is happiest when angering everyone across the political spectrum, and asks Levitt why he ends every interview with the same question.

10/9/2020
38:21
4
Ken Jennings: “Don’t Neglect the Thing That Makes You Weird” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 4)

It was only in his late twenties that America’s favorite brainiac began to seriously embrace his love of trivia. Now he holds the “Greatest of All Time” title on Jeopardy! Steve Levitt digs into how he trained for the show, what it means to have a “geographic memory,” and why we lie to our children.

10/2/2020
42:18
3
Kerwin Charles: “One Does Not Know Where an Insight Will Come From” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 3)

The dean of Yale’s School of Management grew up in a small village in Guyana. During his unlikely journey, he has researched video-gaming habits, communicable disease, and why so many African-Americans haven’t had the kind of success he’s had. Steve Levitt talks to Charles about his parents’ encouragement, his love of Sports Illustrated, and how he talks to his American-born kids about the complicated history of Blackness in America. 

9/18/2020
39:29
2
Mayim Bialik: “I Started Crying When I Realized How Beautiful the Universe Is” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 2)

She’s best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, but the award-winning actress has a rich life outside of her acting career, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve Levitt tries to learn more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

9/4/2020
45:27
1
Steven Pinker: “I Manage My Controversy Portfolio Carefully” (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 1)

By cataloging the steady march of human progress, the Harvard psychologist and linguist has become a very public intellectual. But the self-declared “polite Canadian” has managed to enrage people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Steve Levitt tries to understand why. 

8/21/2020
42:24
0
Introducing People I (Mostly) Admire

Steve Levitt has spent decades as an academic economist, “studying strange phenomena and human behavior in weird circumstances.” Now he’s turning his curiosity to something new: interviewing some of the most interesting, unorthodox people around — from actresses to athletes, authors to inventors. Levitt’s new podcast, “People I (Mostly) Admire” premieres August 21st. 

8/5/2020