People I (Mostly) Admire

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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, Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker, and WNBA champion Sue Bird. The weekly show features conversations with a wide array of guests — from actresses to athletes, authors to inventors.

“The perfect guest for me is someone who’s not only wildly intelligent, but also a little bit off the rails,” Levitt says. “Someone who thinks differently and who doesn’t care at all how the world perceives him or her.”

People like Yul Kwon, who has been a consultant, lawyer, policy maker, F.C.C. official, Google and Facebook executive, T.V. host, bone-marrow transplant activist, an perhaps most improbably, a winner of the reality show Survivor — all after a childhood of extreme shyness and anxiety. And Nathan Myhrvold, who started college at 14 years old, became a student of Stephen Hawking, a start-up whiz-kid, Microsoft’s first C.T.O. — all while continuing to work as a scientist with published research in paleobiology, climate science, and astronomy, becoming a French-trained chef, author of a James Beard-winning cookbook, serving as a judge on Top Chef, and filing nearly 1,000 patents. 

People I (Mostly) Admire is a production of the Freakonomics Radio Network. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Sendhil Mullainathan Explains How to Generate an Idea a Minute (Part 2) (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 38)

Steve continues his conversation with his good friend, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, and fellow University of Chicago economist. Sendhil breaks down the hypothesis of his book Scarcity, explains why machines aren’t competition for human intelligence, and tells Steve why it’s important to appreciate other people’s good ideas before developing your own.

Sendhil Mullainathan Thinks Messing Around is the Best Use of Your Time (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 37)

He’s a professor of computation and behavioral science at the University of Chicago, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, and author. Steve and Sendhil laugh their way through a conversation about the importance of play, the benefits of change, and why we remember so little about the books we’ve read — and how Sendhil’s new app solves this problem.

How Rahm Emanuel Would Run the World (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 36)

In this interview, first heard on Freakonomics Radio last year, Steve talks with the former top adviser to presidents Clinton and Obama, about his record — and his reputation. And Rahm explains that while he believes in the power of the federal government, as former mayor of Chicago, he says that cities are where problems really get solved.

David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 35)

He’s been an Arctic scientist, a sports journalist, and is now a best-selling author of science books. His latest, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, makes the argument that early specialization does not give you a head start in life. David and Steve talk about why frustration is a good sign, and why the 10,000-hour rule is definitely not a rule.

Maya Shankar Is Changing People’s Behavior — and Her Own (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 34)

She used to run a behavioral unit in the Obama administration, and now has a similar role at Google. Maya and Steve talk about the power (and limits) of behavioral economics and also how people respond to change — the topic of her new podcast A Slight Change of Plans.

Travis Tygart Is Coming for Cheaters — Just Ask Lance Armstrong (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 33)

He’s the C.E.O. of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which, under his charge, exposed the most celebrated American cyclist as a cheater. And Steve’s been studying cheaters for the last 25 years, so he’s also excited to talk to Travis about the incentives to cheat and the advances in testing technology — and offers his services as an anti-doping data detective for the sport of horse racing.

Angela Duckworth Explains How to Manage Your Goal Hierarchy (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 32)

She’s the author of the bestselling book Grit, and a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology — a field Steve says he knows nothing about. But once Angela gives Steve a quick tutorial on “goal conflict,” he is suddenly a fan. They also talk parenting, self-esteem, and how easy it is to learn econometrics if you feel like it.

Peter Leeson on Why Trial-by-Fire Wasn’t Barbaric and Why Pirates Were Democratic (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 31)

He’s an economist who studies even weirder things than Steve. They discuss whether economics is the best of the social sciences, and why it’s a good idea to get a tattoo of a demand curve on your bicep.

Dambisa Moyo Says Foreign Aid Can’t Solve Problems, but Maybe Corporations Can (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 30)

The African-born economist has written four bestselling books, including Dead Aid, which Bill Gates described as “promoting evil.” In her new book about corporate boards, Dambisa uses her experience with global corporations to explore how they can better meet society’s demands. And she explains to Steve why, even as a Harvard and Oxford-educated economist, her goal in life might sound “a little bit like a Miss America pageant.”

Bruce Friedrich Thinks There’s a Better Way to Eat Meat (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 29)

Levitt rarely interviews advocates, but the founder of the Good Food Institute is different. Once an outspoken — and sometimes outlandish — animal-rights activist, Bruce has come to believe that market-driven innovation and scientific advancement are the best ways to reduce global meat consumption. Steve and Bruce talk about the negative externalities of factory-farmed meat, and why Bruce gave up antics like streaking at Buckingham Palace.