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.

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.

Professor Carl Hart Argues All Drugs Should Be Legal — Can He Convince Steve? (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 28)

As a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Columbia University who studies the immediate and long-term effects of illicit substances, Carl Hart believes that all drugs — including heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine — should be legalized. Steve talks to Carl about his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, and Carl tells Steve why decriminalizing drugs is as American as apple pie.

Daniel Kahneman on Why Our Judgment is Flawed — and What to Do About It (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 27)

Nobel laureate, best-selling author, and groundbreaking psychologist Daniel Kahneman is also a friend and former business partner of Steve’s. In discussing Danny’s new book Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, the two spar over inconsistencies in criminal sentencing and Danny tells Steve that “Your attitude is unusual” — no surprise there.

Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Helps Steve Train His Brain (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 26)

He’s one of the world’s leading competitors, having won four U.S. memory tournaments and holding the record for most names memorized in 15 minutes (235!). But Nelson Dellis claims he was born with an average memory and that anyone can learn his tricks. Steve gives Nelson’s techniques a shot, without much hope — and is surprised by the result.

Sam Harris: “Spirituality Is a Loaded Term.” (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 25)

He’s a cognitive neuroscientist and philosopher who has written five best-selling books. Sam Harris also hosts the Making Sense podcast and helps people discover meditation through his Waking Up app. Sam explains to Steve how to become spiritual as a skeptic and commit to never lying again.

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

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.

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.