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.

Ken Jennings on How a Midlife Crisis Led Him to Jeopardy! (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 4 Replay)

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

Mayim Bialik on the Surprising Risks of Academia and Stability of Show Biz (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 2 Replay)

This new Jeopardy! host is best known for playing neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, but she has a rich life outside of her acting career too, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist. Steve learns more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.

Robert Axelrod on Why Being Nice, Forgiving, and Provokable are the Best Strategies for Life (People I (Mostly) Admire, Ep. 47)

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic game-theory problem. Robert, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, has spent his career studying it — and the ways humans can cooperate, or betray each other, for their own benefit. He and Steve talk about the best way to play it and how it shows up in real world situations, from war zones to Steve’s own life.

Amanda & Lily Levitt Share What It’s Like to be Steve’s Daughters (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 46)

Steve shows a different side of himself in very personal interviews with his two oldest daughters. Amanda talks about growing up with social anxiety and her decision to not go to college, while Lily speaks candidly about her battle with anorexia and the conversation she had with Steve that led her to finally seek treatment.

Leidy Klotz on Why the Best Solutions Involve Less — Not More (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 45)

When we try to improve things, our first thought is often: What can we add to make this better? But Leidy, a professor of engineering, says we tend to overlook the fact that a better solution might be to take something away. He and Steve talk about examples from Leidy’s book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, and from their own lives.

Edward Glaeser Explains Why Some Cities Thrive While Others Fade Away (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 44)

An expert on urban economics and co-author of the new book Survival of the City, Ed says cities have faced far worse than Covid. Steve talks with the Harvard professor about why the slums of Mumbai function so well, high-quality housing in China sits empty, and declining cities hang on for so long.

Arne Duncan Says All Kids Deserve a Chance — and Criminals Deserve a Second One (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 43)

Former U.S. Secretary of Education, 3x3 basketball champion, and leader of an anti-gun violence organization are all on Arne’s resume. He’s also Steve’s neighbor. The two talk about teachers caught cheating in Chicago public schools and Steve shares a story he’s never told Arne, about a defining moment in the educator’s life.

America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 42)

A special episode: Steve reports on a passion of his. Most high-school math classes are still preparing students for the Sputnik era. Steve wants to get rid of the “geometry sandwich” and instead have kids learn what they really need in the modern era: data fluency. Originally broadcast on Freakonomics Radio, this episode includes an update from Steve about a project he launched to revamp the education system.

Dr. Bapu Jena on Why Freakonomics Is the Best Medicine (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 41)

He’s a Harvard physician and economist who just started a third job: host of the new podcast Freakonomics, M.D. He’s also Steve’s former student. The two discuss why medicine should embrace econ-style research, the ethics of human-challenge trials, and Bapu’s role in one of Steve’s, ahem, less-than-successful experiments.

Harold Pollack on Why Managing Your Money Is as Easy as Taking Out the Garbage (People I (Mostly) Admire Ep. 40)

He argues that personal finance is so simple all you need to know can fit on an index card. How will he deal with Steve’s suggestion that Harold’s nine rules for managing money are overly complicated? Harold and Steve also talk about gun violence — a topic Harold researches as a public-policy professor at the University of Chicago — and they propose some radical ideas for reducing it.