What Keeps Glenn Beck Up at Night?

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What Keeps Glenn Beck Up at Night?

A few weeks back, I was a guest on Glenn Beck‘s radio show. Something interesting happened before we went on the air. He noticed the book I was carrying — Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, by the Berkeley physicist Richard A. Muller — and asked me about it. I endorsed it rather enthusiastically. He said it sounded like a book he’d like to read, so I went ahead and gave him my copy (and, yes, Dr. Muller, I ordered another one for myself).

A few days later, one of Beck’s producers e-mailed me to say that Beck too liked the book, and did I have any more recommendations? So I sent him a list, cobbled together from here, here, and from this blog. Then Beck read those books too.

This was the only time I’d ever done an interview and even had someone ask about the book I happened to have with me at the time, much less want to read it, and then read some others. I was pretty impressed. Beck has an awful lot of fans, but he has a lot of detractors too — and my sense is that those detractors have miscast him as a know-nothing villain.

As I was leaving that radio interview, we started talking about safety gear — football helmets, specifically, and how better helmets may lead to worse head injuries, since the extra layers of safety seem to produce more aggressive behavior. That’s when he mentioned his new car, a “death-proof” Mercedes, and he wondered if its amazing safety features were encouraging him to drive more recklessly. (It should be noted that he doesn’t have this new experimental Mercedes, which is apparently even closer to being truly death-proof.)

So I asked him if I could ride home with him one night in his car and talk about these issues. He agreed:

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: Molly Webster Beck and Dubner in the “death-proof” Mercedes.

That interview wound up in our first Freakonomics Radio podcast (which you can get here at iTunes or here via RSS feed; by the way, it is currently the No. 1 podcast at iTunes, so … thanks!).

The podcast conversation focused on Beck’s car, but he is a pretty expansive guy, so we talked about quite a few other things as well — Beck’s own fears, rational and otherwise, and the one thing that keeps him up at night.


Mr. Dubner, you've just helped to mainstream a man who has accused FEMA of setting up concentration camps, and who has said that he believes that our President is deeply racist against white people.

I hope you feel "clever".


It's a shame he doesn't seem to showcase his intellectual curiosity on his show.

Richard Iverson

To my understanding Glenn Beck is a product of a cult which believes that Joseph Smith, a convicted con-man, found magical tablets buried in upstate New York in the 1820's, interpreted their encoded script via a magic stone and started a local religion. This group also believes that Jesus cruised this continent several hundred years after his (Jesus's) reported execution and that some American Indians are descended from the "lost tribes of Israel".

Why does this essential creep Beck have a following at all? But then why did Joseph Smith?


As others have commented, I had no doubt that Beck is an intelligent person. He is intelligent enough to have an overly dramatic & emotional show that plays on people's fears and isms: racism, sexism. Then, he gets to make a lot of money, and have nice cars & the leisure to read intelligent books.

Thanks for confirming the obvious.


Very much enjoyed this - thank you. Never been a fan of Beck's, but this was enlightening.


Aw, what a bunch of whiny liberals have responded to this posting. Stop sniffling and get a grip on reality. I applaud Dubner for setting aside politics and telling an interesting story. Frankly, it lends more credibility to him and to the Freakonomics folks. I love those Freakonomics guys all the more now.

Dr J

Are you kidding? Beck is just misunderstood? Isn't this the same guy who thought Obama was a racist - I guess he hated his white mother? No mention of that in your summary - given your history of posts I should not be suprised - you talk about teachers cheating on exams, yet ignore the massive fraud associated with bonuses and the financial industry and you just tried to tell us there is an up side to being poor - maybe you are looking for a spot on Fox news?


We might not like him but he does get viewers.

This, from across the pond, isn't too far off the mark:

From the BBC, "Turkeys Voting for Christmas"


Göbbels: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it." Mr. Beck and his right-wing cohorts have taken this to heart.
Here we go again.


I question his morality, not his intelligence. In fact, it's more condemning that Beck is well-read because he perpetuates conspiracy theories knowing full well that they are lies.

Claire Drenowatz

I wonder how long it will take Beck to scramble whatever he reads in the books on the list, and use them to vilify science.


#4: Kip
#21: Brian

Yes to both.


This article has the tone of one self-promoter promoting another.


I can't wait for intellectual stimulation from other brilliant but misunderstood anti-intellectual intellectuals. There's a rich vein of irony here. Seriously, "Freakonomics" should explore some of the other folks at Faux Noise who are enjoying the spoils of rabble rousing. It reminds me of Mencken's quote, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."

Sharon B.

And how much, I wonder, did Beck directly or indirectly pay Dubner to write this rosy piece? Revolting. Disingeuous. I think it's been clear that Beck is a smart guy. He has to be in order to carry out his skillful charade as a true "American" outraged by our Communist president. Remember the late Morton Downey Jr.? On his TV show he rattled his super-conservative views and catered to the same demos that Fox News does. The real MDJ was a liberal, who eschewed the crap he was spewing. Like Beck, he was smart and knew how to not only make an easy buck but stroke his ego by being a leader in his "crusade."


Wow, Dubner is getting epic with his tipping of the left-wingers' sacred cows. A little reporting on global warmism, a little non-partisan light shed on the infamous Glenn Beck....

What's next? Some microeconomic data showing Keith Olbermann is actually measurably bad for America?? Dubner = win.

Dr J

I think somebody is looking for a job in the next teabagger administration!


Brian is so right...Beck is not stupid yet uses the best of propaganda techniques to confuse the aging and fearful audience that watches him. He brings a deeply distorted view of the world to the ignorant, the deluded, the racists, the angry...McCarthy all over again.




"those detractors have miscast him as a know-nothing villain"

The left's belief that people who disagree with them are stupid and/or ignorant is arguably the right's biggest advantage in politics.

The right's belief in the demagogues and mountebanks who mislead, incite and misinform them is an argument that many of their voters are in fact stupid and/or ignorant, and is the right's biggest disadvantage in politics.

J. C.

Well you have obviously not watched one of Glenn Beck's shows where he spews on and on about how the President of the United States is somehow in an evil plot to destroy the United States. The "miscast" that you speak of is more likely describing Freakonomics outlook on the world. Evidently Freakanomics has lost its ability to discern things that are credible and something that is a comedian playing a demagogue.
Because he reads a book that you recommend you write a glowing review of his intellectual curiousity. Did he read it? More likely he had cliff notes given to him. Have you read his review of the New York Times?
I had heard about Freakonomics having a lack of credibility and you have certainly cemented that for me.