Cover art for podcast People I (Mostly) Admire

People I (Mostly) Admire

58 EpisodesProduced by Freakonomics Radio + StitcherWebsite

Steve Levitt, the iconoclastic University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series, 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 Bi… read more

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53. The Simple Economics of Saving the Amazon Rainforest

November 27th, 2021

32:35

Everyone agrees that massive deforestation is an environmental disaster. But most of the standard solutions — scolding the Brazilians, invoking …

52. Max Tegmark on Why Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Won’t be Our Slave (Part 2)

November 20th, 2021

30:21

He’s an M.I.T. cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert, and once upon a time, almost an economist. Max and Steve continue their …

51. Max Tegmark on Why Treating Humanity Like a Child Will Save Us All

November 13th, 2021

45:35

How likely is it that this conversation is happening in more than one universe? Should we worry more about Covid or about nuclear war? Is economics a …

50. Edward Miguel on Collecting Economic Data by Canoe and Correlating Conflict with Rainfall

November 6th, 2021

52:00

He’s a pioneer of using randomized control experiments in economics — studying the long-term benefits of a $1 health intervention in Africa. Steve …

49. Mathematician Sarah Hart on Why Numbers are Music to Our Ears

October 30th, 2021

46:23

Playing notes on her piano, she demonstrates for Steve why whole numbers sound pleasing, why octaves are mathematically imperfect, and how math …

48. Marc Davis Can’t Stop Watching Basketball — But He Doesn’t Care Who Wins

October 23rd, 2021

47:13

His childhood dream of playing in the N.B.A. led him to a career as a referee. Marc is one of the league’s top performers after over 20 seasons, but he still reviews every single one of his calls. He talks with Steve …

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

October 16th, 2021

47:46

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 …

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

October 9th, 2021

49:35

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 …

47. Robert Axelrod on Why Being Nice, Forgiving, and Provokable are the Best Strategies for Life

October 2nd, 2021

44:59

The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic game-theory problem. Robert, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, has spent his career studying …

46. Amanda & Lily Levitt Share What It’s Like to be Steve’s Daughters

September 25th, 2021

47:54

Steve shows a different side of himself in very personal interviews with his two oldest daughters. Amanda talks about growing up with social anxiety …

45. Leidy Klotz on Why the Best Solutions Involve Less — Not More

September 18th, 2021

40:40

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 …

44. Edward Glaeser Explains Why Some Cities Thrive While Others Fade Away

September 11th, 2021

46:09

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, …

43. Arne Duncan Says All Kids Deserve a Chance — and Criminals Deserve a Second One

September 4th, 2021

46:55

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 …

42. America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up

August 28th, 2021

43:11

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 …

41. Dr. Bapu Jena on Why Freakonomics Is the Best Medicine

August 21st, 2021

41:21

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 …

40. Harold Pollack on Why Managing Your Money Is as Easy as Taking Out the Garbage

August 14th, 2021

46:43

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 …

39. Aicha Evans Wants You to Take Your Eyes Off the Road

August 7th, 2021

49:00

She’s the C.E.O. of Zoox, an autonomous vehicle company. Steve asks Aicha about the big promises the A.V. industry hasn’t yet delivered — and the radical bet Zoox is making on a driverless future. Plus, Steve wants to …

38. Sendhil Mullainathan Explains How to Generate an Idea a Minute (Part 2)

July 31st, 2021

37:29

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 …

37. Sendhil Mullainathan Thinks Messing Around Is the Best Use of Your Time

July 24th, 2021

52:10

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, …

36. How Rahm Emanuel Would Run the World

July 17th, 2021

42:30

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 …

35. David Epstein Knows Something About Almost Everything

July 10th, 2021

50:56

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 …

34. Maya Shankar Is Changing People’s Behavior — and Her Own

July 3rd, 2021

45:27

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) …

33. Travis Tygart Is Coming for Cheaters — Just Ask Lance Armstrong

June 26th, 2021

45:42

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 …

32. Angela Duckworth Explains How to Manage Your Goal Hierarchy

June 19th, 2021

51:06

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. …

31. Peter Leeson on Why Trial-by-Fire Wasn’t Barbaric and Why Pirates Were Democratic

June 12th, 2021

46:10

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.

30. Dambisa Moyo Says Foreign Aid Can’t Solve Problems, but Maybe Corporations Can

June 5th, 2021

44:03

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 …

29. Bruce Friedrich Thinks There’s a Better Way to Eat Meat

May 29th, 2021

45:39

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 …

28. Professor Carl Hart Argues All Drugs Should Be Legal — Can He Convince Steve?

May 22nd, 2021

44:59

As a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Columbia University who studies the immediate and long-term effects of illicit substances, Carl Hart …

27. Daniel Kahneman on Why Our Judgment is Flawed — and What to Do About It

May 15th, 2021

44:06

Nobel laureate, best-selling author, and groundbreaking psychologist Daniel Kahneman is also a friend and former business partner of Steve’s. In …

26. Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Helps Steve Train His Brain

May 8th, 2021

35:47

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 …

25. Sam Harris: “Spirituality Is a Loaded Term.”

May 1st, 2021

43:06

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 …

Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That's Actually a Bad Strategy.” (Episode 6 Rebroadcast)

April 24th, 2021

49:36

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 …

24. Amaryllis Fox: “What Does This New Version of Mutually Assured Destruction Look Like?”

April 17th, 2021

58:23

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 …

23. Greg Norman & Mark Broadie: Why Golf Beats an Orgasm and Why Data Beats Everything

April 10th, 2021

42:30

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 …

22. Sal Khan: “If It Works for 15 Cousins, It Could Work for a Billion People.”

April 3rd, 2021

44:19

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 …

21. Pete Docter: “What If Monsters Really Do Exist?”

March 27th, 2021

43:42

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 …

20. John Donohue: “I'm Frequently Called a Treasonous Enemy of the Constitution.”

March 20th, 2021

37:14

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 …

19. Marina Nitze: “If You Googled ‘Business Efficiency Consultant,’ I Was the Only Result.”

March 13th, 2021

38:03

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 …

18. Robert Sapolsky: “I Don’t Think We Have Any Free Will Whatsoever.”

March 6th, 2021

41:55

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, …

17. Emily Oster: “I Am a Woman Who Is Prominently Discussing Vaginas.”

February 27th, 2021

42:26

In addition to publishing best-selling books about pregnancy and child-rearing, Emily Oster is a respected economist at Brown University. Over the …

16. Joshua Jay: “Humans Are So, So Easy to Fool.”

February 20th, 2021

42:19

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 …

15. Tim Harford: “If You Can Make Sure You're Not An Idiot, You've Done Well.”

February 13th, 2021

42:30

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. …

14. Yul Kwon (Part 2): “Hey, Do You Have Any Bright Ideas?”

February 6th, 2021

29:23

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, …

13. Yul Kwon: “Don't Try to Change Yourself All at Once.”

January 30th, 2021

35:13

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 …

12. Sue Bird: “You Have to Pay the Superstars.”

January 23rd, 2021

40:26

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 …

11. Paul Romer: “I Figured Out How to Get Myself Fired From the World Bank.”

January 9th, 2021

34:11

For many economists — Steve Levitt included — there is perhaps no greater inspiration than Paul Romer, the now-Nobel laureate who at a young age …

10. Suzanne Gluck: “I'm a Person Who Can Convince Other People to Do Things”

December 26th, 2020

36:12

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 …

9. Moncef Slaoui: "It’s Unfortunate That It Takes a Crisis for This to Happen"

December 12th, 2020

36:37

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 …

8. Peter Attia: “I Definitely Lost a Lot of IQ Points That Day”

November 28th, 2020

38:25

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 …

7. Caverly Morgan: "I Am Not This Voice. I Am Not This Narrative."

November 14th, 2020

38:39

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 …

6. Nathan Myhrvold: “I Am Interested in Lots of Things, and That's Actually a Bad Strategy”

October 31st, 2020

47:31

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 …

5. Susan Wojcicki: “Hey, Let’s Go Buy YouTube!”

October 17th, 2020

30:37

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 …

Steve Levitt: “I'm Not as Childlike as I'd Like to Be” (Bonus Episode)

October 10th, 2020

38:21

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 …

4. Ken Jennings: “Don’t Neglect the Thing That Makes You Weird”

October 3rd, 2020

42:19

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 …

3. Kerwin Charles: “One Does Not Know Where an Insight Will Come From”

September 19th, 2020

39:29

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, …

2. Mayim Bialik: “I Started Crying When I Realized How Beautiful the Universe Is”

September 5th, 2020

45:28

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 …

1. Steven Pinker: "I Manage My Controversy Portfolio Carefully”

August 22nd, 2020

42:25

By cataloging the steady march of human progress, the Harvard psychologist and linguist has become a very public intellectual. But the self-declared …

Introducing “People I (Mostly) Admire”

July 31st, 2020

4:46

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 …

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