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People I (Mostly) Admire
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People I (Mostly) Admire

Author: Freakonomics Radio + Stitcher

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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 Bird, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui, and neuroscientist/actress Mayim Bialik. People I (Mostly) Admire is a production of the Freakonomics Radio Network.
20 Episodes
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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, alone except for the baboons he was observing.) Steve asks Robert why we value human life over animals, why he’s lost faith in the criminal-justice system, and how to look casual when you’re about to blow-dart a very large and potentially unhappy primate.
In addition to publishing best-selling books about pregnancy and child-rearing, Emily Oster is a respected economist at Brown University. Over the course of the pandemic, she’s become the primary collector of data about Covid-19 in schools. Steve and Emily discuss how she became an advocate for school reopening, how economists think differently from the average person, and whether pregnant women really need to avoid coffee.
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 film and television. Steve Levitt talks to him about how magicians construct tricks, how Joshua’s academic studies of magic have influenced Levitt’s life, and whether Jesus might have been a magician.
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. Tim Harford lives in England, where he’s made it his mission to help the public understand statistics. In their conversation, Steve gives Tim some feedback on his new book, The Data Detective, contemplates if it’s possible to tell great stories with data, and Tim explains how making mistakes can be fun.
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, political organizer, government regulator, organ donation activist, and Survivor winner. Steve asks Yul why he’s so altruistic, how Google and Apple are helping track COVID-19, and whether the best way to pick a president might be a reality show.
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 works at Google, where he helped build tools to track the spread of COVID-19. But things haven’t always come easily for him. Steve Levitt talks to Kwon about his debilitating childhood anxieties, his compulsion to choose the hardest path in life, and how Kwon used his obsession with game theory to stage a come-from-behind victory on Survivor.
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 most recent in 2020, just before turning 40. She also helped negotiate a landmark contract for the league’s players. Sue Bird tells Steve Levitt the untold truth about clutch players, her thoughts about the pay gap between male and female athletes, and what it means to be part of the first gay couple in ESPN’s The Body Issue.
For many economists — Steve Levitt included — there is perhaps no greater inspiration than Paul Romer, the now-Nobel laureate who at a young age redefined the discipline and has maintained a passion for introducing new ideas to staid debates. Levitt finds out what makes Romer a serial “quitter,” why you can’t manufacture big ideas, and what happened when Romer tried to start a charter city.
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 the biggest publishers in the U.S., and the authors she represents have sold more than 100 million books worldwide. Steve Levitt talks with Gluck — his own agent — about negotiating a deal, advising prospective authors, and convincing him to co-write Freakonomics.
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 has overseen the development and distribution of a new vaccine at a pace once deemed impossible. Steve Levitt finds out how the latest generation of vaccines improve on their predecessors, why “educated intuition” is important in innovation, and what we can do to be better prepared for future pandemics.
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 talks with Steve Levitt about the problem with immortality, what’s missing from our Covid response, and why nicotine is underrated.
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 her mindfulness-education program Peace in Schools is part of the high-school curriculum in Portland, Ore.  Steve Levitt finds out what daily life is like in a silent monastery, why teens find it easier than adults to learn meditation, and what happy children can teach their parents.
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.
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 despite being one of the most powerful people in the tech industry, few outside of Silicon Valley know the name Susan Wojcicki. Levitt talks with her about the early days of Google, how her background in economics shapes the company's products, and why YouTube's success has created a range of unforeseen and serious issues.
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 friend and co-author Stephen Dubner checks in on the wisdom Levitt has extracted from his interviews, finds out why Levitt is happiest when angering everyone across the political spectrum, and asks Levitt why he ends every interview with the same question.
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 Time” title on Jeopardy! Steve Levitt digs into how he trained for the show, what it means to have a "geographic memory," and why we lie to our children.
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, communicable disease, and why so many African-Americans haven’t had the kind of success he’s had. Steve Levitt talks to Charles about his parents’ encouragement, his love of Sports Illustrated, and how he talks to his American-born kids about the complicated history of Blackness in America.
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 acting career, as a teacher, mother — and a real-life neuroscientist.  Steve Levitt tries to learn more about this one-time academic and Hollywood non-conformist, who is both very similar to him and also quite his opposite.
By cataloging the steady march of human progress, the Harvard psychologist and linguist has become a very public intellectual. But the self-declared “polite Canadian” has managed to enrage people on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Steve Levitt tries to understand why.
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 interesting, unorthodox people around — from actresses to athletes, authors to inventors. Here is a preview of Levitt’s new podcast, which premieres August 21st.  New episodes every two weeks. “People I (Mostly) Admire” is a production of the Freakonomics Radio Network.
Comments (9)

David

you do have some really terrible ideas...I hope they never get implemented, Steve.

Mar 4th
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Kim Hawko Vitiello

I'm halfway through this podcast episode and still have no clue who this man is or why he won a Nobel.

Mar 3rd
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Sveta Mobile

Very interesting, thanks!

Mar 1st
Reply

Manjunatha Bhatta

You'll know a lot about Yul Kwon

Jan 30th
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Diann Gaysunas

Really enjoyed this- super interesting !!

Sep 6th
Reply

Negar Khalili

It is awesome keep doing this podcast.

Sep 6th
Reply

Yolandi Bester

This was so insightful. Thank you for facilitating

Sep 6th
Reply

Soudabe

interesting 👍

Aug 28th
Reply

Dumbdreamed

seeems really promising, but when the first episode come out?

Aug 20th
Reply
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