The Ezra Klein Show

The Ezra Klein Show

United States

Ezra Klein gives you a chance to get inside the heads of the newsmakers and power players in politics and media. These are extended conversations with policymakers, writers, technologists, and business leaders about what they believe in and why. Look elsewhere for posturing confrontation and quick reactions to the day's news. Subscribe for the anti-soundbite.

Episodes

danah boyd on why fake news is so easy to believe  

danah boyd is an anthropologist and computer scientist who studies the way people actually use technology. Not the way we wish we used technology, or the way we hope we will use technology, but the way we actually use it.
“Technology,” she says, "is made by people. In a society. And it has a tendency to mirror and magnify the issues that affect everyday life.”


boyd is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, the founder of Data & Society, a visiting professor at New York University, and a fantastically interesting thinker. She packs more insight into a blog post than many authors get into a book. I’ve been reading her and learning from her for a long time, so I’ve been looking forward to this discussion, and it didn’t disappoint.


In this conversation, we discuss why fake news is so easy to believe, digital white flight, how an anthropologist studies social media, the reasons machine learning algorithms reflect our prejudices rather than fixing them, what Netflix initially got wrong about their recommendations engine, the value of pretending your audience is only six people, the early utopian visions of the internet, and so, so much more. Enjoy!


Books:


Jean Briggs's "Inuit Morality Play: The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old”


Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”


Margaret Mead's collection of her Redbook essays

Al Franken on learning to be a politician  

Sen. Al Franken’s new book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, is the rare politician memoir that’s actually interesting. And note that I said interesting, not funny (though it is also funny).


Most books by politicians are about how they’re not really politicians — they’re authentic, they’re honest, they shoot from the hip, they still remember what it was like growing up in a mill town raised by feral dogs and subsisting on nothing but hay.


Franken’s book is the opposite: It’s the story of how he learned to be a politician, and even how he learned to respect politicians. It’s about realizing he couldn’t litigate his past comedy, about trusting his staff, about understanding why politicians act the way they do in interviews, about recognizing why the norms of the Senate matter.


So this is an interview about what it’s like to be a politician, why perfectly nice and interesting people end up acting like all those other politicians after getting elected, and the role we as voters (and we in the media) play in it. If you’re interested in how politics actually works, you should listen.


Books!


Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy by Sheldon Whitehouse


How Children Succeed: Confidence, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by 
Paul Tough


Our Kids by Robert Putnam

Zephyr Teachout on suing Trump, fighting corruption, and breaking monopolies  

Zephyr Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University, the author of Corruption in America, one of the lead lawyers in the emoluments case that’s been brought against Donald Trump, and a former gubernatorial and congressional candidate.


Which is all to say that Teachout is someone who knows a lot about political corruption, and so we dive deep into that topic in this podcast.


We talk about how political corruption was defined by the Founding Fathers, and why, during the Constitutional Convention, they discussed the threat posed by corruption more than they discussed the threat posed by foreign invasion. And we talk about the way today’s Supreme Court — in the Citizens United and related decisions — has narrowed the definition to be almost meaningless.


Teachout is also one of the lead lawyers in the case being brought against Trump on his foreign profits and gifts — “emoluments” that, arguably, are unconstitutional. We go through that lawsuit — and its prospects and potential remedies — in some detail.


We also dig into the role monopolies and related concentrations of industry power are playing in American life — this is an increasingly influential argument on today’s left, and Teachout does a nice job here explaining why.


Finally, we talk a lot about an issue that I think today’s politicians wildly underestimate in importance: not corruption itself, but the appearance of corruption, and the way it’s rotting the public’s faith in the political system. How do you solve that? What are the possible unintended consequences of the solutions that get proposed?


As they say, all that and more!


Books:


Middlemarch by George Eliot

The Gilded Age  by Mark Twain

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Masha Gessen offers a plausible Trump-Russia theory  

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and the author of, among other books, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Since the election, she has been analyzing Donald Trump through the lens of Russian politics and personalities in a series of viral essays in the New York Review of Books. 


But as the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia has evolved into a dominant storyline of his presidency, Gessen has grown skeptical. She thinks the left has been overwhelmed by conspiratorial thinking on Russia. That doesn't mean, she hastens to say, that there is no conspiracy. But there is also wishful thinking, and lazy thinking, and a hope that the normal mechanisms of politics can be bypassed.


"For more than six months now, Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination," Gessen wrote. "It is used to explain how Trump could have happened to us, and it is also called upon to give us hope. When the Russian conspiracy behind Trump is finally fully exposed, our national nightmare will be over."


In this podcast, Gessen and I talk about all things Trump and Russia. I ask her for both the plausible and sinister explanations for the many meetings and mysteries that surround Trump's associates. We talk about the ways Trump is and isn't like Putin, how studying autocracies has helped her interpret this moment in American politics, the psychology of Jared Kushner, and much more. Enjoy!



Books:


Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism 


Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness


Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny 



Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism  

Few words are as reviled in American politics as “cosmopolitan.” The term invokes sneering, urban, elite condescension. It’s those smug cosmopolitans who led to Donald Trump’s election. It’s those rootless cosmopolitans who’re shipping jobs overseas with no thought for their home communities. Cosmopolitans. Ick.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is a British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher at New York University, as well the writer of the New York Times Magazine’s “Ethicist” column. He’s also the author of the wonderful book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. And this is a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with him for a long time.

“For most of human history, we were born into small societies of a few score people, bands of hunters and gatherers, and would see, on a typical day, only people we had known most of our lives,” Appiah writes. “Everything our long-ago ancestors ate or wore, every tool they used, every shrine at which they worshipped, was made within that group. Their knowledge came from their ancestors or from their own experiences. That is the world that shaped us, the world in which our nature was formed.”

“Now, if I walk down New York’s Fifth Avenue on an ordinary day, I will have within sight more human beings than most of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers saw in a lifetime.”

This, Appiah says, is the challenge we face today: how to live in a world much larger and more diverse than the one we were built for. The answer, he argues, is an ethic of cosmopolitanism — an ethic that honors our moral obligations to each other even as we recognize and respect the differences between us.

In this podcast, we dive deep into Appiah’s philosophy of cosmopolitanism. What do we owe a Syrian refugee? How much more should the lives of our neighbors mean to us than the lives of those in foreign lands? When is difference something to be celebrated, and when is it something to be battled? And how did the term “cosmopolitan” become such a slur anyway?

We also discuss the controversy in philosophy circles over Rebecca Tuvel’s essay on “transracial” identity, what Appiah has learned as the Ethicist, the moral quandary facing Trump staffers who want to make things better from the inside but realize that means becoming complicit in what’s done, and more. Enjoy!

Books:

The Philosophy of 'As If' by Hans Vaihinger

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Any anthology of Thomas Hardy’s poems


Yascha Mounk: Is Trump’s incompetence saving us from his illiberalism?  

Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, a Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, and host of the podcast, The Good Fight. He’s also the author of some of the scariest political science research I’ve seen in a long time.
What Mounk found is that the consensus we thought existed on behalf of democracy and democratic norms is weakening. The percentage of Americans who think it’s important to live in a democracy has been plummeting in recent decades. The percentage of Americans who say they would support a military coup is worrying high.
This is the context in which Donald Trump — a politician with clearly illiberal instincts — won the presidency. And this may help explain why he won the presidency: the political consensus elites thought he violated may not actually be a consensus anymore. 
The good news, which Mounk and I talk about in this podcast, is that Trump may have authoritarian instincts, but he doesn’t appear to have plans, and he definitely doesn’t appear to have the discipline to stick to his plans. We also discuss Trump’s bizarre first few months in office, as well as the challenges democracies face across the western world, and whether diverse societies make pluralist liberal democracies harder to sustain. 
Mounk is scary smart, he’s got an international perspective most commentators on American politics lack, and his story about becoming an American citizen after growing up Jewish in Germany is worth the price of admission on its own (that would be true even if this podcast wasn’t free). Enjoy!

Books:“The Subjection of Women," by John Stuart Mill"A House for Mr. Biswas," by V. S. Naipaul“The Leopard," by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Bryan Stevenson on why the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, but justice  

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release for more than 115 wrongly convicted prisoners on death row. He’s the author of the power book Just Mercy, and a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” grant. There are only a few people I’d say this about, but he’s a genuine American hero.

This conversation begins with one of Stevenson’s most provocative arguments. “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth,” he says. “It’s justice.” In this podcast, he explains what he means.

We also talk at length about his argument — an argument I am now fully convinced by — that the question is not whether a criminal deserves to die but whether the state deserves to kill. We talk about America’s history, our justice system, our prejudices. We talk about what it’s like to be a black man in the South, driving down highways named for Robert E. Lee and attending high schools named for Jefferson Davis. We talk about the value of shame, and the way we honor it in the justice system even as we dismiss it in our national dialogue.

The nature of writing these podcast descriptions is that they lend themselves to hype. I want you to listen, and I use this space to try to persuade you to listen. But that backfires a bit when it gets to a conversation like this one, which left me more changed than perhaps any of the discussions that came before it. This is worth listening to.

Books:“The Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoyevsky"Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson“Anna Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy

Death, Sex, and Money’s Anna Sale on bringing empathy to politics  

There’s much talk of “empathy” in today’s politics, but it’s a cramped, weaponized form of empathy — an empathy designed to force us to grudgingly tolerate each other, or an empathy used to explain away the reasons we hurt each other.

You can glimpse something better in the space Anna Sale creates on the WNYC podcast Death, Sex, and Money. Her show is, in this moment, powerful; the empathy she extends to her guests feels real and deep; the conversations she holds are bracingly difficult while still being honest and kind.

Sale, it turns out, developed the idea for Death, Sex, and Money when she was a reporter covering politics, shouting questions at Anthony Weiner, crisscrossing the campaign trail. As we discuss in this podcast, that’s no accident.

Sale and I talk about what she learned covering politics, as well as how she’d cover it if she were to do it again today. We dive into her interviewing technique — you’ll hear her turn it on me more than once — and the wonderful story behind her marriage, in which former Sen. Alan Simpson plays an unexpected but crucial role. We talk about death, about religion, and about what she learned from Bill Withers. Enjoy!

Books:“Goodnight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown"Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood," by Kai T. Erikson“Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," by Mary Pipher

Cory Booker returns, live, to talk trust, Trump, and basic incomes  

Senator Cory Booker is back! In this special live episode of The Ezra Klein Show — taped at Vox Conversations — Booker and I dig into America’s crisis of trust. Faith in both political figures and political institutions has plummeted in recent decades, and the product is, among other things, Trump’s presidency. So what does Booker think can be done about it?

We also talk about: Whether Democrats need to be angry to fight Trump The $400,000 President Barack Obama recently accepted for a speech to a bond firm The lecture Booker’s mother gave him when he was sworn into the SenateBooker’s fight with the left over drug reimportation, and how he and Bernie Sanders came to agreementWhat Booker thinks of a universal basic income, single payer health care, political correctness on campus, artificial intelligence as a threat to humanity, and more.Speaking of which, when I asked Booker about a UBI — which he says his staff is aggressively exploring — he responded with an expansive, surprising riff that sure sounded a nascent presidential platform. So don’t miss that!


VC Bill Gurley on transforming health care  

Washington has been gripped of late by the world’s most depressing, least imaginative, debate over health care. The question, as it stands, is whether Obamacare will survive (while being mildly, but persistently, sabotaged by the Trump administration), or whether it will be rolled back and replaced with a system that covers 24 million fewer people in order to fund tax cuts for the richest Americans. Huzzah!

But a better conversation awaits. Bill Gurley is a partner at Benchmark Capital, and an early investor in Uber, Grubhub, Opentable, and more. In 2016, TechCrunch named him venture capitalist of the year. And for the last few years, he’s been studying the American health care system, trying to find an opening where technology can make a difference, and build a business. Now he thinks he’s found it.

This is a conversation about what kinds of health care systems are, and aren’t, possible in this country. As you’ll hear in this discussion, I’m much more skeptical than Gurley is about both the need and the desirability for reforms that push costs onto consumers, but I agree with him that Obamacare has moved the system farther and faster in that direction than people realize. We talk about that, as well as why it’s been so hard for technology to cut costs in health care, the Singaporean health care system and the lessons American can learn from it, the way regulation protects incumbents, the government’s strangely structured investments in electronic medical records, and whether Silicon Valley’s move-fast-and-break-things culture can work for something as personal as medical care. 

We also discuss Gurley’s view that democracy and capitalism will, if given enough time, eat each other, and why he’s looking to China for the next great health innovations. This conversation won’t fix the American health care system, but it was, for me, a refreshing reminder that better, more productive discussions are possible. 

Books:“Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know about Health Care Is Wrong," by David Goldhill"Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure," by Jerry Kaplan“Myth or Magic - The Singapore Healthcare System," by Jeremy Lim"Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike," by Phil Knight

Elizabeth Warren on what Barack Obama got wrong  

Elizabeth Warren is the founder of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the senior senator from Massachusetts, and the author of the new book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class.”

You might have heard of her.
Warren is also one of the Democrats most capable of defining the Democratic Party’s soul and message in a post-Trump era. In her book, she says she had at least one big disagreement with President Obama — a disagreement that speaks to the direction she wants to lead the party. Obama told Americans, “the system isn’t as rigged as you think.”

"No, President Obama,” Warren replies, "the system is as rigged as we think. In fact, it’s worse than most Americans realize.”

In this interview, we go deep into Warren’s view on how, where, and why the system is rigged — as well as what can be done about it. We also talk about whether fighting Trump requires matching his tone and tactics, how complex policies and processes create space for special interests to take over, and why Trump’s abandonment of economic populism hasn’t affected his support among his voters.

Warren is an able, thoughtful advocate for one of the Democratic Party’s possible futures: becoming a party that represents the economic populism Trump claimed to champion, but quickly abandoned. But as she’s the first to admit, that won’t be easy.

Books:

“Evicted," by Matthew Desmond"Two Dollars a Day," by Kathryn Edin “The Little Engine that Could," by Watty Piper


Cal Newport on doing Deep Work and escaping social media  

I was asked recently to name a book that changed my life. The book I chose was Cal Newport’s “Deep Work,” and for the most literal of reasons: it’s changed how I lived my life. Particularly, it’s led me to stop scheduling morning meetings, and to preserve that time for more sustained, creative work.

Which is all to say that I’m a bit obsessed with Newport’s work right now, and especially his account of how the digital environment we inhabit is training us out of concentration and into distraction in ways that are bad for us, bad for our work, and ultimately bad for the world. 

Most of the conversations on this podcast are how to think about things differently. This one is too, but it’s more importantly about how to do things differently, and why you should do them differently. 

We discuss:
-How Newport defines depth when it comes to work
-Why the information revolution boosted productivity up until the 2000s, but then stagnated
-What he thinks is problematic about the constant accessibility of technologies like email, Slack, and other communication tools
-His perspective about how we’re still in an early age of the internet, and what looking back at periods like the Industrial Revolution can teach us about using new technology to work smarter
-How to take productive breaks, rather than flicking through email and Facebook and Twitter
-How “flow work” and deep work overlap, and how they’re distinct from each other
-Why he consumes and produces information more slowly and more traditionally—through newspapers and radio, and why that might benefit people who work in the knowledge economy
-His vision of the workplace of the future

I hope you get as much out of Newport’s ideas as I have.

Books:
-Jaron Lenair, “You Are Not A Gadget” and “Who Will Own The Future
-Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus”

G. Willow Wilson on religion, comics, and modern myths  

This is a podcast about topics we don’t always cover on this show. Religion. Spirituality. Gender roles. Traditionalist societies. Comic books.

G. Willow Wilson is the author of The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen, and the Hugo award winning comic book, Ms. Marvel. She’s also lived a fascinating, unusual life: she’s an American who converted to Islam and then moved to Egypt, where she met her now-husband. The hallmark of her work is an empathy and appreciation for societies that are often caricatured or even reviled by Americans.  

This conversation went in some wonderful, weird directions. We talk about Richard Dawkins’ “God gene,” and why Wilson feels she has it, and I don’t. We talk about how sickness can strengthen faith, what happens to spirituality when it’s decoupled from beauty, and why being in Egypt made Wilson feel less free, but more appreciated.

We also talk about writing and comics, about the ways in which superheroes have become modern myths, and how her character, Ms. Marvel, became an surprise commercial success as well as an unexpected protest icon. We touch on Gamergate, representation in comic books, and Mike Pence’s rules for interacting with women who aren’t his wife.

Wilson has a quality you find in the very best writers: an ability to look at the same world you see every day, but somehow discover much more behind it. 

Books:

Anya’s Ghost, by Vera BrosgolThe Color of Earth, by Dong Hwa KimFun Home, by Alison Bechdel“A Revolution Undone,” by H.A. Hellyer“Throne of the Crescent Moon,” by Saladin Ahmed“The Meccan Revelations,” by Ibn al'Arabi

Chris Hayes on the crisis of elites and the politics of order  

I could describe this podcast, and I will. But the tl;dr is this is one of my favorite conversations so far, and you’re going to enjoy it. So just go listen. 

Chris Hayes is, of course, the host of the MSNBC primetime show, “All In.” He’s also the author of the new book “Colony in a Nation,” as well as (the extremely prescient) Twilight of the Elites. 

But beyond the bio, Chris is a crazily smart and insightful thinker on US politics and society, and he's in rare form here. Among our topics:




• The way Donald Trump’s success represents both the problems of elite power and elite weakness

Who even counts as an elite, anyway?How people decide what to trustThe difficulties of trying to approach politics with decency and charity in the age of TrumpWhy the key to “law and order politics” isn’t law, but orderThe underestimated power of humiliation in daily American life, and during America’s foundingHow Chris would cover Trump if he were a White House correspondentThe ways in which the media actually can be unfair to TrumpWhy the fight between Trump and the press is more a staged WWE-match than an actual warThe power of seeing politics as a zero-sum competition, even when it isn’t oneAnd much more. This conversation is dense and it’s fast and it’s interesting and it’s fun. Enjoy!




Books:

“Democracy for Realists,” by Chris Achen and Larry Bartels

"Locking up our own,” by James Forman

“Racecraft,” by Barbara Fields and Karen Fields

Ghettoside,” by Jill Leovy







Tyler Cowen explains it all  

I have never come across a mind quite like Tyler Cowen’s. The George Mason economist, and Marginal Revolution blogger, has an interesting opinion on, well, everything. He’s a genuine polymath who can talk knowledgeably about more subjects than I even know exist.

So coming in to this interview, I had a simple plan: ask Cowen for his thoughts on as many topics as possible. And I think it worked out pretty well. We discuss everything from New Jersey to high school sports to finding love to smoked trout to nootropics to Thomas Schelling to Ayn Rand to social media to speed reading strategies to happy relationships to the disadvantages of growing up in Manhattan. And believe me when I say that is a small sampling of the topics we cover. 

We also talk about Tyler’s new book, “The Complacent Class,” which argues, in true Cowenian fashion, that everything we think we know about the present is wrong, and far from being an age of rapid change and constant risk, we have become a cautious, even stagnant, society. 

This as information dense a discussion as I’ve hosted on this podcast. I took a lot away from it, and I think you will too. 

Books:
-Autobiography of John Stuart Mills
-Derek Parfitt’s Reasons and Persons
-Fisher Black’s On Business Cycles 



Molly Ball on whether facts matter in politics  

You may remember the Atlantic's Molly Ball from the fantastic pre-election conversation we had on this podcast. She's back this week to talk about an issue I've become more and more obsessed with — does factual argument matter in American politics? Or is it just a contest of identity activation?
In the most recent Atlantic, Ball profiles Kellyanne Conway, whose television appearances and "alternative facts" offer an unusually clear window into this debate. We talk about that, as well as:
- What's surprised us about Trump's presidency so far- How different elections activate different political identities- Fake news, how much it matters, and the ways in which it's rising among liberals- Why presidencies are defined by crises, and what we've learned about how Trump will manage his first- Whether Democrats are completely irrelevant now- How hatred of the other party became a more powerful motivator than belief in your party- Sean Trende's "missing white voters" theory- The low-grade espionage happening all over DC all of the time- Ezra's theory of what really happened between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives- Why Trump's approval numbers are far from disastrous
And much more. Ball is one of my favorite people to talk politics with, and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. 

Denis McDonough on how to run the White House  

How do you actually run a White House? What is the president’s actual job? What is the chief of staff’s role? What happens if you screw up? 

These are questions I’ve been reflecting on rather a lot lately, for obvious reasons. And so I asked Denis McDonough on the podcast to talk about them.

McDonough served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017 — a position in which he earned the nickname “Obama’s Obama.” This is his first lengthy interview since leaving the White House, and he was thoughtful, reflective, and sober about both the job he did, and the job his successors must do.

This is a discussion about running the most important organization in the world well — and what happens when you fail. McDonough and the Obama administration did have their failures, and those failures taught them hard lessons.

This discussion, to me, speaks to a great vulnerability opening up under the Trump White House. They are trying to pursue their agenda, but they are not effectively managing the vast organization they’re in charge of. That’s going to lead to mistakes, and those mistakes could come to define, or even destroy, this administration.

Which is why, if there’s anyone who should listen to this podcast, it’s the current occupants of McDonough’s old workplace. This discussion is full of advice that’s useful to anyone running anything big, or anyone interested in how big things are run. I learned a lot from it. You will too. 


Cecile Richards on Planned Parenthood, labor organizing, and the Supreme Court  

Before Cecile Richards was president of Planned Parenthood, she was a labor organizer working with garment workers in El Paso, Texas. The experience taught her a key principle of political change: people do things for their reasons, not your reasons.

In this conversation, we talk about her organizing background, and how it's informing her work as she tries to protect her the institution she leads. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a core Republican promise. It is also, as she explains, a more punitive policy idea than people realize — there is no Planned Parenthood line in the federal budget, and so defunding the organization means denying it reimbursement for cancer screenings, birth control, and wellness visits. 

We dig into the possible consequences of that, as well as:

-Why the core skill of organizing is listening

-How she talks about Planned Parenthood with people who are pro-life

-What today’s politicians could learn from her mother, Texas Governor Ann Richards

-Why unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates are at post-Roe lows

-The reason Planned Parenthood has tried to stop using the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice”

-What’s behind the sharp rise in IUD use

-Why she thinks there’d be a very different debate over women’s health if more members of Congress could get pregnant

-Which policies she thinks would work to drive down unplanned pregnancy in the US 

-What she thinks of Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court

And much more. Also, a quick programming note: we’re accepting applications for Vox’s next unconference, which will be held April 26-27th, and focus on the first 100 days of policy under Trump. Head to https://conversations.vox.com/events/spring-2017/ for more!

Books:
-Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
-Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Tim Ferriss on suffering, psychedelics, and spirituality  

Tim Ferriss is the author of the 4-Hour Workweek, as well as the new book, Tools of Titans. He’s also the host of The Tim Ferriss Show, which is one of my favorite podcasts, and an inspiration for this show. 

Tim is a relentless optimizer, and on his program, he interviews fascinating people to discover how they work, think, and get things done. It’s a show about the secrets of high performers. 

Here, I ask Tim about basically the reverse of that. How does he think about the parts of his life that, though crucial, are harder to optimize and systematize? We discuss friendship, love, psychedelics, spirituality, death, health, and whether it’s possible to get too addicted to productivity hacks. Amidst all that, we dig into:

-Why Tim’s house is filled with reminders of his eventual death

-Why he tries to build new friendships atop a foundation of shared suffering

-Why he hasn't written a book on romantic relationships and probably won't

-How productivity goes bad

-How a serious bout of Lyme disease changed how he lives his life

-Why some strange experiences on psychedelics convinced him there’s much more to this world than we understand

-The difficulty of describing a sneeze

-How his interviews have evolved since doing his podcast

-What he feels constitutes good advice

On his own show, Tim is always trying to offer takeaways and lessons about how to live, and he does that here, too. This episode is packed with ideas you can apply to your own life. 

Books:
-David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man
-Frank Luntz’s Words That Work
-Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others
-Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive
-Sebastian Junger’s Tribe
-Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude
-Less is More, an anthology on minimalist thinking
-Ann Lamont’s Bird by Bird
-Frank Herbert’s Dune
-The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
-Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek
-Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning



Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on AI, religion, and 60-day meditation retreats  

Yuval Noah Harari’s first book, “Sapiens,” was an international sensation. The Israeli historian’s mind-bending tour through the trump of Homo sapiens is a favorite of, among others, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama. His new book, Homo Deus, is about what comes next for humanity — and the threat our own intelligence and creative capacity poses to our future. And it, too, is fantastically interesting. 

I’ve wanted to talk to Harari since reading Sapiens. I’ve had one big question about him: what kind of mind creates a book like that? And now I know. A clear one.

Virtually everything Harari says in this conversation in fascinating. But what I didn’t expect was how central his consistent practice of vipassana meditation — which includes a 60-day silent retreat each year — is to understanding the works of both history and futurism he produces. We talk about that, and also:

-His theory on how all large-scale collaboration is based on fictions, from mythologies and religions to nationalism to human rights

-Why he sees money as one of the greatest stories human beings have ever told

-Why he reads only 5-10 pages of a huge number of books

-His theory that human beings have moved from venerating gods, to venerating themselves, to venerating data — and what that means for our future

-How we treat other animals and what that might imply for how artificial intelligences could treat us 

-Whether wide swaths of human beings will be rendered useless by advances in computing

-The ways in which a narrow idea of what intelligence is — and the way it relates to consciousness — is holding us back from understanding AI

This is one of my favorite conversations we’ve had. Enjoy!

 

Books:

-Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel
-Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics
-Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose