Five people who make me smarter

Here are five consistently great people I follow on the Internet who make me a smarter, more interesting person. Sorry, Reddit, we had good times together, but I’m seeing someone else now.

1. Tyler Cowen

Tyler is the most un-boring person on the Internet. On paper he’s an economist, but in practice he’s a literary scholar, anthropologist, epidemiologist … whatever the topic calls for. I love his breadth of arcane interests, depth of knowledge, and no-nonsense style of writing and speaking. Tyler wastes no words. An interviewer like Tim Ferris might start with a highly-skippable five minutes of “tell me about your childhood.” (1) In Tyler’s most recent interview with linguist John McWhorter, his first question is:

I’ve read that the Estonian language has 14 case endings, 8 dialects, 117 sub-dialects, and the core population of speakers is only a little bit over a million. Now why is Estonian so complicated?

See, not boring. You can find Tyler in two places:

  • Conversations with Tyler (bi-weekly podcast) — I don’t miss an episode. I even went to this one in person.

  • Marginal Revolution (blog) — I made this into a bookmark on my phone’s home screen where the Facebook app used to be. Great source of interesting long-read links.

2. Ben Thompson

Ben writes about tech with clarity and prescience on his Stratechery newsletter. There you will find his predictions, frameworks, and commentary — correct sometimes, interesting always. Unlike so many tech blogs, Ben does much more than repackage press releases. He has his own mental models for why companies do what they do, how industries are shifting, and what is being left unspoken. He does his own analyses of publicly available metrics to derive the more interesting, unpublished ones. It’s especially fun to read his take on Amazon’s grocery business and compare it to the realities of my job. Is he right? I’ll never say.

  • Stratechery (free weekly articles, $12/month for daily updates) — I read the weekly article most weeks, especially when the topic is relevant to my job or to tech companies I use.

3. Matt Levine

Matt writes about business and finance in his Bloomberg column Money Stuff. Mostly these are topics that I don’t otherwise care enough to read about, but he is so damn funny that I can’t help myself. As a former investment banker, Matt has a clear-eyed view of the absurdities of the industry. To him, everything is insider trading, everything is securities fraud, and an IPO roadshow is basically just a timeshare sales pitch with better suits. I laughed out loud at his hypothetical dialogues between Elon Musk and his shareholders. And don’t get him started on WeWork.

  • Money Stuff (free newsletter from Bloomberg, 5 days/week) — I save these up in my Gmail as airplane reading for takeoff and landing. The passengers next to me wonder why I’m giggling.

Tyler Cowen (#1) interviewing Matt Levine (#3). [Source]

4. Russ Roberts

Russ has been hosting the EconTalk podcast since 2006, which I think makes him one of the first podcasts ever. I also think he’s still using the same microphone, because it sounds like AM talk radio. Audio quality aside, this is podcasting at its best. The guests on EconTalk are mostly academics and authors, mostly talking seriously, and mostly about economic topics, but something about the interview format makes it both digestible and enjoyable (versus, say, reading a paper in an academic journal). I loved his interview with a medical clinic owner on Free Market Health Care, and this week I’m learning a lot about informal monetary systems in prisons.

  • EconTalk (weekly podcast) — I listen to these on my Monday morning commute to work. It helps my brain turn back on at the start of the work week.

  • Russ Roberts on Medium (blog) — Interesting, usually short thought pieces that touch on economics but usually have a softer side as well. To really know Russ Roberts, read It’s a Wonderful Loaf (sic).

5. James Clear

James is a self-made self-improvement expert with an amazing last name and an effective philosophy around building lasting habits. I was a casual reader of his newsletter for the last few years, ingesting microdoses of inspiration from his short articles. Then I bought his book, Atomic Habits, and became a total convert. I also have a meta-appreciation for James because he has turned his interests into a full-time writing and speaking career. Sounds like fun, no?

  • 3-2-1 Newsletter (weekly newsletter) — James’ newsletter now has fewer articles than it used to and more pithy quotes. It’s the right length to enjoy reading each week without feeling like it’s overkill. The archive of articles is still very much worth reading.

  • Atomic Habits (book) — I’ll write a full post on Atomic Habits soon enough, but for now I would tell you that this is a good operating manual if you want to get serious about building or breaking habits.

Who do you follow?

The world must know! Share your favorite people, blogs, books, newsletters, and podcasts in the comments.


(1) If you want to hear the stark difference between interview styles, listen to Tim Ferris interviewing Tyler Cowen. Keep listening until the last 30 minutes when Tyler turns the tables and interviews Tim.

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