Tyler Cowen is my favorite interviewer of all-time. His interviewing style has spoiled me for all others. He creates a tasting feast for the mind.
First he finds brilliant accomplished people that he wants to learn from — people that are not too famous so they are not too polished in their answers.
Then he does a ton of research in advance of each interview, reading all of their books and all of their previous interviews, searching for interesting topics that haven’t been explored enough. So he knows that when he asks the Portuguese economist about the food in Djibouti, or the novelist about French versus Russian ballet, that they'll have an interesting opinion.
He’s asking questions for himself, not us. Because he doesn’t pander down to the audience, we get to rise up. He’ll dive straight into a question about the Saramaccan language of Suriname, or the location of every Hieronymus Bosch painting, without stopping to explain. If the question and answer interests you, you can find out later what that was about.
He encourages his guests to answer succinctly so they can have time to cover many subjects. So it's never a whole conversation about Irish history or the synthesis of Spinoza and Sufism or any one topic. He jumps right into the next surprisingly specific question, always keeps it moving, and skips the conversational fluff.
As an example, here are a few of my favorite conversations, and just a few of the topics they cover.
- the best art museum you’ve never heard of
- the optimism of the Beach Boys
- the Jungianism of Star Trek
- why narrative is necessary for coping with life’s hardships
- why we stopped building cathedrals
- the thrills and dangers of rooftop walking
- why children should be more mischievous
- what it’s like to eat tarantula
- the power of memorizing poetry
- the Kafka book she gives to toddlers
- Indonesian should be the world’s universal language
- why Mandarin won’t overtake English as the lingua franca
- circumstances that create Creole languages
- the decline of American regional accents
- why Shakespeare needs an English translation
These conversations inspired me to read The Odyssey, the Bible, a great comic book about immigration, and many other books on my reading queue now.
These conversations made me want to learn Swahili and Indonesian, try the vegetables in Chennai, and probably twenty other actions I’ve taken from their various topics.
If you like to broaden your horizons, you’re going to love this.
Go to ConversationsWithTyler.com and subscribe to the podcast. Or click “all episodes” at the top of the page to browse the archive.
I also like his blog, “Marginal Revolution”, and his books, “Stubborn Attachments”, and “Discover Your Inner Economist”.