Monday, 25 May 2015
I spent some time yesterday with a chap you may or may not have heard of. His name is Stephen J Dubner and, well, I'm a bit of a fan boy. You see, Dubner is one half of the writing partnership - with Steven D Levitt - of the hugely popular and groundbreaking Freakonomics books.
Their partnership began when Dubner, a New York journalist, went to Chicago to write about award-winning economist Steven D Levitt for The New York Times Magazine. Dubner had been reluctant to take the assignment (he was in the middle of writing a book about the psychology of money). Levitt was reluctant to be shadowed by a journalist (but his mother loved the Times Magazine, so he gave in). The article came out, and led to an unexpected partnership. Levitt and Dubner wrote Freakonomics, a book about cheating teachers, bizarre baby names, self-dealing estate agents, and crack-selling mama’s boys. They figured it would sell about 80 copies. Instead, it took up long-term residency on the Times best-seller list, and went on to sell more than 5 million copies in 35 languages. Then they wrote SuperFreakonomics. It too became a worldwide best-seller. Together, the books have sold 7 million copies worldwide. A lot of other stuff happened, too. A blog. A documentary film. A radio show. Not bad for a partnership born of such profound reluctance. In 2014, Levitt and Dubner published their third book, Think Like a Freak – a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems. And just recently, they've published How to Rob a Bank - a selection of the best blog posts from the past 10 years.
When I was a cop, trying to muddle my way through piles of academic papers and business books and trying to find a way to apply psychology and behavioural economics to crime and disorder, Dubner and Levitt's arrival was like the light at the end of the tunnel. Freakonomics had a profound effect on me. Here were two guys thinking the same way as I did, albeit on a larger scale and with grander themes. The book went everywhere with me.
So having the opportunity to spend several hours with Stephen yesterday, to swap stories and experiences, was a complete joy.
They say you shouldn't meet your heroes.
I'm lucky enough to have met most of mine. And I'm so pleased I have.