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In Praise of Mediocrity: An Excerpt From James Altucher’s Choose Yourself!

James Altucher, who has shown up on this blog a number of times — and who was having lunch with me when we saw a lady get a mouse in her salad — has a new book out. It’s called Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream. It is a classic Altucherian blend of insight, candor, and calamity. He has already made news with the book by letting Bitcoin users buy it ahead of the official release, and he is also giving people their money back if they read the whole book. Since he’s essentially giving the book away for free, we thought we might as well offer a free excerpt here. It is a chapter in praise of mediocrity. My favorite passage by far is this one:

The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the ugly bastard child that results. The child that was so ugly nobody else wanted to touch it. Look at Facebook: combine the internet with stalking. Amazing!

Enjoy! Read More »





James Altucher Strikes Again

A few years ago, I was working on a book about the psychology of money — a book I put aside when Freakonomics began to happen. The first chapter of the book was about a fellow named James Altucher, whom I’ve blogged about before. James’s relationship with money was fascinating and precarious. He grew up […] Read More »





A Frog in the Salad

Two years ago, we did a podcast on a dining experience Stephen Dubner had at Le Pain Quotidien. The podcast was called “Mouse in the Salad,” so you can probably guess what happened. And it looks like animals in salads are all the rage lately — The Atlantic Wire reports that a Wall Street Journal editor recently found a frog in her Pret A Manger nicoise salad. The reason given by Pret was similar to the one given by Le Pain Quotidien CEO Vincent Herbert in our podcast: it’s organic. From WSJ.com:

Ellen Roggemann, vice president of brand marketing for the company in the U.S., said that Pret A Manger’s goal of selling “handmade natural food,” often made from organic ingredients, could be partially to blame for the frog in the salad.

“We don’t use any pesticides with our greens and they go through multiple washing cycles,” she said. “An unfortunate piece of organic matter has made its way through,” she added.

In our podcast, Dubner’s friend James Altucher had an interesting perspective on how things like this happen: Read More »





The Days of Wine and Mouses: Full Transcript

Stephen J. DUBNER: So Levitt, um, a college friend of yours once told me that your favorite meal during college was a dill pickle, beef jerky and grape soda. Is that true?  Stephen D. LEVITT: I did indeed have that for breakfast, but to tell you the truth, it sounded better before I ate it than after.  […] Read More »





Confessions of a Steve Jobs Fanboy

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

I saw the news this morning when I looked at my iPad. Whenever I wake up, the first thing I do, before even going to the bathroom, is turn on the iPad and check the news. My heart sank when I saw the headline: Steve Jobs, dead at 56.

From my first Apple product (an Apple II+), to doing all my homework in college on the first Macintosh, to reading this news on my iPad, to typing this sentence on my Macbook Air, so much of my life has been influenced and changed by this man. Very sad day. My question for readers (please answer in the comments section) is: what was your first Apple product?

And now, here’s an essay I’ve written about Jobs:

I was standing right next to Steve Jobs in 1989, and felt completely inadequate. The guy was incredibly wealthy, good-looking: a nerd super-rockstar who had just convinced my school to buy a bunch of NeXT computers, which were in fact the best machines to program on at the time. I wanted to be him, badly. Read More »





The Ten Commandments of The American Religion

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.

If I stood in the center of Times Square and said something like “Moses didn’t really part the Red Sea,” or “Jesus never existed,” people would probably keep walking around me, ignoring what I said.

But if I stood there and said, “Going to college is the worst sin you can force your kids to commit,” or “You should never vote again,” or “Never own a home,” people would probably stop, and maybe I‘d lynched. But I would’ve at least gotten their attention. How? By knocking down a few of the basic tenets of what I call the American Religion.

It’s a fickle and false religion, used to replace the ideologies we (a country of immigrants) escaped. Random high priests lurk all over the Internet, ready to pounce. Below are the Ten Commandments of the American Religion, as I see them. If you think there are more, list them in the comments.

The below is an excerpt from my just released book, I Was Blind But Now I Can See. Read More »





Why the Market Meltdown is Crazy

After Thursday’s massive stock market sell-off, a lot of people are talking about how we may be experiencing another year like 2008. I’m going to get right to the point: that’s impossible. Here’s what was happening in 2008:

A) Housing bust: housing prices were already down 20-40% off of their highs.
B) Financial crisis: two major banks had gone bankrupt and every other bank was at risk.
C) Mark-to-market accounting was ruining bank balance sheets.
D) The uptick rule had been abolished on short-selling.
E) We were already in a recession.

Let’s fast forward to right now and walk through those items plus a few more. But first, a reminder to follow me on Twitter. Read More »





How to Eat What You Kill

Life only tastes good when you eat what you kill. When you hustle for what you earn and someone pays you money in proportion to the service you’ve offered, the idea you’ve created, your ability to execute on it, and their ability to consume it in a way that benefits them.

Someone asked me the other day, “What does it mean when you say you ‘Eat what you kill’?”

It means that the greatest pleasure is going into the jungle and mastering the ability to hunt and survive without the help of masters who only pretend to guarantee our safety; i.e., bosses. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, a student, a homemaker, a writer — it’s time to start forgetting about all the ways the world has promised you safety and comfort.

Human knowledge has torn apart our families, our bank accounts, and lulled us into a creepy sense of Disney stability. A good friend of mine was just laid off from his job of ten years. He found out through an email and was asked not to come into work for the rest of the week and to clean out his desk when security came in on Saturday. All of that human knowledge in an email. Ten years of work. Time to cut costs. “What do I do now?” he asked me. Read More »