Tyler Cowen Is Funny, Scarily Well-Read, Possibly Autistic

Bloomberg Businessweek shows us the man behind Marginal Revolution

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In the latest Bloomberg Businessweek, there's a profile of Tyler Cowen, the economist, professor, food writer, and all-around polymath who blogs at Marginal Revolution. The profile, by Brendan Greeley, does a nice job of showing us Cowen's human side. Cowen is a voracious reader (as Atlantic Wire regulars may already know), and a prolific writer--Greeley notes that he's "published 15 books and over 60 academic articles," including a recent e-book, The Great Stagnation. James Joyner, who blogs at Outside the Beltway, calls Cowen's output "mindboggling."

In Greeley's profile, we get a glimpse of how a mind like that fuels itself. Among other things, we learn:

Cowen bails out of books early and often. Some people start a book and feel obligated to finish it; not so for Cowen. "He takes up books with great hope and no mercy, and when he is done--sometimes after five minutes--he abandons them in public, an act he calls a 'liberation.'"

But he still reads more than you. "Tyler Cowen has read what's listed in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon, though not, he concedes, every single last one of the Icelandic sagas. He rereads what you probably haven't heard of, like Anton Chekhov's Sakhalin Island ... Several people have told me the same story about Cowen: They have watched him read, and he scans a page as others might scan a headline."

He was a teenage chess prodigy. "When Tyler Cowen was 15, he became the New Jersey Open Chess Champion, at the time the youngest ever ... By 16 he had reached a chess rating of 2350, which today would put him close to the top 100 in the U.S."

He knows how to work a room. Greeley sat in on a literature and law seminar that Cowen teaches at George Mason University. "Cowen got laughs," he reports, "and not tentative chuckles either. He got class-stoppers out of Bartleby, the Scrivener and Edgar Allan Poe."

He admits he might be on the autism spectrum. "In 2004 a reader of his blog suggested to him in an e-mail that he might be autistic," writes Greeley. (The reader in question was Kathleen Fasanella, a pattern maker and consultant who has Asperger syndrome.) "Offended at first, he applied himself to understanding the term, then decided he has what he calls an 'autistic cognitive style,' then wrote a book about it, Create Your Own Economy. (Cowen never sought a professional diagnosis.) ... He describes people with autism as 'infovores' who are attracted to information--the minutiae of train schedules. Or books."

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