This is Cognitive Revolution, my show about the personal side of the intellectual journey. Each week, I interview an eminent scientist, writer, or academic about the experiences that shaped their ideas. The show is available wherever you listen to podcasts.
One of Maria's biggest influence as an undergrad was Steven Pinker, who she studied under while at Harvard. The family resemblance is easy to see. She is so confident, smart, driven, and competent that it can at times verge on overwhelming. She earned her PhD in psychology from Columbia, where she studied under famous psychologist Walter Mischel. Eventually she went on to become a staff writer at the New Yorker. But lots of people get their PhD. Lots of people write for high profile magazines. What makes Maria truly unique is that she is the only writer ever to take leave of a job at the NYer to pursue a career as a professional poker player. This sabbatical is the subject of her new book, The Biggest Bluff. I am tremendously excited to her it the moment it comes out. Maria is a huge inspiration to me, and it was a great pleasure to have her on the show. We talk about her childhood as a Russian immigrant in America, the two crucial lessons she learned from Steven Pinker, the steps she took to establish herself as a writer, how she convinced Walter Mischel to take her on as a grad student by going against the conventional advice, what inspired her to get into taking on the subject of Sherlock Holmes in her first book, and the origins of her interest in poker and risky decision-making. Ultimately, I think the big lessons of Maria's fantastic career are not so difficult to understand. She wanted to be a writer. So what did she do? She wrote a lot. When she needed a further experience (e.g., getting her PhD, becoming a poker player) to serve her material, she went ahead and did it. There's no doubt about it: Maria has done the work.
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