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Discovery - A Memoir
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The Subjects Had it Right
Vernon Smith, 2002 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, is one of those people who is larger than life. Indeed, he is larger than life than most larger than life people, at least in academia. I remember vividly, as a young Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, meeting with Vernon at the American Economic Association meetings in New Orleans to try to convince him not to leave UMass for UArizona. Vernon was dressed in a beautiful white Southern-style suit with a string tie and a stunning gold-embroidered vest. He was slim and gorgeous, with a big handlebar mustache. I had never met anyone like him in my life, and the experience was amplified by the fact that I and my Marxist friends, veterans of civil rights and anti-Vietnam War struggles, dress uniformly in jeans and torn polo shirts with pictures of Ché on the back and the peace sign on the front. Vernon was pleasant, but he decline to return, and the rest is history (we reunited in conferences and research groups starting some twenty years later, and he wrote a nice blurb for my new book, The Bounds of Reason).
The first six chapters of this book stand practically alone as a gripping and detailed history of Vernon's family. The saga of the travails of this family through depression, war, industrial accidents, and relative financial security has historical value independent from Vernon Smith's later accomplishments, and indeed does not feature Vernon very much through the account. I cannot begin to comprehend how he came up with all the dates and places lend to this account its historical value.Read more ›
Anybody who has met Vernon Smith will instantly recognize his voice, his words, and his ideas in this memoir. It is like having a conversation with him. There is total candor, a great sense of humor, and an amazing life story.
It covers the period up until he left the University of Arizona.
It is not a conventional linear biography. It has been described as a 'collage.' A passage describing how experimental economics developed might be interrupted by a memory of life on the farm (how do you kill a chicken?) or the best vehicle for exploring Arizona canyons.
There is a discussion of Asperger's syndrome and the value of cognitive diversity, the dysfunction of most universities and how the Purdue economics department achieved amazing things, the events that led to his departure from the U of Arizona, the way that his own mind works when focused on a problem, and much much more.
'Discovery' is an unfiltered, entertaining read. There is no spin, no self-serving revisionism here. A most original and influential economist tells the reader what happened, what he thought, and how he thinks.
What does it take to go where no other scientist has gone before? Read this book, then blaze your own path of discovery.
This is a man who in high school had a C average, with just one A (in a woodworking class), while focused mostly on working in the local factory. He then shifted gears, put his attention on learning, became a founder of Experimental Economics and won the Nobel Prize. His memoir charts this path and is an inspiration, and is full of reflective insights on how this all came to be.
There are a tremendous number of popular books that examine how we think, and the high cost of switching topics via multi-tasking, but nothing as insightful as Vernon Smith commenting on his own work habits and the way his mind processes information and addresses problems. Understanding how he sees himself has given me insights into myself and others, particularly those with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. Here is a relevant excerpt, in which he describes his approach to accommodate what was later diagnosed as symptomatic of ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome:
"In private mental constructions---modeling, studying, writing---I seek and import new information when I am ready for it, and I'm not ready on somebody else's timetable. My brain, on autopilot, controls the pace of idea development and interacting sporadically, only as needed, with others, the literature, new observations, and other imported information. My brain is not easily shaken from its track by my mind.Read more ›