Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

How To Be Human*

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago to meet the distinguished economist Deirdre McCloskey. The reason for the meeting was research for my new novel. I wanted to know more about economists.
A mutual friend had introduced us and Deirdre McCloskey was kind enough to answer my initial request by saying, “It would be a pleasure to meet you in Chicago sometime.” It’s interesting how most people are willing to help when you tell them that you’re a novelist and you’re looking for information about a certain subject. I wonder what would happen if I called the CIA with this request.
After having drinks in her spacious apartment in downtown Chicago, Deirdre took me to the arts club in Chicago where she is a frequent guest and where we indulged in good food, a glass of red wine and wonderful stories about all kinds of economists.
One of the interesting things about Deirdre McCloskey—but this is not the reason I wanted to meet her—is that she used to be Donald N. McCloskey. She wrote a book about this, “Crossing—A Memoir” which is highly recommended, even if you’re not contemplating gender change.
Deirdre McClosky is one of very few scientists who are able to write well. Actually, she is such a good writer that I wish that some novelists could write as well as she does.
Before our meeting in Chicago, she urged me to read her book titled “How to be Human” which has the subtitle at the bottom of the front cover, “Though an Economist.” Even people who are not very interested in economics should read this book. It’s funny, insightful, and teaches you a lot about things you might never have spent much time thinking about otherwise. I admit, it took me a while to figure out what was meant by “statistical significance.” But McCloskey’s sense of humor is much more important than any “statistical significance” or “existence theorems” that you’ll find in her book.
Let me give you an example of her style and humor. The first chapter is about her gender change. She writes, “To the poor extent I can manage it…I’m going to become a tall and ugly but indubitably female economist. (…) The ‘why’ question has the usual answer we give in economics: stop asking, since you might as well ask people why they like chocolate ice cream.” Deirdre McCloskey urges economists to look further than their own field. She goes as far as compiling reading lists for her fellow economists with titles like “After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism” by David Lodge.
I hope that one day somebody will write a book titled “How To Be Human” with the subtitle “Though a Novelist.”