Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit*

*Quote from The Education of Henry Adams.

If you’ve read the Freakonomics transcript of Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler discussing Nudge, you may have noticed the two curiously different author photographs. Thaler’s is a relatively recent, professional, tightly cropped color photo from the neck up. Sunstein’s, meanwhile, is a black-and-white wide-shot of him talking on the phone in his office (as if he is oblivious to the camera) amidst a clutter of papers and books. Sunstein’s photo is reprinted here for those who missed it.

This photo originally appeared in a 2001 University of Chicago magazine piece, “Kings of Chaos,” featuring six of Chicago’s most brilliant professors amidst their academic gallimaufry. Here’s how Sunstein explained his office then:

Despite the “mess” and the lack of a system, Sunstein says, “I do tend to know where things are.” He qualifies: “I know where everything important is, and I don’t usually lose things. But I have lost checks, made out to me, and I also find coffee cups and Coke cans in surprising places.” He does reorganize on occasion: “When it gets completely disgraceful, I improve it a bit. Usually I clean up a bit in the summer. Right now it’s gotten completely disgraceful, I guess.”

Very few items-ties and KitKat wrappers notwithstanding-in Sunstein’s office on the fourth floor of the Laird Bell Quadrangle are unrelated to his work. The “most unusual” set of items in the room, he says, “may be my CD collection, which features Inter Alia, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Liz Phair, Bruce Springsteen, and Shawn Colvin. Eminem can also be found here.”

And while his office may be disgraceful, his home, Sunstein declares, “is actually very neat. No mess at all. I keep it that way, partly for my 11-year-old daughter.”

To see the other five offices, including Nobel Prize Winner Robert Fogel’s and McArthur Fellow John Eaton, click here.

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