Anne Case remembers the early critiques from her Ph.D. adviser, Angus Deaton: "Brutal."

"Take this away and come back with something that is more like your talents," Deaton told her.

Devastated, she wanted to hide under a desk. But with his prodding, she went on to do some of her best work. After earning her doctorate in economics from Princeton, Case was hired at Harvard.

That was 1988. Fast-forward a few years. Case returned to Princeton and became Deaton's colleague - and later, his wife.

So when she got the call last week from Stockholm and learned her husband had won the Nobel Prize for his work in economics, she understood his other talent, too - an exacting teacher who brings out the best in students.

Case and others describe Deaton as a gentle, 6-foot-4 giant who can be prickly over careless mistakes and passionate about commonly held beliefs he sees as wrong. He lectures without slides or notes. And his knowledge in many fields is vast.

"An intellectual omnivore," Amy Gutmann calls him. Gutmann, who was provost at Princeton before becoming president of the University of Pennsylvania, said, "He's interested in everything."

Deaton's research has touched on a range of topics as diverse as calorie consumption, health care, suicide, poverty, and the pursuit of happiness. He and a research partner showed that "emotional well-being" peaks at an income of about $75,000.

With a career at Princeton that extends more than three decades, Deaton - who will celebrate his 70th birthday Monday - becomes the third scholar in the last 15 years to win the Nobel Prize in the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He will collect a $1 million prize. Maybe more.

"There's a study that says movie stars who win Oscars get an extra five years on their lives," he told an audience at Princeton the day of the announcement. "I'm hoping this applies to Nobel Prizes, too."

In class, Deaton, often sporting a bow tie, has students argue on opposite sides of an issue. He'll also call students on the spot to test whether they have done their reading.

Perhaps Deaton's greatest strength, his students said last week, is his ability to translate complex topics in digestible terms.

"He's someone who wears his knowledge very lightly," said Gaurav Sabharwal, 25, a doctoral student from India. "He really believes that in social sciences, complexity of ideas should not be an excuse for failure to communicate in simple words."

Deaton said he had that skill even in high school in Scotland.

"It's a question of putting your mind into the person you're talking to, so you have some idea about what they know," he said. "Then build it up."

But the most important lesson that Deaton imparts, says Shoumitro Chatterjee, 27, a graduate student from India, is to focus on people.

"Economics is really about people and not about things that don't have feelings, so we should be very careful of what we do," he said Deaton tells them.

Deaton has delved into issues of poverty and inequality, perhaps fueled in part by his own youth in Edinburgh.

His father left school at age 12 and became a coal miner. He joined the military and was spared during World War II when he came down with tuberculosis and missed a raid that killed his entire unit.

"That made me think about the role of luck in people's lives," Deaton said.

His father later enrolled in night school and became a civil engineer. Money was still tight.

"That experience is something that everyone ought to have," he said. "It certainly gives you a perspective on the world that I'm not sure you'll get any other way."

Deaton attended Fettes, a prestigious private high school, on scholarship. The education was fabulous; his social life in a school of mostly upper-class students, not so much.

"I had this thick Scottish accent," he said, "and they thought I was some sort of dirt."

He attended Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge. His father had wanted him to live at home so it wouldn't cost so much. He protested.

"I scraped by," he said. "I had an overdraft at the bank. I worried about money a lot."

Even while teaching at Cambridge and the University of Bristol, he remembers taking his car in for repair and dreading picking it up: Would he be able to pay?

He became a widower at age 29, with two young children, ages 5 and 3. His wife died of an aggressive breast cancer.

It wasn't until his appointment as a visiting professor at Princeton in 1979 that his finances afforded a comfortable life. A permanent position followed in 1983.

"Anne will tell you I still worry about money, once you get that ingrained," said Deaton, who holds American and British citizenship.

Case returned to Princeton in 1990 as a visiting assistant professor. He taught her how to cook and fly-fish. They married in 1997.

His son and daughter both graduated from Princeton; he's a hedge-fund manager and she's a financial planner. Deaton has three grandchildren.

About 40 percent of Deaton's and Case's conversations center on work - more so recently as they near culmination of a joint research project on what Deaton described as a "terrifying increase in middle-age mortality in the United States."

"You might think that places where people kill themselves are places where people tend to be unhappy, and that's actually not true," Deaton said.

He cited "a huge suicide belt" that runs up the spine of the Rocky Mountains, where people tend to be very happy.

Deaton is equally passionate about teaching, which he said he will miss when he retires in June. He teaches doctoral candidates in economics and graduate students seeking their master's in public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson school.

Many of his disciples - students and colleagues he has mentored - hold prestigious academic posts.

"The opportunity to work with Angus Deaton brought me to Princeton," said Christina Paxson, now president of Brown University. "He always thinks the current project he's working on is his best work, and he is continually energized by the process of discovery."

Deaton becomes animated as he talks about a recent graduate, Diane Coffey, whom he called an "economic Mother Teresa." She and her husband established the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics in India.

"They are people who want to save the poor of India," he said.

By email, Coffey was just as admiring of Deaton.

"I couldn't be doing the work I do or living the life I live without what Angus taught me."

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