Diane Coyle asks,
What ten books would you absolutely want a young person to read – whatever their subject – to be well-rounded? The idea is a kind of summer reading list for someone about to go to university – what kind of broad mental hinterland should they have before arriving to start a social science degree?
Pointer from Tyler Cowen.
Of the ten she lists, I have read Hume, Kahneman, Camus, and Jacobs. I have strong impressions (possibly too shallow) of what is in Darwin, de Beauvoir, and Scott. I have no strong impression of the other three.
a. I have compiled these sorts of lists before. I think that perhaps more important than which books you put on the list is your thought process in assembling them.
b. There is nothing magic about the number 10.
c. Some of the books that would be in my list have yet to be written.
My first category might be called war and society.
1. Violence and Social Orders, by North, Weingast and Wallis. A very powerful political economy framework that I think works.
2. The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam, about the Vietnam War. It is an epic tale of government failure.
3. Alone, William Manchester’s second volume of his biography of Winston Churchill. If Vietnam was the costliest intervention mistake made by a western democracy in the 20th century, then the failure to heed Churchill’s warnings about Adolf Hitler was the costliest non-intervention mistake.
My second category might be called late 20th-century perspectives on 21st century technology and society.
4. The Diamond Age, a work of science fiction by Neal Stephenson, is longer and more confusing than I would like, but it offers a vision of the impact of technology on society that raises many of the important issues, particularly the class divergences that people are talking about today.
5. The Transparent Society, by David Brin. That also was a very farsighted book, about the issues of privacy and security that are being much discussed today. See my review.
6. The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil. He later updated and expanded his thinking in The Singularity is Near, but I think that the older version may be more interesting, because of the long list of predictions made in 1999 for 2009 and 2019 that we can now evaluate.
My third category might be called fictional insights into human nature and power over others.
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. Don’t bother with the movie, even though it was voted Best Picture. For me, the book offers insights into the dynamics among people who feel entitled to power and people who are nervous about freedom.
8. Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Another book on the determination to exercise power.
9. Lord of the Flies, by William
Fielding Golding. I see it as a story of reversion to barbarism.
I do not know how to categorize my next pick.
10. The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. The book gives you a lot of modern European philosophy and a lot of evolutionary psychology.
My next category might be “dueling asymmetric insights.”
11. Moral Politics, by George Lakoff. Lakoff, a progressive, offers an interesting theory of the appeal of conservatism. Recommended for conservatives so that you can understand how progressives think of you.
12. The Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell. Sowell, a conservative, offers an interesting theory of the appeal of progressivism. Recommended for progressives so that you can understand how conservatives think of you.
Finally, I have my category of works yet to be written.
13. Readings on The Industrial Revolution. This would include timelines for growth rates, innovations, and trading patterns. It would include excerpts from various theories (Clark, North, McCloskey, etc.) of why the Industrial Revolution emerged at the time and place that it did.
14. Readings on the Great Depression. This would include a chronology of events, and it would include excerpts from various theories of why it started and why it persisted. It would include analyses of the political legacy of the Great Depression
15. A project that I am currently toying with (probability of attempting of about .2), on the challenge of trying to extricate yourself from political tribalism. A bit of Robin Hanson, a bit of the three-axes model, a bit of Martin Gurri. Possibly embedded in a work of fiction.