Books of the Year

The top five of these seem to have come in a burst, over the last six weeks or so.

1. Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More than Your Own, by Garett Jones. Two factors stand out. One is that Jones is very good at anticipating the views of those who would disagree with him and offering gentle, persuasive arguments. The other is that this is a topic that deserves more discussion, but it is a “third rail” in academia that Jones is one of the few willing to touch.

2. Why Minsky Matters, by L. Randall Wray. Some people may be put off by seeing Minsky held up as the predictor of the financial crisis of 2008, which took place long after his death. But I think Minsky’s views are a a healthy antidote to the view that crises can be prevented through regulation. And I thought that this book gave genuine insight into Minsky’s thinking that was new to me.

3. The Evolution of Everything, by Matt Ridley. The theme is that decentralized evolution beats top-down control. I think that this is the book that I will recommend to a young person who shows an interest or inclination toward libertarianism. I think it is a better introduction to libertarianism than anything that is explicitly labeled as such. However, my guess is that people without libertarian sympathies will find it pugnacious and off-putting. For addressing those with different points of view, Ridley could learn much from Jones.

4. The Secret of Our Success, by Joseph Henrich. Henrich argues for evolution, particularly in the realm of culture, as passionately as Ridley, but he fails to make the connection with markets and hence with libertarian thought. When someone told me that they enjoyed Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, I recommended this book to him. Henrich, like Kahneman, popularizes some interesting research, and it has grand overarching theme. In some ways, the research Henrich summarizes is more compelling, because it includes anthropological studies in addition to the psychological experiments that sometimes leave me feeling swindled.

5. Foolproof, by Greg Ip. The theme is the unintended consequences of regulation as people and businesses adapt. Ip’s critique of top-down regulation is too gentle for my taste. However, for someone coming from a mainstream perspective, a gentle nudge probably works better than Ridley’s hard hammer.

Others:

MIT and the Transformation of American Economics, edited by E. Roy Weintraub. I’m cheating, in that this came out late in 2014, and it emerged from an even earlier conference. But this book, more than any other, pushed me to write what I call the Book of Arnold. I was particularly provoked by reading of the role of wartime thinking and defense department funding in getting the MIT program started.

Choice, by Robert Murphy. Makes Mises more accessible than he ever was to me previously. Unless you are capable of digesting Mises yourself (and perhaps even if you are), this is a vital work.

The End of Doom, by Ronald Bailey. A broad, fact-based critique of environmental doom-mongering.

The Essential Hayek, by Donald Boudreaux. Does for Hayek what Murphy does for Mises.

Our Kids, by Robert Putnam. Like Charles Murray in Coming Apart, Putnam explores what he calls “bifurcated family patterns.” From a left-ish ideological perspective, of course.

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3 Responses to Books of the Year

  1. Urstoff says:

    Sucks to be a book, movie, or album that comes out after Thanksgiving; you’ll never make it on a “best of the year” list.

  2. Andrew' says:

    2. I made a joke about Minsky predicting the 2008 crash. But there is a also a serious quibble. All predictors of crisis will be right eventually. So, one must determine whether one evaluates the “interpretive framework” to corroborate the prediction- while realizing one may never understand that framework enough because of the opportunity cost of the necessity of evaluating more than one. I think Minsky falls on the right side of the a available options, but I also think other frameworks that are similar but different might be closer to the mark. For example, I realize there is more to Minsky than the Minsky moment but if Minsky were to win the “irrational exuberance” crash why would he also win the one that followed? It seems more like serial bubbles now than great moderation complacency.

  3. Handle says:

    One thing that came out this year was Jason Collins’ Evonomics website. Have you taken a look at the articles there? Any impressions?

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