Tuesday, March 16, 2010

10 most influential books

Tyler Cowen lists the 10 books that influenced him the most and encourages others to do so as well. Here is my list, which mainly focuses on books that have influenced my politics and economics.

1. Friedrich Hayek, Constitution of Liberty. I read this as an independent study course with Paul Heyne in around my third year of college. It started the process of changing my politics from Rockefeller Republican to classical liberal and also clarified for me, via the chapter helpfully entitled "Why I Am Not a Conservative" the differences among European and American conservatism and classical liberalism.

2. Richard Epstein, Takings. Had a very large impact on my thinking about US constitutional law. It also helped me see the ways in which lawyers think about things differently than economists. Around the same time I audited a constitutional law class at Chicago taught by Michael McConnell. Reading parts of the Wickard v. Filburn decision in that class disabused me of whatever reverence I had for the Supreme Court.

3. Douglas North and Roger Leroy Miller, Abortion, Baseball and Weed. I read this for a book report in my high school civics class. It is the book that started me on the road to being an economist. It is nothing more than chapters giving, in 10 or 15 pages, how economists think about various public policy issues. For me, it was, to borrow a phrase, drano for a clogged mind.

4. James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent. I read this early on in graduate school, probably for Jim Snyder's class or at least around that time. It broadened my view regarding the scope for alternative institutions for social choice.

5. John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching. Perhaps the book that first opened my eyes to the fact that popular historical narratives are often wholly false. More narrowly, it completely changed my view of FDR's administration.

6. Colin Howson and Peter Urbach, Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach. Heckman recommended this to me and it had a big influence on how I think about econometrics and empirical work.

7. Scott Davis, The World of Patience Gromes. This book influenced my thinking about the 1960s and about the nature of the welfare state in America. Two other books that pushed me in somewhat similar directions are Drylongso, by Jonathan Langston Gwaltney and All My Kin by Carol Stack.

8. James Q. Wilson, Bureaucracy. This book was one of the things (becoming more empirically minded as a result of working with Jim Heckman being another) that softened the radical libertarianism of my late undergraduate days. Some problems are hard for any organization to solve, public or private. It also led to my interest in performance standards and others tools, including program evaluation, that try, in part, to substitute for markets.

9. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. One can usefully think about science as a social enterprise, which it surely is, without becoming completely unmoored. This book disabused me of the methodological silliness offered up in high school science (and even, to some extent, in my college physics and astronomy courses).

10. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia. Presents the case for the minimal state, as against both anarchy and larger states. In the end I ended up as more a combination of Smith, Locke and Hayek, but this book shaped my thinking nonetheless.


Beth and Darren said...


Excellent list. I've read some and should check out some of the others. I took several courses from Doug North in college and admire his work a lot.

I think that "Abortion, Baseball and Weed: Economic Issues of Our Time" is written by North and Roger Miller. This book seems very similar to "Economics of Public Issues," by North, Miller, and Benjamin.

North and Thomas wrote "The Rise of the Western World," a classic. But I was mostly influenced by North's "Structure and Change in Economic History".


Iamreddave said...

No one seems to list childrens fairy stories? If your most impressionable time a huge amount of effort is put into reading these and they dont influence anyone? I cannot hear a knock at the door without thinking it might be a wolf.


Unknown said...

Hi Jeff - great post. I'm curious about your comments on Epstein's Takings. If you have time, I'd like to hear you elaborate on the different ways that lawyers and economists think. I had a similar realization during law school, but I haven't been able to articulate the distinction succinctly. I am also surprised that Wickard v. Filburn is the case that disabused you of your reverence for the Court. What is it about that decision in particular?
Thanks again for sharing your list.

econjeff said...

I fixed the authors on North and Miller. Thanks for the correction.

Mas Bagus said...

Great post ! Love your choices. But here is mine : 25 Top Must Read Books About Economics Hope you liked it too.