Tyler Cowen started a blogospheric whirlwind recently when he posted the list of books that had influenced him the most and called on other econ bloggers to do the same. In short order, we got entries from Peter Suderman, E.D. Kain, Arnold Kling, Michael Martin, Niklas Blanchard, EconJeff, Bryan Caplan, Matt Yglesias, Jenny Davidson, Will Wilkinson, Matt Continetti, Ross Douthat, Mike Konczal, Kieran Healy, Ivar Hagendoorn, Scott Sumner, and no doubt others. [Update: Some of these links were wrong; I think they're all fixed now.]
I’m late to the party, but here’s my list:
- Clown Town, by Dixie Willson The book I fell in love with before I could read.
- Space and Time in Special Relativity, by N. David Mermin. As I said in the introduction to The Big Questions, this is the book that taught me, at age 16, that it is possible to think.
- Topics in Algebra, by I.N. Herstein. The book that taught me algebra.
- The Waste Land and Other Poems, by T.S. Eliot.
- Exchange and Production by Armen Alchian and William Allen. The book that taught me to think like an economist.
- The Red Book of Varieties and Schemes, by David Mumford. The book that taught me geometry, before it was a book. I still have my tattered copy of Mumford’s manuscript, which circulated unpublished for many years.
- Collected Poems, by Dylan Thomas
- Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas
- A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas
- Poems, by Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Quantum Reality, by Nick Herbert. This survey, aimed at the “physics for poets” crowd, inspired me to start working through textbooks, culminating in entry number 16 below.
- Collected Poems, by W.B. Yeats
- Recoltes et Semailles, by Alexandre Grothendieck. I am inspired above all by Grothendieck’s vision of geometry, but I got my first taste of that vision from Mumford’s red book, not from the primary sources, which I have therefore not listed here. This gripping and intensely personal and memoir is inspiring and saddening in a thousand different ways.
- Joe Gould’s Secret, by Joseph Mitchell
- Consciousness Explained, by Daniel Dennett
- Quantum Mechanics and the Particles of Nature, by Anthony Sudbery
Notably absent from this list is Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons, which I have somehow never read front-to-back though it’s been fifteen years since Tyler told me it’s a must-read. I haven’t done a careful count, but I believe that Parfit is the most frequently mentioned book on the lists cited above. I really must get to it.
Do share your own lists.