John Moser has tagged me with the bibliophile meme (and he did so on a good day, as I am feeling contemplative):
1. How many books do I own? I estimate 1000, split between home and work pretty evenly and not counting the 500 or so additional books contributed by the KP Spouse. And that doesn’t count my 40 or so cookbooks, even though I actually only use about six of them (mostly Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking).
2. What was the last book I bought? Practical Matter: Newton’s Science in the Service of Industry and Empire, 1687-1851, by Margaret Jacob and Larry Stewart. I am in the middle of reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, which in combination with Joel Mokyr’s work on the origins of industrialization in the dissemination of useful knowledge through scientific societies during the Enlightenment, has piqued my interest in Newton and in Enlightenment science in general. Plus Newton was a character, a bit of a freak, so his life is intriguing.
3. What was the last book I read? Understanding the Process of Economic Change by Douglass North. This is a very ambitious book. North puts forth a hypothesis that weaves together human cognitive processes, belief systems, culture, institutions, and economic growth. It’s a really complex set of issues and relationships, and I think he’s done a good job of articulating it clearly. It crystallizes the reasons why institutions matter, and why we see different outcomes of similar processes in different places.
4. What are the five books that mean the most to me? This one is really tough.
-Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments. Yeah, you thought I’d say Wealth of Nations, but I think ToMS is even more important and broad in its implications for how real live free and responsible individuals live together in civil society.
-F. A. Hayek, Constitution of Liberty. A broad articulation of the knowledge problem, of the difficulties of Cartesian rationality, and the importance of the formal and informal institutions that enable free and responsible people to live together in civil society.
-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. The best piece of English-language fiction. Ever. Period.
-Joel Mokyr, Lever of Riches. In addition to being a work of virtuosity and of great importance for understanding our modern plenitude, this was the first work in which I ever participated as a scholar. Joel taught my graduate economic history course from the notes for the manuscript, and our lively discussions in class taught me how multi-directional scholarship and learning are when they are done well.
-Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. Like John, I have deep problems with strict Objectivism, but reading AS, Fountainhead, etc. while in high school shaped my future questioning of authority, my empiricism, my value for independent thought, and my confidence in the originality of my ideas. That last one has taken a couple of decades to develop, but I can trace it to reading Rand in high school.