It’s about this time of year that many bloggers hang up their cyberspace stockings with care and ask that their readers show their appreciation with a dollar or two. I’m not going to do that because a) I think that’s kind of tacky, b) I run this site for fun, and c) there are other blogs that are a lot more deserving of gifts and money than this one is.
That said, running this site does take a small investment of cash and a large investment of time on my part. If you happen to enjoy reading it, I’ve provided an easy way to help support it without having to actually make a donation. Just click on the “Support this site” link under the Site Guide portion of the sidebar and buy something from Amazon.com. It’s the holiday season so you’re probably buying things from there anyway. Clicking here first won’t change any prices for you, but it will send a percentage of the sale my way in the form of Amazon Associates gift certificates. It’s a win-win situation: you get your gifts and I can get that Tiny Tim Christmas Album I’ve always wanted.
As an added bonus, I’ve put together a list of books I recommend. It’s an unabashedly idiosyncratic compilation, but it’s a good sampling of books that I’ve found particularly enjoyable or thought provoking over the past few years. Continue reading to see the list; clicking on any of the links also works for the Amazon Associates deal. Enjoy and be thankful for holiday shopping that can be done from your couch.
I know, we’re all supposed to be reading Randy Barnett. However, I found this to be an interesting and educational book about the history of the Bill of Rights. Specifically, Amar argues that our modern, libertarian understanding of the bill is due largely to the Fourteenth Amendment, not the original ten. I’m by no means a legal sholar, but this was a valuable read.
Speaking of Barnett, here’s his argument for a polycentric constitutional order. He out-Hayeks Hayek with his discussion of the problems of knowledge, interest, and power, though things get a little hairy in the later, anarchic-leaning chapters.
This controversial book lays out the evidence for innate differences in the average male and female brains. It also includes an interesting discussion of autism, the subject of a previous book by the author.
The best case for liberal interventionism that I’ve read, though I no longer find it as appealing as I did a year ago. Still, it’s a powerfully written book and provides an illuminating look at the development of Islamism.
Brin is an imaginative sci-fi writer. Here he applies that talent to the imminent threat to privacy posed by surveillance technologies and argues that, used correctly, they could actually enhance our freedom by ensuring accountability. It’s a perspective that deserves to be heard more often.
This is the first book in Brin’s Uplift series, which I’ve been reading for the past year (I just finished book four). Brin is a gifted storyteller with an amazing ability to dream up new worlds. Though part of a trilogy, Sundiver works also as a stand alone novel.
Brooks, a roboticist at MIT, offers up a level-headed and optimistic perspective on the potential of robotics.
An introduction to how networks work, including both a basic explanation of the science and the history of its founders. I reviewed this in 2003.
This is a classic sci-fi novel that transcends the genre. In some ways, the sequel is even better. Alas, in the two books following that the metaphysics get a bit out of control. I like to pretend that the series ended with book two.
In this historical novel Chevalier turns to a story darker than Girl with Pearl Earring and includes more overtly feminist perspectives. Recommended by me and my mom, and you know my mom wouldn’t lie to you.
This is a great book about the forgotten right of juries to use their discretion in deciding criminal cases rather than blindly following the letter of the law. Unfortunately, people smart enough to read this book are probably too smart to make it through voir dire.
Has capitalism been good for the arts? Tyler Cowen says yes. I cited his arguments several times in a paper written for a Marxist-leaning aesthetics professor and still got an A. They’re that good.
An eloquent paean to the beauty of science.
A collection of Dawkins’ recent shorter writings on a variety of subjects. His letter to his young daughter, eulogy for Douglas Adams, and thoughts on evolution and religion are particularly memorable.
A wide-ranging and controversial book that seeks the ultimate (not proximate) causes of the dominance of western culture. Diamond finds the answers in geography and ecology. A fascinating read.
Jared Diamond’s lively introduction to how evolution and biology shape human nature.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this one. In high school I hated it. Why? Now I consider it the Great American Novel.
It’s a classic. Buy it for the socialist in your life. Heck, buy two.
A longer, more detailed work by Hayek. Includes the essential “Why I am not a Conservative.”
Before reading this book I thought that there was nothing interesting left to say about globalization. Cato’s Brink Lindsey proved me wrong. Against the Dead Hand does an excellent job of putting contemporary globalization into an historical context.
There’s no other book I’ve found that so rewards repeated visitation. Best read beneath the stars on a cold winter night.
You really can’t go wrong with Steven Pinker. Coming from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, Pinker elucidates how the brain functions with his usual witty style. Very little hard neuroscience here.
Can a book that’s all about regular and irregular verbs be interesting, enlightening, and laugh out loud funny? Yes, it can. The first Pinker book I ever read.
Can you tell I’m a Steven Pinker fan? This is his most recent and broadest work, covering the findings and debates over evolutionary psychology and the influence of our genetic heritage.
An excellent book about the challenges of conserving fearsome alpha predators. I reviewed this last month.
Robbins went undercover as a sorority girl to report on life on the inside. Her findings are by turns amusing and horrifying. As a traumatized graduate of Vanderbilt, I found this book an interesting read and even came to be thankful for the fact that Vandy’s sorority houses are limited to just six girls — they could have been even worse.
I admit it, Richard Rorty is my guilty philosophical pleasure.
This is one of the most talked about books dealing with the problem of economic development. Essential reading for understanding how a lack of accessible property rights is holding poorer countries back.
Though I’m skeptical of how much influence the author credits to cultural factors in the development of romantic love, I found this to be a rewarding and enjoyable read. It’s always refreshing to find a philosoher dealing directly and thoughtfully with a subject so relevant to life.
Stern wrote this book after years spent interviewing religious terrorists, from Al Qaeda to America’s own Army of God. It’s a timely reference for how these organizations are run and what motivates their members.
Peter Taylor quickly became one of my favorite authors after I read some of his short stories in a Philosophy and Literature seminar. A Summons to Memphis is his most well known novel and one of the most thought-provoking pieces of literature I’ve read. Taylor is a master of particularity, making it difficult to make a general statement about the book that is useful to anyone who hasn’t read it (though I could write about it endlessly for someone who has). It won a Pulitzer in 1987.
This looks like a coffee table book and its richly detailed photographs certainly make it a good one. However, this is also an academic work about prehistoric art with chapters divided along continental lines. Beautifully illustrated and well-written.
Yet another book about evolutionary psychology and the growing unity biology can provide to the social sciences. This is one of the best, written by the founder of what the author prefers to call “sociobiology.”
This book, based upon a PBS miniseries, documents the liberalization of markets throughout the world. The writing is not at all dogmatic and the book serves as an excellent introduction to how various countries are opening themselves up to global markets.
Explores the role of democracy in the development of liberal states, arguing that it has often been overemphasized.
This a beautiful and fascinating book. Zeki, a prominent neuroscientist, explores how visual art can teach us about the workings of the brain. Lavishly illustrated with full-color examples of great art.