Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Some recent books that made me think

Would be grateful for suggestions for recent inspiring books to read relevant in a broad sense to the topics of this blog. Some recent books that have made me think include the following (in no particular order). I spent most of my 4-year undergraduate reading books and fit the assignments and exams around that (10 of my favourite books from college here). I want to spend more time in education talking about books and ideas and encouraging students to think broadly. We do a lot of other things in universities but that should surely be up there with the highest priorities!

Deaton's Great Escape is a wonderful book about the history of poverty and development with a lot of thought-provoking material on the measurement of welfare and well-being.

I read Theodore Zeldin's "Hidden Pleasures" recently. Zeldin is not a man for detailed econometric specifications so do not read it expecting p-values but the book is absorbing and has a range of thoughts on how to live a meaningful life and the relationship between human development, business and meaning. His Intimate History of Humanity is also a masterpiece.

Elster's "Explaining Social Behavior More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences" is a book I would happily base a full 4-year undergraduate programme around (new edition released last July). Elster's work in general is widely known but perhaps not as much as it should be. Anyone interested in the type of material we post on this blog should start with this book and then try his other works.

Sunstein's "Why Nudge" digs into the legal and ethical issues involved in using behavioural science in public policy and one of the first works to deal with these issues at length. It is not light-reading but is certainly worth the time for people studying and working on these topics in depth.

O'Grada "Eating People is Wrong: Essays on the History and Future of Famines" is a short but epic account of famines and human development.

Cartwright's "Hunting Causes and Using Them: Approaches in Philosophy and Economics" is the oldest book on the list (2007) but is a book that stimulates deep thinking about causal relationships in social science.

Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" is a runaway best-seller from the main figure in this area in the last 40 years. It is written for a broad audience and is packed with interesting insights into human decision making and welfare.

Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal" is a detailed research and practice driven meditation on economic and technological progress, death and dying.


Totte said...

Some good recent books on causality in the social sciences:

- Evidence-based policy by Cartwright and Hardie: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/evidence-based-policy-9780199841622?cc=gb&lang=en&# This book contains many of the Cartwrightian themes and critiques in the context of public policy specifically. Contains interesting examples.
- Causality in the sciences by Illari, Russo and Williamson (ed.): https://global.oup.com/academic/product/causality-in-the-sciences-9780199574131?cc=gb&lang=en&# This book focuses on causality more generally, but it contains several chapters on medicine, psychology and the social sciences. There is a separate section on causal mechanisms, which I think should be helpful to social scientists.
- Counterfactuals and Causal Inference by Morgan and Winship: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/sociology/sociology-general-interest/counterfactuals-and-causal-inference-methods-and-principles-social-research-2nd-edition?format=PB&isbn=9781107694163 A more technical introduction to causal inference in the social sciences, with an emphasis on the use of causal counterfactuals. Again lots of examples.

It’s a further question how ‘inspiring’ these books are!

Liam Delaney said...

Excellent - thanks for the suggestions. I use C+H for various things but the other two look very useful also.

Sean Gill said...

A great resource for interesting and intellectually curious reads is Brain Pickings. It is curated by Maria Popova and is "a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why.... as well as an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life".

Her weekly digest on a Sunday morning is well worth subscribing too. She often has wonderful suggestions along with a comprehensive commentary / analysis.

Liam Delaney said...

Yes, Brainpickings is a great resource. I have not often found material on it that directly crosses over to this blog but I regularly find stuff that I read more generally.