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My 10 most important books

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Why these 10?

  • World Book. It was this encyclopedia that taught me two terrible things that deeply affected me. First, when I was 4th grade, I learned that JFK had been assassinated. Before reading about it in the encyclopedia during library time, I believed Kennedy was still alive. He was a hero to me. It was the 1970s, more than a decade after his death, but I felt like he had been killed that very day. The second thing I learned is that Saturn is mostly liquid, which scotched my plans to be the first astronaut to walk on the planet. Saturn is still my favorite planet, so maybe I'll just have to swim there ...
  • · Leading Lever of Riches by Joel Mokyr. This is the substance behind "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (which is also a fine book). I read it while working on my dissertation, and can learn something new about history and development every time I crack it open.
  • · The 2007 Index of Economic Freedom. This is a cheat, since I wrote this one. My team changed the methodology of measuring economic freedom and reshaped the design of the Index as well. Like they say, you don't really know a subject until you teach it. Or write a book about it.
  • · Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The most insightful dystopia, and probably the most accurate prediction of modern ills (soma, especially). It has flaws, in terms of literature and economics, but Huxley towers over the other dystopians.
  • · The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama. The 1989 essay, more than the book, forever shaped the way I see the world. As a cadet preparing for Cold War service and beginning to see the failure of communism (and its hollowness as an economic threat), reading Fukuyama was a thrilling validation of dangerous ideas. And he was right, and the Wall fell. Taught me to have confidence in identifying what is inevitable versus what is noise.
  • · The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. This is probably my favorite SF novel, but also the one that makes me think the most about human potential and education reform.
  • · The Mighty Avengers, Issue #177. Comic books were a big part of my youth, so this issue is symbolic. Avengers were my group, at a time when the FF was popular and X-men were trendy. I started following the series but had a summer break, and when I biked to the local 7-11, this culmination of a long story was sold out. It took me something like 10 years to track it down. Comics also, by the way, taught me my first economics lesson: price inflation! That's a big deal when you're on a fixed income and your only luxury triples in price over a decade.
  • · Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joesph Schumpeter. I was a double-major in political science and economics at the Air Force Academy for the simple reason that neither major could satiate my curiousity about communism. Professors in each department pointed to the other when I asked questions of much depth. Fortunately, somebody decided to put me in a special readings class as the only student where I was assigned three books. It was my two degree (junior) year. That's when I met Schumpeter.
  • · What It Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer. As a student of the presidency, this summary of the 1988 election is the best of all election books, hands down.
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