If you haven’t already decided on your summer reading list, here is a curated list of multi-disciplinary books that can help fill your brain.
Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences
Nassim Taleb reviews this book, offering the following: “I read this book twice. The first time, I thought that it was excellent, the best compendium of ideas of social science by arguably the best thinker in the field. I took copious notes, etc. I agreed with its patchwork-style approach to rational decision making. I knew that it had huge insights applicable to my refusal of general theories [they don’t work], rather limit ourselves to nuts and bolts [they work].”
Kafka’s The Trial
The tale of Josef K., a responsible bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. This is widely considered one of the great works of the twentieth century. The Trial has been read as a study of political power, a pessimistic religious parable, or a crime novel where the accused man is himself the problem. For me, this was a chilling tale on the excesses of bureaucracy.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.
The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers
This book “…brilliantly reveals the flaws in just about every best-selling strategy book of the past three decades. Second, and more importantly, it reveals just how skeptical and sharp-minded today’s business leaders must be in order to avoid falling victim to the latest and greatest guru thinking. Rosenzweig exposes how convincing but faulty the logic is of the brightest and most popular business consultants. Reading his deconstruction of their research and arguments is shocking but liberating — in much the same way that a child experiences the revelation that there is no Tooth Fairy or that magic tricks are just illusions. The book excels at revealing a lesson that cannot be repeated enough: The most persuasive and researched arguments are often the most specious.”
How Will You Measure Your Life?
The Financial Times reviewed this book as “an intriguing paradox. A self-help book that is not a self-help book, based on rigorous research but enlivened by anecdotes about the experiences of a man who is hailed as a model by his students. It neatly reverses the technique of those business bestsellers that use the lives and careers of great leaders — from Attila the Hun to General George Patton — to lay down timeless rules for corporate executives.”
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind
From the back rooms of New York City’s century-old magic societies to cutting-edge psychology labs; three-card monte on Canal Street to glossy Las Vegas casinos; Fooling Houdini recounts Alex Stone’s quest to join the ranks of master magicians. As he navigates this quirky and occasionally hilarious subculture, Stone pulls back the curtain on a community shrouded in secrecy, fueled by obsession and brilliance, and organized around a single overriding need: to prove one’s worth by deceiving others.
White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf
White Bread teaches us that when Americans debate what one should eat, they are also wrestling with larger questions of race, class, immigration, and gender. As Aaron Bobrow-Strain traces the story of bread, from the first factory loaf to the latest gourmet pain au levain, he shows how efforts to champion “good food” reflect dreams of a better society—even as they reinforce stark social hierarchies.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger
This book is the result of Bevelin’s learning about attaining wisdom. Bevelin cites an encyclopedic range of thinkers: from first-century BCE Roman poet Publius Terentius to Mark Twain-from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman-from 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne to Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett. This book is for those who love the constant search for knowledge. We can’t eliminate mistakes, but we can prevent those that can really hurt us. Using exemplars of clear thinking and attained wisdom, Bevelin focuses on how our thoughts are influenced, why we make misjudgments and tools to improve our thinking.
Hall writes: “A key factor in explaining the sad state of American education can be found in overbureaucratization, which is seen in the compulsion to consolidate our public schools into massive factories and to increase to mammoth size our universities even in underpopulated states. The problem with bureaucracies is that they have to work hard and long to keep from substituting self-serving survival and growth for their original primary objective. Few succeed. Bureaucracies have no soul, no memory, and no conscience. If there is a single stumbling block on the road to the future, it is the bureaucracy as we know it.”
Notes on Democracy
This is probably Mencken’s least well known (and most outrageously and politically incorrect) essay on democracy and its discontents. It’s not so much that we need to make the world safe for democracy. Mencken argues just the opposite — the world should be made safe from democracy. A few die hard fans believe that you shouldn’t even think of voting until you’ve read this book.
Want more? Try
—Book Recommendations from Nassim Taleb
—The best books on the psychology behind human decision making and irrationality?
—Farnam Street’s Behavioral Economics Reading List
—Greg Mankiw Offers 18 Economics Recommendations
—What Bill Gates Reads for Fun
—Five Must-Reads for Tackling Complex Problems