Twenty Books

A few weeks ago, my friend Rajesh pointed me to a list titled, “20 Books You Should Read in Your 20s.” I didn’t like the list; some of the books were too heavy for the average 20-something-year old. Certainly, as a specialized reader, a 20-year old could read many of them but not as a general reader.

It occurred to me that lists like that could not be very useful for the general public, anyway. We all have distinct preferences and interests. That implies, list of books have to be tailored to fit the person. I asked myself, what would the list have looked for a 20-something-year old me? Here is that list.

        1. Our Enemy, the State. Albert Jay Nock. 1935.
        2. Anarchy, State and Utopia. Robert Nozick. 1974.
        3. The Fatal Conceit. Friedrich Hayek. 1988.
        4. The Essential Hayek. Don Boudreaux. 2014.
        5. Arguments for Liberty. Cato Institute 2016.
        6. Capitalism and Freedom. Milton Friedman. 1962.
        7. From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965 – 2000. Lee Kuan Yew. 2000.
        8. Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy. Tim Harford. 2017.
        9. The Machinery of Freedom. David D. Friedman. 1973, 1989, 2014.
        10. The Great Escape. Angus Deaton. 2013.
        11. The Ultimate Resource 2. Julian Simon. 1998.
        12. Micromotives and Macrobehavior. Thomas Schelling. 1978.
        13. The Human Predicament: A candid guide to life’s biggest questions. David Benatar. 2017.
        14. The Rational Optimist. Matt Ridley. 2010.
        15. The Beginning of Infinity. David Deutsch. 2011.
        16. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy. Joel Mokyr. 2017.
        17. The Common Sense of Science. Jacob Bronowski. 1951.
        18. Cosmos. Carl Sagan. 1980.
        19. The Selfish Gene. Richard Dawkins. 1976.
        20. Infinite in All Directions. Freeman Dyson. 1985.

Note however that I could not have read them in my 20’s then since, first of all many (not all) of them were published after I was past my 20s, and second of all, I was not even aware of the discipline called political economy. I was too ignorant. Still here it is, for the record. Although the list is numbered, it is not in any particular order.

Let me know if you wish to borrow any of these from my library. Also, I’d be happy to explain why I consider those books to be of value to me.

Author: Atanu Dey


5 thoughts on “Twenty Books”

  1. Why is this book “Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy. Tim Harford” on the list? What is special about this book? I am asking since there are other books with very similar themes –

    A book by the same author “The Next Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy”
    How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson –
    (… this list is not exhaustive, there are more like this)

    Also, with the below five books, don’t you think the message and content are likely to get repetitive? ( I am making this comment based on book titles alone, I have not read all of them, but it feels like there will be a lot of repetition in the subject matter covered in these five books) –

    Our Enemy, the State. Albert Jay Nock. 1935.
    Anarchy, State and Utopia. Robert Nozick. 1974.
    The Fatal Conceit. Friedrich Hayek. 1988.
    The Essential Hayek. Don Boudreaux. 2014.
    Arguments for Liberty. Cato Institute 2016.

    What do you think about these books –
    1. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
    2. Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten The World Economy by Raghuram Rajan
    3. Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists by Raghuram Rajan
    4. Clash Civilizations by Samuel Huntington


    1. Anirudh:

      My book list is books the present me would refer the me of my 20s to. It’s very specific to me, not for universal consumption. I wish I had them then. Why the Tim Harford book? Because it is a window to a world of extraordinary objects that we (most of us, and unthinkingly so) consider not very significant in the grand scheme. I agree that there are other books in the genre but I have read this book and liked it.

      About the five books that you say are likely to have repetitive content. They all explore broad themes — government, governance, individual liberty, rights, etc. They all look at it from different angles. I am a firm believer in the “walking around the elephant to understand the animal” school of thought. Ideas take time to fully sink in. I have never been fully able to internalize complex, unintuitive ideas with just one cursory reading. You’d be surprised to know that I spend about half my reading time in re-reading the fundamentals of my discipline — stuff that I have read several times.

      I include Hayek’s Fatal Conceit and then add the Essential Hayek. Repetition? Not really since the Essential Hayek introduces other aspects of Hayek’s work not contained in the FC.

      Regarding your question on those four books you mention. Many years ago I had watched Randy Pausch’s last lecture. Interesting and a serious topic discussed with humor and humanity. I have also read Huntington’s essay on the Clash of Civilizations and the associated book. The subject matter is fascinating and I agree with the basic thesis.

      I have not read Raghuram Rajan’s books. His thesis in Saving Capitalism is unexceptionable: big business is often bad for capitalism when it gets into bed with the government. This I gathered from reading a few reviews of the book. Since I don’t have to be convinced of that, and also because I have a huge pile of books to be read, I decided against reading RR.

      Thanks for your comment.


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