Having presumed to judge bloggers by their Top Ten Influential Books Lists, I think it’s only sporting if I publish my own and subject it to the same critique. Here it is:
1. Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities
2. Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
3. Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate
4. Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn / Gregory Cochan, The 10,000 Year Explosion
5. Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity
6. Willmoore Kendall, Contra Mundum
7. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead. I don’t think I have any Randianism left in me, but my wife would say that I’m as obnoxious today as I was the week after I read The Fountainhead for the first time.
8. Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities
9. Robert Nozick, Philosophical Investigations. Back when I had the energy to do (or try to do) philosophy, I was enthralled by Nozick’s “non-coercive” approach.
10. John Henry Newman, Grammar of Assent.*
How do I stack up? Let’s review the categories:
1. “I admit that I was pretty silly at age 18.” I’m afraid I flunk here, as my choice (Ayn Rand) is severely lacking in erudition and inventiveness.
2. “My interests are more diverse than you know.” I flunk here too — it’s all non-fiction except for Rand and Wolfe’s “non-fiction novel,” Bonfire. I do read some fiction, and I’ve committed rather a lot of poetry to memory, but I can’t name any of it as a top influence.
3. “I have read deeply enough in the Western Canon to consider the Great Books my friends.” Here I think I do pretty well. None of my selections would be assigned in a Western Civ survey course, but you couldn’t read most of the stuff on my list without some familiarity with the Western Canon.
4. “I am not afraid to defend a book that you may hate.” I like my choice of Wade/Cochran. I realize that it makes me a Bad Person, but I am fascinated by the question of recent human evolution.
5. “I may have my biases, but I have still read and learned from the other side.” Here, my performance is mediocre. Pinker’s politics, I think, are basically liberal, and Jacobs is a hero to many on the left. Still, while I have one famous libertarian (Rand) and at least one famous conservative (Kendall) on my list, I don’t have anything to balance them out on the left. Most of the others are hard to classify.
6. “I have a well-formed coherent worldview.” My list is rather eclectic, so I think I get points for inventiveness and freedom of thought here.
7. “Gosh, I sure was precocious as a kid!” Ayn Rand doesn’t cut the mustard, I’m afraid. My reading got more sophisticated after age 18 — but that doesn’t count in this category.
8. “I’ve got some serious candlepower in here.” Here I do rather well with the choice of Nozick. He’s unpredictable and delightful, but definitely not easy.
9. “There’s no way the rest of you guys have read anything as obscure as this.” Not many people have read Newman’s Grammar or Chateaubriand’s Genius. This might be my best category.
10. “I may be highly literate but I’m not an intellectual snob.” I don’t really have an entry here, since I don’t have the gumption to defend Rand (although I honestly do still think she’s wonderful).
Overall performance: OK, but not quite up there with Cowen or Yglesias.
* Runners up: Harold Berman, Law and Revolution; Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus; Richard Posner, lots of books butespecially Law, Pragmatism and Democracy; Joseph de Maistre, St. Petersburg Dialogues; Paul Fussell, Class; John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility.