Favorite Nonfiction – Current list (Rated 1-10)
The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story 2021. Extraordinary complete integration of a vast literature on racism and slavery in the US, organized around themes. Illlistened to an 18 hour recording on Audibles. It is worth all 624 pages in print. NYTimes bestseller. 10/10.
Be Well, a guide to better mental health for all. Jessica Clemens, 2022. Audiobook only. Excellent 5 hour summary of the different major mental illnesses (anxiety, ADHD, depression, PTSD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, substance abuse…) and their treatments in a very accessible, non-threatening narrative. I learned a lot, such as that OCD is mostly an anxiety disorder, and that it and depression are often curable, while PTSD and SA others are harder to cure but amenable to improvement. Great read for anyone to be better informed. 9/10.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Richard Rothstein 2017. WOW. This important, carefully researched review of the many facets of discrimination facing African-Americans in the US recent past covers restrictive housing and zoning, income and wealth taxes, labor law, union policy, law enforcement, income discrimination, property tax assessments, education, and more. 11/10.
Four Hundred Souls. Ibram X Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. 2021. Voices of 90 distinguished African Americans provide glimpses of slavery and African American existence in the US, ordered chronologically by five year increments from 1619-2019. Very powerful. I later listened to and enjoyed the 1619 Project slightly more, but the two are very congruent. 9/10.
Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains. Kerri Arsenault . 2020. This autobiography and history of the small city of Rumford Maine discusses our governments and public blindness to major factory risks of cancer as well as the remarkable discrimination against French-speaking Acadians. 8/10
Our Time is Now. Stacey Abrams. 2020. WOW! Abrams has generated an amazing insightful and carefully documented book about the many different ways in which democracy and in particular elections are biased against minorities and especially blacks. It is exciting to learn about her methods and successes in doing so much in Georgia and other southern states. Her summary of how authoritarian populism is sweeping the world and endangering the US in Chapter 9 is the best overview I have read. I recommend this book to everyone. 11/10.
The Warmth of Other Suns. Isabel Wilkerson, 2011. Excited by the rich historical detail in Caste written in 2020, I listened twice to Wilkerson’s earlier 2011 tome on the African-Amercan great migration from the south to the north, as captures in rich detail in histories of three families who migrated to New York City, Chicago/Milwaukee, and California. Another masterpiece deserving of a close read. 9/10
The Whiteness of Wealth. Dorothy Brown. 2020. I greatly enjoyed the careful attention to tax and income statistics in this factual yet full of personal insight about the biases of the US tax code written by an MBA in accounting. 8/10.
Bagman: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover Up and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House. Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz. 2020. This book is all about Spiro Agnew, who not only left in disgrace, but was a horrible person. Read or better yet listen to the podcast (as I did) about this important event. I only wish that we were in such a noble era today, where evil behavior was punished by both parties. 7/10
Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds, Paul Farmer, 2020. I have cherished and admired Paul’s earlier masterpiece “Mountains Beyond Mountains” (2003) which is about post-earthquake health care by Partners in Health in Haiti, but introduces his mission trips. This book is primarily about the Ebola epidemic of 2014, which was centered in the medical desert around Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but also about the history of slavery in Africa, Europe, and the East Indies, colonialism and imperialism, and the horrible behavior of western countries toward Sierra Leone and other African countries. It ends with a strong criticism of Doctors without Borders, and their slowness to move from containment to care for Ebola victims. Interesting parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic. 8/10.
Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson, 2020. This brilliant, original, incredibly well-written book examines the similarities between the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany. It is a mind-opening book that everyone should read. Here is an extract from the Book of the Month Club summary:
“Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics.” 11/10
This is my favorite book of all time on Audibles.com, which I listened to a second time while commuting. I would be happy to gift it to anyone who sends me an email request, since the first book on Audibles is free. Just click here. It is also available for a few dollars on Kindle or as an electronic book, or about $15 for a new or used paper copy.
How the South Won the Civil War. Heather Cox Richardson. 2020. This book is best read in light of the other excellent work by Wilkerson and Kendi, with abundant facts about how the Southern politicians were able for form an alliance with the newly created western states in the reconstruction period that continues to this day, built on images of cowboys and freedom over government involvement. I does a better job than some others on racism and caste in its coverage of the suppression of native Americans, Chinese, non-evangelical Christians, and anyone who believes in government supported redistibution as part of the Southern coalition. (8.5/10)
How To Be An Antiracist. Ibram X. Kendi 2019. (Boston University professor and director of BU Center for Antiracist Research). This extraordinarily well written and researched book should be required reading for anyone trying to understand systemic racism in the US and around the world. I listened to it in the Audiobook version. It is a more powerful critique than the book by Ijeaomo Oluo mentionned below and will make you uncomfortable. . It did an excellent job arguing against some of my own doubts and racist thoughts. I have a copy that I would be willing to lend you if you wish. 10/10
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know. Malcolm Gladwell. 2019. Just as I have loved Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, I really like this book. Gladwell makes his discussion so vivid with lots of concrete examples. I have actually been enjoying the free Audiobook version, which is free to you if you have not yet downloaded the Audible app. The audiobook has recordings from actual police stops and court proceedings that make it incredibly interesting. Along the way you will appreciate differences by race, sex, foreigners, law officials, liars, cheaters, and above all understand people and make better decisions. 10/10
So you want to talk about race. Ijeaoma Oluo. 2018. I was inspired to read this book on systematic racism in the US by Austin Frakt’s Incidental Economist blogs about it. I was delighted with the Audiobook reading of it which was both deep and easy to follow. It will make you feel uncomfortable, particularly if like me you are a white, high-income male of privilege. I feel like I learned a lot, even if it is hard to change even a little. The image of blacks walking around and getting a constant series of “punch in the arms” from systemic racism is something that will stick with me and perhaps help me pause to try to recognize and minimize the many “mini-aggressions” that she documents so well. Low-cost paper copies are here. I rate it 9.5/10
Break Shot, James Taylor. 2019, is only available as an audible book, is an autobiography of his first 21 years of this folk/rock singer’s life, which features stories about his struggle with addictions and depression, six months in McLean psychiatric hospital, the origins and meanings of favorite songs, and how the Beatles and Apple records befriended him to give him the Break Shot of his life, giving him a wonderful opportunity after a childhood of challenges. At only 1:30, it is a quick listen. It is a wonderful audiobook with his singing and his own voice. I rate it 8/10.
Caffeine: How coffee and tea created the modern world. Michael Pollan: 2019. This fascinating overview of the history and uses of coffee and tea is light listening. I learned a lot from it, including that England was once more addicted to coffee than tea, and made the switch to tea because it was less expensive. More importantly, it highlights the role of caffeine in furthering the industrial revolution! Only on audiobook, and only 2 hours long. 7/10
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Lori Gottlieb. 2019. I loved this book! It is written by a woman who started out as a scriptwriter for Grey’s Anatomy, who started shadowing an MD in the emergency room to better write script, who went to medical school but then dropped out when she realized she really liked the personal interaction which is rare in our health care system, who then became a psychological therapist. The book blends her own therapy with discussions of many of her clients. I liked the insights about therapy and what it is trying to achieve. It will capture you and is a good one to recommend and discuss at a book group. 8/10
Educated. Tara Westover. 2018. This memoir written by a lifelong Mormon growing up in Idaho under unimaginable living conditions who overcomes it to become a PhD success was voted the Amazon Editors’ #1 Pick for the Best Book of 2018. I need not say anything more. 10/10
Becoming. Michelle Obama. 2018. I am probably the last person among my book reading friends to finally read this book. Fascinating. I really like Michelle and think she is not yet done having a big impact on the US. 8/10
The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens, by Samuel Bowles. 2017. I have not read this book yet but Rachel Kranton’s review in the March 2019 Journal of Economic Literature was excellent, and I am looking forward to reading it. Its main thesis can be summarized as: Since economists know that policies can change beliefs and expectations, and these beliefs can affect outcomes, then when designing or studying policies we should spend more time analyzing the changes in beliefs they may cause, and designing policies to reinforce socially desirable outcomes rather than assuming that only incentives matter. 7/10
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. Richard Thaler. 2015. This overview of Behavioral Economics (BE) by Nobel price winner Richard Thaler (U. Chicago) Who also wrote the wonderful book Nudge, is for me the best overview of not only BE, but also documentation of why it has so often been unsuccessful at being widely adopted. The points he makes in chapter 3 The Gauntlet summarizes the critiques of BE and how to rebut them and should be essential reading for anyone trying to do their own research in BE since you will face them whenever you try to present or publish your work. The entire book is devoted to dismissing the gauntlet arguments and gives a tremendously easy-to-read synthesis of the literature. 9/10
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds Michael Lewis Dec 6, 2016 This remarkable and easy to read book is written as a biography of two Israelis, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, but along the way covers a long list of their remarkable insights and experiments. I highly recommend it to people who tried to read the original, dense book Thinking, Fast and Slow (see below) by these pioneers of behavioral economics. 9/10
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Mar 26, 2013. This is more of a how-to book for business managers and anyone about ways of overcoming biases in how decisions are made, but along the way has a nice overview of the many biases and irrationalities in our thought process. First example: when asked to choose between A and B, don’t. Instead, figure out how to do A+B or something even better. 8/10
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell 2007. I read this book a long time ago, but added it here since it remains a very powerful and important book. I recommend and have read almost all of Malcolm Gladwell’s work (See especially Outliers and The Tipping Point). His work gives important insights into how people actually make decisions, which are often based on simple heuristics and very little information compared to how decisions are typically modeled by economists. 9/10
Thank you for being late. Thomas Friedman, November 2016. This book extends the previous books by Friedman called The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded (also great books). It develops the key ideas that the market has speeded up, Mother Nature is under siege from many directions, and Moore’s law are combining to accelerate the world dramatically. He makes a great point that connectivity became fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous, in 2000, and complexity became fast, free, easy for you, and invisible around 2007. I like that the book includes a healthy dose of optimism about what people can do to plan ahead. 8/10
The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson, the story of the Blitz in England, and how Churchill led the way. 8/10
Getting a PhD in Economics. Stuart J. Hillmon. 2014. “A good guide, written with wit and honesty that reflects an economist’s way of viewing reality.”—David Colander, Middlebury College “Clear, direct, and fun to read, this book captures all the major aspects of applying to and succeeding in a Ph.D. program in economics.”—Mark C. Foley, Davidson College. 8/10
Payoff by Dan Ariely. 2017. This short book of only 128 pages challenges the economist’s model of people as simply caring about income and minimizing time. He provides abundant examples and experimental results that show that people work harder when their work is appreciated, and they feel that their work is meaningful. Increasing income may be much less important than subtle, almost costless changes in work conditions and interactions.9/10
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business. Charles Duhigg. Feb 28, 2012. We tend to think that many of our decisions are controlled by our analytical minds and made rationally, but this book shows how many decisions we make every day – driving a car, brushing our teeth, snacking, smoking, pleasantries – are controlled by even more basic mental processes that are much harder to change. He considers habits of individuals, firms, and societies. 8/10
The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty. Dan Ariely. 2013. This is an eye-opening overview of a large series of laboratory experiments that show that it is not the case that 90% people are honest with only a few dishonest people, but rather almost everyone will cheat a little bit when given an opportunity. The economist’s “rational crime” theory – that people trade off the gains of dishonesty against the probability and cost of getting caught – does an extremely poor job capturing factors that motivate cheating and dishonesty. A better framework is that almost everyone cheats and is dishonest, but it is only a matter of degree, and depends on the social setting.9/10
The Devil’s Poison: How Fluoride is Killing You. D2008
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. July 2, 2013. This book, with selective, but useful cites, argues that rather than intelligence and great test scores, success in life
The Health Care Handbook: A Clear and Concise Guide to the United States Health Care System, 2nd Edition Paperback – November 15, 2014. by Elisabeth Askin (Author), Nathan Moore (Author) Paper: $15.99 Electronic: $8.99 Concise summary of the ridiculous US health care system, particularly strong on insurance and payment systems. An excellent supplement to a textbook that covers health economics models and concepts, describing US institutions. 6/10
A Guide for the Young Economist. William Thomson 2011 (Second Edition) Excellent overview of ideas for starting or improving your career as an economist, covering writing, advising, presenting, refereeing and more. “This Guide should be read by every young economist under the age of 90.” (As Daniel Hammermesh wrote on the back cover). 6/10
Risk Adjustment for Measuring Health Care Outcomes (Fourth Edition), Lisa I Iezzoni (2013) Excellent overview of risk adjustment, case-mix adjustment, datasets, propensity scoring, clinical, social and statistical issues is a must-read for anyone doing empirical risk adjustment work. 6/10
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis. 2011. W. W. Norton & Company. Describes the colossal errors in judgment that resulted in Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and others to crash in 2008, with a discussion of Germany and the US. Not as good as the same author’s The Big Short, but useful. 6/10
Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care Reform Paul Starr. 2011. (Yale University Press, October 3, 2011). Excellent, detailed overview of why it took so long to pass health care reform in the US, and the problems and strengths with the current reform.7/10
Thinking, Fast and Slow. Danial Kahneman, 2011 – Remarkable insights into how people actually make choices
Health Care Reform. Jon Gruber. 2011 – Short, accessible, important overview of why mandates, ban on exclusions, and subsidies are all key. Comic book format!
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein. 2008. – Behavioral economics insights, with some proposals for reform.9/10
Survival of the Sickest. Sharon Moalem, 2007 – Why genetic selection can often cause “genetic defects” 9/10
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Dan Ariely. 2010 – Wonderful insights into how choices are made. 10/10
When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. Martin Jacques. 2009 – Excellent overview of how world trade and production have changed. 8/10
Mountains Beyond Mountains. Tracy Kidder. 2003 – Inspiring story of how Harvard MD Paul Farmer changed health care in Haiti and the world. 10/10
Angela’s Ashes. Frank McCourt. 1996. “A 1996 memoir by the Irish-American author Frank McCourt, with various anecdotes and stories of his childhood. It details his very early childhood in Brooklyn, New York, but focuses primarily on his life in Limerick, Ireland.” 9/10
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. 1992. John Gray. Great insights into how men and women stereotypically (not always) view the world. 9/10
The Case Against Fluoride. Paul Connett, James Beck, and H.S. Micklem. 2010 – A continuing hobby.
American Girl, Wendy Walker (2022) interesting who done it murder mystery by a teenager gives insights into the mind of a teenage girl with autism spectrum disorders. I listened to it on Audibles. 9/10 for its genre.
Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson (2013) “provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention.” Even sections on rice cookers and popcorn makers. 8/10 (actually nonfiction, but it is an escape book so I put it in here.)
War and Peace. Leon Tolstoy. I started listening to this on Audibles but gave up on chapter 2. Too many long names to keep track of for commuting reader. 3/10.
Grapes of Wrath. Jon Steinbeck. 1939. This classic story of a white family that left the dustbowl of Oklahoma in the Great Depression and the discrimination and challenges as “Okies” they faced even in California is also a precursor of the discrimination that minorities still face even today. 8/10
The Things they Carried. Tim Obrien, 2015. I am not yet done with this on Audibles, but I really like it the author claims that much of it is fiction, but others say most of it is true. Either way, it gives you a clear view of life and death in the Vietnam War. 8/10
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I did not expect to like this as much as I did, which is about a disfunctional family whose father buys a mansion that drives many of the bad outcome in the rest of his life. Set in Pennsylvania and New York City 7/10
I purchased “Ten Masterpieces You Have to Read before you Die” as an Audiobook, which has 102 hours of classic books recorded. I finished all of them. Here they are ranked from favorite to least favorite.
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” L Frank Baum. I never realized how much the movie differs from the book. Great fun.
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain – Remarkably clever yarns.
“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson – thoroughly enjoyed
“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Lots of fun, but you have to pay attention to every detail, which was hard while commuting.
“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott – surprisingly interesting as a period piece.
“The Innocence of Father Brown” by G.K.Chesterton – entirely new, and like Sherlock Holmes, with always surprising twists.I had never heard of this series.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austin – I did not get into this as much as some others.
“The Odyssey” by Homer – dry, but I am glad I heard it. Sort of.
“Tales of Two Cities” Charles Dickens (I did not finish because the recording was of poor quality)
Alex Michaelides. The Silent Patient. This bestseller is a psychological thriller about art, psychology, and murder. It is rich in details about love, betrayal, evil, and the ills of psychiatric hospitals. You will be both happy and sad as you listen. I think the book is probably almost as good as the audiobook, although I really liked the voices and emotions of the audiobook. The audio is 8 hours long, but it flies by. I rate it 9/10, leaving me room to have other books above it.
Twilight Trilogy Stephenie Meyer. 2005. (OK, so my daughter was reading them first…)
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. 1997.
Middlesex: A Novel Jeffrey Eugenides. 2002 From the book’s web page: “A dazzling triumph from the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides –the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek-American family and flowers in the body of a teenage girl.”
Rachel Kranton, 2019. “The Devil Is in the Details: Implications of Samuel Bowles’s The Moral Economy for Economics and Policy Research” JEL. 57(1), 147–160.
Geruso, M. and Layton, T.J., 2017. Selection in Health Insurance Markets and Its Policy Remedies. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(4), pp.23-50.
Ellis, Randall P. , Bruno Martins, and Wenjia Zhu (2017) Demand elasticities and service selection incentives among competing private health plans. Journal of Health Economics.
Sendhil Mullainathan and Jann Spiess 2017. Machine Learning: An Applied Econometric ApproachJournal of Economic Perspectives vol. 31, no. 2, Spring 2017 (pp. 87-106)
Kantaravic, Jasmin and Kralj Boris, (2012) Link between Pay for Performance Incentives and Physician Payment Mechanisms: Evidence from the Diabetes Management Incentive in Ontario.Health Economics. Excellent methodologically rigorous paper showing that pay for performance can significantly affect outcomes, and that a mixed system can work.
Moseley et al,. 2002. A Controlled Trial of Arthroscopic Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Knee. New England Journal of Medicine– Arthroscopies for Osteoarthritis of the Knee cost $3 billion per year in the US ($10 per American!), but don’t work, and controlled trials of surgery ARE feasible.
Ruhm, Chris. 2005. Healthy Living in Hard Times, Journal of Health Economics – Recessions result in fewer deaths and better health, reminding us that medical care is secondary to lifestyle.
Bleakley, Hoyt. 2007 Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South, Quarterly Journal of Economics, This paper in graphs. Shows the value of wearing shoes.
Ellis RP and McGuire TG. 1986. “Provider Behavior under Prospective Payment: Cost Sharing and Supply.” Journal of Health Economics.
Ash, Arlene S., Ellis, Randall P. “Risk-adjusted Payment and Performance Assessment for Primary Care.”Medical Care 50(8) August 2012.
Amalfi Hotel, Chicago. 20 West Kinzie St. Free internet, abundant free continental buffet, free happy hour with horsd’oeurves, cheap (AEA discounted) price. Great boutique hotel. Not a chain. On-line rate (winter discount on 1/12/2012) from $122. www.amalfihotelchicago.com
Bertram Inn, Boston.20 minute walk (1.1 miles) to BU, 3 minutes walk to Green subway line. Luxurious Inn/Bed and breakfast, fireplaces, quilts, home-style bedrooms. (I have never stayed there, but hear good reviews.) Ask for the BU discount (significant) when reserving and checking in. (On line winter rate on 1/12/2012 of $119, a steal for Boston) http://www.bertraminn.com/
Hotel Edelweis Rigi, Mt Rigi, Switzerland, at 1500 meters, Situated on on a ridge with fantastic views of Lake Lucerne (Luzern) and the surrounding alps. Only a two minute walk from the Mount Rigi Cog railway station. Wonderful food, views from balconied rooms and excellent hiking trails including a cliff walk trail that is one of the most special in the world. http://www.edelweiss-rigi.ch/
I welcome more suggestions for any of the above categories.