As those who follow this blog closely know, I review a large number of books throughout the year. However, I have yet to distill the reviews down to my all-time favorites. This is partly because I enjoy most of the books I read: There are so many excellent writers and interesting topics that it is easy to consistently find great books. Throughout my time as a serious reader, though, I have come across several books that I believe are simply unmatched in their prose, content, and structure. This certainly does not make them the last word on a topic, but it does mean that they will be enjoyed and appreciated by nearly everyone who has the fortune of reading them. Thus, in no particular order, here are my absolute favorite books.
1. Europe’s Orphan (by Martin Sandbu) – This is, in my opinion, the single best revisionist history of the euro crisis. It powerfully refutes the idea that structural issues in the Eurozone created the disaster that was the European sovereign debt crisis, arguing instead that inept politicians and bureaucrats are primarily to blame. While this is certainly a controversial take, the book is tightly argued and full of novel, insightful analysis.
2. How Asia Works (by Joe Studwell) – To me, this is the single best book written on development economics and Asian economic growth to date. Posing a powerful challenge to the Washington Consensus, How Asia Works argues for a unique form of land reform and export-based industrial policy in developing economies. It does an excellent job of synthesizing insights from throughout economics, and it offers an original and highly compelling argument.
3. Seeing Like a State (by James Scott) – As a classic, this book has probably been read by just about everyone with a social science background. Seeing Like a State, though very wide-ranging, is essentially a comprehensive critique of high modernism. The book has a distinct libertarian, almost Hayekian, tone, but it is far from a paean to free markets and capitalism. Instead, it offers a more general critique of centralized organization and inorganic attempts at imposing uniformity and structure onto the world. I am still grappling with the book’s arguments today, and I certainly do not agree with them in their strongest form. However, the positions advanced in this book have significantly influenced my thinking about the world and forced me to reflect upon issues I would have otherwise never considered.
4. The Rising Sun (by John Toland) – The ability of this book to present serious history within a highly readable framework is second to none. Indeed, I will confidently say that if you were to read one book on the Pacific War, it should be this one. I’ll go even further, in fact: I consider this book to be the best piece of writing that I have ever come across. Its superb balance between micro and macro perspectives, along with its somewhat unique Japanese-focused perspective, makes it both deeply illuminating and an absolute joy to read.