As 2003 draws to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the great books I did not read this year. This has been a particularly good year for not reading books. I would go so far as to say that there are more books I did not read this year than in any year in the recent past. Although a significant part of my job consists in sitting somewhere and reading something, I have still managed to find the time not to read a very wide range of material from many different fields. In special cases, I have bought the book and then not read it. Mostly, though, I did not get around to even doing that. I thought I would present my ten favorite nonfiction books I did not read this year. I hope that they will not deepen your knowledge or broaden your mind in 2004, as they didn’t with me.
Here they are, in the order I did not read them:
1. Heat Wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg. This book tops my list mainly because Chris asked me to review it last year for his journal. I even brought it with me when I moved to Australia. I haven’t read it, though. (I should add that I haven’t reviewed it, either.)
2. One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century by Donald Sassoon. After seeing Sassoon’s excellent interview with Karl Marx earlier this year, I immediately wanted to not read this book.
3. The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets, 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson. I have been not reading Ferguson since before he was a celebrity academic. This book has been on my “Must Not Read” list for several years now, and looks to set stay there for some time.
4. Kantian Humility: Our ignorance of things in themselves by Rae Langton. I got to know Rae when she was visiting the RSSS this year and she used an example I gave her in one of her talks, so I really should get around to reading her book. A creative and enlightening interpretation of one of the most difficult of philosophers, Kantian Humility is the kind of book I would really learn something from, assuming I read it sometime.
5. John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946 by Robert Skidelsky. Skidelsky has been writing his magesterial biography of Keynes for many years, so much so that he is now Lord Skidelsky. I have been not reading it for almost as long, though without being elevated to the peerage. This superb three-volume study will likely be displaced by an abridged one-volume edition due out soon, which will be shorter and therefore easier to not read. (On reflection, it is a nice question whether shorter books are easier or harder to not read than longer books.)
6. Game Theory Evolving by Herbert Gintis. A comprehensive and elegantly presented introduction to game theory that takes a problem-centered approach requiring only basic calculus—“This book is perfect for upper undergraduate and graduate economics courses as well as a terrific introduction for ambitious do-it-yourselfers throughout the behavioral sciences.” Its place on this list is therefore assured for the indefinite future.
7. Upheavals of Thought by Martha Nussbaum. A remarkable book about thought and the emotions which looks set to join Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self somewhere in my bedroom. Maybe it fell behind the dresser.
8. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. Actually I’m quite happy not to have read this one.
9. Athenian Democracy by A.H.M. Jones. I picked up a copy of this in Melbourne and read two of the essays, so you may think it doesn’t qualify. But the book—a marvel of compact, lucid prose and judicious use of the sources, by a mid-20th century giant in the field—deserves its place here. It is so well-written and approachable that you can read pages and pages of careful commentary on the social structure of Athenian society before remembering that you have no real idea who any of the historical figures are, what the relevant sequence of events is, or which century is presently under discussion. Athenian Democracy is that rare sort of book, in other words, which you can have read and still effectively not have read at all.
10. The Social System by Talcott Parsons. Don’t tell anyone. (But let he who is without sin, etc.)