Saturday, May 15, 2010

Which books should I recommend?

I am in the process of becoming an Amazon associate. This is unlikely to make me rich, but it is still worth doing to highlight some books relating to freedom and flourishing that I would like to recommend to readers.

Which books? When I started making a list I quickly noted around 30 titles, but the carousal widget that I had decided to use has room for only 10 books. So I have focussed on the books I would recommend to a person somewhat like myself – a person with a background in economic policy or business who is becoming increasingly interested in broad issues relating to human flourishing, including the role of liberty, the nature of happiness and the ethics of well-being.

My recommendations are not listed in any particular order. See the carousal (at right) for links to Amazon.

1. ‘Happiness: A History’, by Darrin McMahon.
This book traces the way ideas about happiness have changed through history. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the inclusion of ‘pursuit of happiness’ in the US Declaration of Independence. There is a quote from the book in my post: Does the evolution of ideas about happiness intersect with the evolution of ideas about markets?

2. ‘Norms of Liberty’, by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl.
Is liberty compatible with human flourishing? This book argues that not only is liberty compatible with human flourishing, it is also necessary because individual flourishing is an inherently self-directed activity. The book is not an easy read, but well worth the effort for anyone with any interest in political philosophy. The book is discussed briefly in my posts: Is freedom a necessary condition for human flourishing? and Why should we view individual rights as metanormative principles?

3. ‘Happiness: The science behind your smile’, by Daniel Nettle.
This little book provides an excellent introduction to the science of happiness. I particularly like Nettle’s discussion of different kinds of happiness and of the distinction between wanting and liking. Some comments relating to the book are included in posts here, here and here.

4. ‘The Logic of Life’, by Tim Harford.
This is my favourite among the spate of books that have been written over the last few years about the economics of everything. The basic idea is that if you want to understand how the world works keep in mind that people tend to respond to incentives. I have discussed the book here.

5. ‘Predictably Irrational’, by Dan Ariely.
This book is a good introduction to behavioural economics. Ariely describes experiments which show that we are often not as rational as we might think we are. I have discussed the book here.

6. ‘Well-being for Public Policy’, by Ed Diener, Richard Lucas, Ulrich Schimmack and John Helliwell.
This book probably has the best account currently available about the relevance of subjective well-being measures to consideration of public policy issues. I have some comments on the book here and here and in a review essay for ‘Policy’, Summer 2009-10.

7. ‘In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government’, by Charles Murray.
This book was first published in 1988, but the views it presents are still highly relevant today. Anyone considering the potential relevance of happiness research to public policy should read this book. I have commented on the book here and here.

8. ‘The Pursuit of Unhappiness’, by Daniel Haybron.
This book is a philosophical exercise in clear thinking about the nature of happiness. It is fairly difficult to read, but provides plenty of food for thought about the directions of well-being research. It also provides some grounds for concern about the direction in which western society may be heading. I discussed the book here, here, here and here.

9. ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’, by Jonathan Haidt.
Martin Seligman, author of ‘Authentic Happiness’ is quoted on the cover of the book as saying: ‘For the reader who seeks to understand happiness, my advice is: Begin with Haidt’. That is high praise from the author of another very good book. I particularly like Haidt’s view that some of the conditions for happiness come from within us and others require relationships with other people, our work and 'something larger' than ourselves. There are some references to Haidt’s book in my posts here and here.

10. ‘What is Good and Why, by Richard Kraut.
This is a highly readable book about ethics. The main purpose of the book is to establish that we should specify ‘for whom’ or ‘for what’ when we talk about what is good. Kraut presents a developmental view of human well-being. I discussed the book in posts here , here and here.


cheap bus hire said...

Well, it is up to you. All books are good :)

Thanks for sharing this.

Jan said...

Books, like many things in life need to be thought about and carefully considered. Just because it is the written word does not make something Gospel truth. often used today that in many ways its becoming a worn-out word...much like love.

Love is slowly becoming commonplace due to over-use. Why don't people simply like people any more? Why do they have to say love them?

Maybe I'm simply remembering the depth of love and don't like to see it being taken as just another word.

Winton Bates said...

Thanks for your comments, Jan.

About love, I agree that the word is over-used. Perhaps the problem is that it has too many different meanings - loving-kindness, maternal and paternal love, infatuation, marital love, deep and lasting affection between friends.

Someone once told me that one way uncover what people really mean by love is to ask them to complete the sentence: If he/she really loved me he/she would ... .

A man might be prepared to die to protect his wife, whom he loves deeply, but the relationship could be in a lot of trouble if his wife is of the view that if he really loved me he would not have to be reminded to take out the garbage.

If only we could read the minds of the people we love!