On Saturday, a reader asked me for the names of the five best books I've read, and I responded that books have qualities along so many dimensions that ranking them on one scale doesn't bring out their value. So instead I list below ten books that were influential in developing my thinking. These are what I'd call, "first level" books, namely they involve a first hand account or a detailed analysis of actual facts or events, or something similar. A superb, but complex synthesis of thought like "Totalitarianism" by Hannah Arendt, the subject of Saturday's post that prompted the question, is not on the list.
I admit I've never read the entire Bible or even most of it, so I can't put it on my list.
Here is the list, not in a ranked order.
1. Memoirs, U. S. Grant; alternative is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War, by James M. McPherson.
2. Battle for North America, by Francis Parkham. This book uses first hand accounts of the earliest French and English explorer to cover the entire history of North American, including Indian activities, from discovery to 1765. Outstanding.
3. Monetary History of the United States, by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz. A super history of US economic development to modern times.
4. The Robber Barons, by Matthew Josephson. A classic account of the rich and powerful in the US in the 19th century.
5. The Illiad. Perhaps an accurate title would have been "The Rage of Achilles".
6. Classical Mechanics, by Herbert Goldstein. This is a first year graduate school text in theoretical physics. Alternate, Mechanics by E. M. Lifshitz and L. D. Landau.
7. The Classical Theory of Fields, by L. D. Landau and E. M. Lifshitz. This is also as first year graduate school text in theoretical physics.
Regarding books #6 and #7, I read them by age 19 [yes, I was a good student] and they influenced my thinking and career very much. I wish I could list a book on quantum mechanics, but I learned it from my professors at Harvard and many sources including journal papers. By the way my professors included many Nobel Prize winners. Seeing how complex phenomena can be explained with "simple" mathematical structures and symmetries can determine laws of physics had helped me think about many complex phenomena including markets. That's how I think about markets - like complex particle interactions.
The next three books all relate to freedom. To borrow some phraseology of a friend's email to me, "I'm a bit nuts about freedom".
8. I Chose Freedom, by Victor Kravchenko. This book is listed in my blog background as a favorite book.
9. Witness by Whittaker Chambers.
10. The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich Hayak.
The above three books: #8 is a first hand account of Stalinism in the 1930s and 1940s; #9 is a first hand account of communist spying in America in the 1930s and 1940s; #10 is a core analysis of socialism leading inevitably to a form of serfdom for the people by a Nobel prize winner in economics.