As is the fashion for this time of year, here are my top ten books of 2010. As I tend to read books that are both old and new, these are the top 10 books I have read this year.
1. The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850 by Joel Mokyr – Although I don’t agree with the underlying hypothesis, it is a great analysis of the Industrial Revolution.
2. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff – It is nice to put the recent crisis in perspective.
3. Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves by Andrew Ross Sorkin – As a critic of the bailouts during the crisis, this book put a seed of doubt in my mind as to whether I would have stuck to my guns if I was the one pulling the levers. It is one thing to criticise from the ivory tower. It is another to be in the midst of the panic with the responsibility on your shoulders. Sorkin puts you in the room like no other.
4. Charles Darwin – Voyaging by Janet Browne – I am only halfway through this book, but it adds some great colour to Darwin’s life. I have read a number of Darwin biographies and (so far) this is comfortably the best.
5. Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester – I read this sitting on the beach in Bali. I could not have picked a better introduction to Indonesia (apart from possibly Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago).
6. Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller – As with most books that advocate the use of psychology in economics, I agree with the concept that we need an economics that incorporates real humans. As is also usually the case, I am uncomfortable with the extent that Akerlof and Shiller advocate the use of government power to constrain the “animal spirits”. I am not sure it is so easy. However, the book is a great read (in plain English) and raises plenty of interesting ideas.
7. The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson – Of all the books applying economics to new areas, this was the most fun.
8. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe – A bit dated, not particularly subtle and it is hard to like any of the characters, but I couldn’t put it down.
9. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall – This book had possibly the greatest practical effect on me. I have moved to bare foot (or near bare foot) running and years of shin pain have gone away. And as an aside, the story is great.
10. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis – Lewis finds the humour in the chaos better than most. The question that hangs in the air through this book is what is the social purpose behind this gambling.