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Reading recommendations for books with a contested thesis

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The books in this category are of an "applied" nature. They draw on ideas across many fields to advocate for a case. The cases made in these books may be controversial among scholars. Readers of the books should not blindly accept the arguments put forth by the authors, but should use the books to obtain a richer understanding of the ideas being discussed. For a richer understanding, readers are encouraged to look for online reviews, debates, and discussions surrounding the books and the theses presented in them.

Readers often require a strong interdisciplinary grasp in order to be able to form independent informed evaluations of the arguments presented in the books. Readers without such a grasp should be particularly wary of accepting statements made by the authors at face value without verifying them against independent sources.

Cognitive psychology

Book Author Purchase links What it's about
Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman Amazon link The book is a summary of decades of research into human behavior, in particular the systematic biases and cognitive errors that humans commit. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for the work that he describes in this book.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion Jonathan Haidt Amazon link The book describes findings related to a relatively new field of research in psychology called moral psychology. This field aims to understand the different dimensions of what people call morality, and the researchers have identified about five axes. Their website, where you can take a survey to find out your own brand of morality, is yourmorals.org.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert Cialdini Amazon link This is the Bible of influence.
The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do John Oldham and Lois Morris Amazon link This book is based on the American Psychiatry Association's official diagnostic system, and sheds light on different personality types.

Global trends

Explaining the past

Book Author Purchase links What it's about
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker Amazon link The book presents numerous arguments to argue that violence has declined, and offers as well as rejects numerous explanations for the phenomenon.
Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World Deirdre McCloskey Amazon link McCloskey's book is an attempt to answer the question of why standards of living did not improve much until the 18th century, and then improved dramatically between the 18th and the 20th century. McCloskey considers numerous hypotheses proposed by others, and offers rebuttals to each. She then offers her own thesis and attempts to justify it. The book is part of a lengthy series.
we recommend the book largely because of its discussion of a wide variety of theories for economic growth over the last 200 years, rather than for McCloskey's own thesis, though that may also be of interest to many readers.
The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics William Easterly Amazon link Easterly argues that development economists have had a decidedly mixed record in helping kickstart economic growth around the world. We recommend that this book be read together with books by other development economists, in order to get broad perspective on development economics.
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo Amazon link Summary pending.

Predicting the future

Book Author Purchase links What it's about
The Rational Optimist Matt Ridley Amazon Kindle Ridley argues for an optimistic vision of the future. He considers a number of concerns people currently have about the future.
Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation Tyler Cowen Amazon Kindle Cowen offers up his predictions of how the American and world economy will look in the future. (Wikipedia page)
Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era James Barrat Amazon Kindle This book offers a perspective on the potential impact of general artificial intelligence on society.

Applied ethics

Book Author Purchase links What it's about
The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty Peter Singer Amazon link Singer makes the case that people should do more to end world poverty, and can do so feasibly at minimal cost to themselves.
The Ethics of Voting Jason Brennan Amazon link Brennan argues against the consensus embodied in civics education that people have a moral obligation to vote.