Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Listing Sharply: The Three Most Important....

A fun game on a long car trip is to argue (if there is more than one person in the car) over lists of "The Three Most Important...{fill blank}"

A student asked me a good question recently: "What are the three most important books in Political Science in the last 20 years?"

Now, this doesn't mean "the books I think are best," but rather those that are most influential.

Here is my list. As usual, I distort, you deride. (These are in order of importance, btw).

1. Douglass North, INSTITUTIONS, INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE, AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE, 1990, Cambridge (Google hits: 63,600)

2. John Zaller, THE NATURE AND ORIGINS OF MASS OPINION, 1992, Cambridge (Google hits: 28,000)

3. Robert Putnam, BOWLING ALONE, 2000, Simon and Schuster (Google hits: 260,000)

(Google hits calculated using quotes around title, which is pretty restrictive)


RL from Toronto said...

My chair asked several job candidates to recommend the best books or articles in PoliSci that he missed since becoming chair and ceasing to keep up with the lit. I assumed that was a period of about 8-10 years.

The list I gave him was headed by:
Gamm's "Urban Exodus"
Baumgartner and Jones' "Agendas and Instability in American Politics."

Then I added two books on voting and electoral systems, etc (I couldn't narrow it down, but it is descending order of importance):
Stimson, Erikson and MacKuen. "Macropolity."
Cox, "Making Votes Count."

Chris said...

Now that you noted the most influential, what are your three favorite?

Richard Salsman said...

OK. Shall read. But dear professor, no more teasing us, please: we now wish to see your list of those books you think are BEST. And a tantalizing addendum, from you, perhaps? What might we conclude about the field if the MOST IMPORTANT books are not the BEST ones? In short (though I'm reluctant to promote Jimmy Carter's lame campaign book from 1975): "Why Not the Best?"

Jacob said...

Twenty years?

Has to be something by James Scott; I'd say Seeing Like A State (36,700) but others would say Weapons of the Weak (50,000).

I'd rank Putnam's Making Democracy Work (>90,000) as both better and much more important/ influential than Bowling Alone.

And, at least within political science, I'd take March & Olsen, Rediscovering Institutions (20,000), to have been more directly influential than that particular North book, though North has clearly had more influence over the course of his career.