Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Influential books: Thomas C. Schelling

Twenty years ago I got interested in a book called The Harvard Guide to Influential Books. Looking through it recently, I re-discovered Thomas C. Schelling's entry.

He wrote: "These books give readers a taste of the best in natural science, social science, classical and modern history and literary style," and went on to cite Darwin's The Origin of Species, Thucydides' History, Erving Goffman's Interaction Ritual, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and John Keegan's The Face of Battle.

A lot has happened since Schelling mentioned those books -- for one thing, he won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics -- and I wondered if he would name the same books today.

So I asked him if would he stick with those titles or, if not striking any, at least like to add a title or two to his list of influential books.

Here is what he replied:
My recommendations covered more than two millennia. In the twenty years since I compiled my list, only one hundredth of that time span has elapsed. I cannot think of anything in the last twenty years that matches the entries I provided two decades ago. You were kind to inquire; I think I'll stick with my original proposal.
--Marshal Zeringue