What single book is the best introduction to your field or specialization within your field for laypeople

Michael Neilsen links to a list of answers to this question: What single book is the best introduction to your field or specialization within your field for laypeople?  He says it’s a gold mine.  Perhaps it is.  On economics it has just one link – to Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. I’ve not read it, but it seems like a book that is designed to hammer home that summary way economists reason by trying to think about the ‘equilibrium’ response, rather than the immediate response to policies. All very sensible, but it depends on how hard this guy is pushing this way of thinking. If it’s an introduction to a set of ‘priors’ which should be understood as such and treated accordingly, then well and good. But a lot of books with this kind of schtik will often overdo this, and explain that the (summary) economic approach is the right answer.   Anyway, I can’t know this not having read Hazlitt. Meanwhile if asked for a single book, I’d go with the excellent The Truth about Markets by the excellent British economist and (one of many excellent FT op edders) John Kay.

I hearby open this thread to suggestions from others for similar books, in economics or in any other area.

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Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
12 years ago

In my former specialisation of liberal political theory, John Gray’s Liberalism is the best short overview.

In my current specialisation of higher education, unfortunately it is hard to recommend anything, though if I had to recommend something I’d suggest selective reading of Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University.

dominicmeagher
dominicmeagher
12 years ago

For economics, my money is on The Worldly Philosophers.

$12.24 at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Worldly-Philosophers-Lives-Economic-Thinkers/dp/068486214X

ennui
ennui
12 years ago

In the field of ‘political science’ there are many of varying quality but for me the most outstanding book is Bernard Crick’s “In Defence of Politics” – first published in 1962. A book which ably defends the ‘processes of politics’ from the zealotry found at both ends of the political spectrum.

A book which over the years I have often gone back to reaffirm the critical importance that the activity of “politics” plays in any democratic society.

jimormerod
jimormerod(@jimormerod)
12 years ago

Jacques: I think most of those books you’ve mentioned are great introductory textbooks. I’m not sure they’re so great as introductions to a field for laypeople, with the possible exception of Brooks.

The great introduction to computer science for laypeople is yet to be written, methinks. In more whimsical moments, I’ve been tempted to have a crack myself.

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
12 years ago

In the philosophy of science it is hard to beat Alan Chalmers “What is this thing called science?” which is into its second revision (third edition) with translations in about 20 languages.

There are a couple of soft spots, like describing Poppper’s contribution as “falsificationism” and not mentioning his theory of metaphysical research programs but otherwise it is about as good as it gets for clarity and even-handed treatment. There are also chapters on two fairly recent developments – the “new experimentalism” and Bayesian subjectivism.

Alan is a great guy (he supervised my thesis on the Duhem problem) and he got to buy a small farm near Maitland as a result of the success of the book.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
12 years ago

Chalmers’ book was one of my set texts when I was an undergraduate.

I also found W.H. Newton-Smith’s book ‘The Rationality of Science’ useful.

When I studied the philosophy of mind I got a lot out of Paul Churchland’s 1984 book ‘Matter and Consciousness’. He wrote it for general readers and students. It’s probably a bit dated now.

davebath
12 years ago

For project management, I’ll second Jacques nomination of Brooks’ “The Mythical Man Month”

For software architecture, Will Tracz’s “Confessions of a used program salesman” (which dovetails with Brooks).

For programming and IT generally, you cannot go past The Tao of Programming (complete text online at the link) which will not teach you a single word of any computer language, but in zen koan-like stories, has more deep wisdom per line on programming than anything else I’ve seen.

derrida derider
derrida derider
12 years ago

Assuming you’re only after books for the the intelligent general reader I’d second John Kay’s brilliant book on applied economics. For monetary economics you really can’t go past JK Galbraith’s hilarious “Money – whence it came from, where it went”. Though Schiller’s “Against all odds” is bloody good too.

Oh, and yes – anyone who manages projects will profit from “The mythical man-month”.