In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, we’ve asked some of our scholars to share the books that have been most influential or formative in the development of their analytical approach and worldview.
From existential engineering to the Salem witch trials to Argentine magical realism, our scholars have drawn inspiration from diverse and dramatic wellsprings of intellectual thought.
Read on for more about why and how the books we will discuss have influenced our scholars’ approaches to policy and philosophy, and what lessons other readers may draw from these works.
These five books profoundly influenced my thinking, teaching, and writing. In very different ways, each celebrates individualism and scorns centralized decision-making.
War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (by Edwin Black)
This book provides a terrifying history of America’s eugenics movement. In 1927, our Supreme Court greenlit mandatory sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans on the basis of junk-science genetics. This legislation inspired the Nazis as they crafted the Holocaust’s early stages. (A breathtaking documentary, The Lynchburg Story, details Virginia’s dark history in this period.)
The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care (by Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwang)
This work revolutionized my thinking on why we don’t get cost-cutting innovation in healthcare and how we can. This book shifted my focus away from health insurance, and toward healthcare delivery reform.
The True Believer: Thoughts on The Nature of Mass Movements (by Eric Hoffer)
Hoffer’s work is an often-counterintuitive exploration into fanatical movements and the madness of crowds. Such movements, Hoffer writes, are fueled by bored underachievers seeking to find meaning by controlling others’ lives.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities (by Jane Jacobs)
Jacobs' magnus opus is the 20th Century’s premier exposition of the fallacies of urban planning. Jacobs argues that vibrant urban environments arise from variation and decentralized decision-making, while sameness and centralized planning lead to sterile dysfunction.
Ficciones (by Jorge Luis Borges)
This collection contains metaphysical short stories, many revolving around the structure of knowledge. Themes include an infinite library; a boy who forgets nothing and, therefore, knows nothing; and a fraudulent encyclopedia devised by a secretive cabal to disseminate falsehoods. Borges believed Argentina’s Peronist government pushed Argentina toward ruin. Unlike many other Latin -American authors, Borges disdained Marxism. These philosophical strains subtly inform Borges’s writings, probably guaranteeing that he would never receive the Nobel Literature Prize he richly deserved.