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Worst Books

Sal Biggio e-mailed me to ask “What are the worst books you’ve ever read?”  Good question.  I’m sure that I’ve forgotten lots of them, as one mark of many bad books is their forgetability.  Still, here’s a list drawn hastily from memory.  The eight books on this list are in no particular order, save for #1.

1. Douglas Rushkoff, Throwing Rocks At the Google Bus.  (I review it here.)  I’m still not convinced that this book isn’t meant to be a spoof on bad books.

2. George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Phishing for Phools.  (I review it here.)  If you’re an unapologetic elitist with frightening quantities of hubris dashing through your veins, you’ll enjoy this book.

3. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  (I review it here.)  Piketty gives no evidence that he understands basic economics, and plenty of evidence that he hasn’t a clue about the first principles of price theory.  This book – allegedly about economics – is, in short, economics-free.

4. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.  This book is a classic that is much-beloved by “Progressives” – largely because it ostentatiously offers up historical myths that are in accord with “Progressives'” ignorance of history and of economics.  (Back in the early 1980s I vividly remember Fritz Machlup telling me that “Michael [Polanyi] thought with his head; Karl [Polanyi] thought with his heart.”  ‘Tis true.)

5. Jeff Madrick, Seven Bad Ideas.  (I review it here.)  Despite his pretenses to the contrary, Madrick is utterly ignorant of economics and naive about politics.

6. Rudolph Peritz, Competition Policy in America.  (I review it here.)  This volume is yet another that features man-in-the-street economic ignorance mixed with potted economic, political, and legal history.

7. Robert Kuttner, Debtors’ Prison.  (I review it here.)  Again: economic ignorance (and a selective reading of recent history) mixed with unrealistic romance about the state.

8. Frank Bryan and John McClaughry, The Vermont Papers.  Wishful, gauzily romantic thinking posing as policy proposals.


The above eight books are the only ones, of the books that I’ve read, that I now recall and recall in a way that justifies classifying each as being genuinely bad – that is, being without any redeeming features (or too few redeeming features to make worthwhile reading the entire book).