Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So who's read the most impressive books?

Hilarious! -- The American Conservative's Austin Bramwell on the "Top Ten Most Influential Books" meme:
Earlier this month, Tyler Cowen posted the ten books that have influenced him the most, and “encourage[d] other bloggers” to do the same. Ross Douthat of the New York Times called Cowen’s invitation “irresistible,” which, judging by the number of bloggers who responded, it was. The Top Ten Influential Books Game gave bloggers easy material — namely, themselves — for a quick post. It also gave them a chance to prove that they are part of the club (that is, the club of influential bloggers).

Most importantly, Cowen’s Influential Books Game gave bloggers an excuse to promote themselves by composing lists designed to excite the maximum of reader admiration. Which is not to say that any lists were insincere: on the contrary, the top bloggers ended up sounding all very smart and thoughtful precisely because they really are just the sort of people whose lives were changed by reading Nietzsche. Still, as vehicles of self-promotion, some lists were better than others. To succeed, an Influential Books List needs to satisfy several competing criteria, namely: erudition (it should show how widely the blogger has read), plausibility (it should not claim that the blogger read Principia Mathematica at age 10), inventiveness (it should be unpredictable), freedom of thought or freedom from dogma (it should not unwittingly depict the blogger as an ideologue) and gumption (it should show that the blogger is unafraid to defend unpopular opinions).

Given these constraints, it is not surprising that bloggers generally agreed on what types of books should be included. I list them below. Who came up with the most impressive list? Let’s take a look!

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