Thursday, December 9, 2004

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Name the book you're most embarrassed not to have read

In Paris, safe and sound. Panels have been lively and informative.

This Virginia Postrel post reminds me of an old parlor game among academics -- confessing the most important book in your field that you have never read.

I'll confess mine when I return to America.

UPDATE: Je suis revenu à l'Amérique! I'll post about Paris in a bit.

Now, before I confess, let me first confess that my list was much more distinguished before I started teaching Classics of IR Theory, not to mention the core sequences at the U of C.

However, at the moment, my answer would have to be.... Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, followed closely by Robert Dahl's Who Governs?.

I know at least one New Year's resolution....

posted by Dan on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM


"The Sanctions Paradox"

posted by: praktike on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I saw Booknotes on Sunday and couldn't believe the guest hadn't even heard of Road to Serfdom.

Since this is largely an IR blog, I'll confess to never having read Thucydides. What makes it worse is that I've owned a copy for about 10 years. It's calling my name right now...

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

de Tocqueville. And by "embarrassed," I mean, somebody please send me "Democracy in America" for Christmas. Please.

posted by: candy girl on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I'm sure there's a hundred books in my "field" that are important that I haven't read and should have by now, but going on the guilty-for-having-bought-and-never-finished theme: the 9/11 Commission Report. I bought the thing the day it was published, I started on it, it was going great, I checked out a couple books from the library, figured I'd better read them before they came due, and never got back to it.

I plan on redressing that over the holiday break, along with about seven others.

posted by: mc_masterchef on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Peloponnesian War. I read a few chapters, and Corcyrans, Spartans, Potidaeans and the whole host of Hellenes just start running togther. Maybe reading it at bedtime isn't such a great idea...

posted by: fingerowner on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Way things are going now, I should probably get back to it.

posted by: Rick on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Being a native Mississippian, "Sound and the Fury", but I have read "Absalom! Absalom!"

posted by: Hoo on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Pretty much anything about constructivism that wasnt written by Alexander Wendt.

posted by: dundare on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Holmes, the Common law or Aquinas Summa Theologica

maybe Christmas break.

posted by: Reg on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

the summa over break..... the summa theologica is 5 volumes of around 600 pages each on amazon, likely, you might want to get the annotated scholarly editions from a university library.... (i've not read the whole thing, though i have read other whole books of aquinas... and advise against the practice in general terms)

as for me, i've not read robert dahl's major works on democracy, i've only read economic democracy and on democracy. i should get more done in the spring. i've not read schumpeter either, though i read many people that cite his work....

posted by: jeremy hunsinger on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Letters from Law School, written by Lawrence Dieker, Jr., a dear friend from law school.

It was painful enough once.

posted by: PD Shaw on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Divine Comedy. I'm three cantos in, but I've been that far for about a year now. Oh, and Ulysses. I'm not going to put up my last name, because I want to get into grad school and I'm a bit paranoid.

posted by: Rachel on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

What is it with Thucydides? It's got to be a contest winner!

*not* reading Thucydides is a point of personal pride - 5 years of undergrad at UofC & I escaped w/o ever cracking a page! Match that as a challenge!!!

But professionally embarassed? ... never having completed a solid grounding text in geometry. So much of the math I need is only algebraic but every once in a while this embarasses me. & I've tried a number of times to go back to it but it just is *so* dull. Always reminds me why I blew-off that whole class in 10th grade...

posted by: Jon on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Easy: The Iliad. For general political theory: Rousseau's Confessions or Montesquieu. For IR: Hedley Bull and, oddly enough, Snyder and Diesing. For Comparative: Fernand Braudel and Ron Inglehart.

posted by: diego on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Labor and Monopoly Capital - Harry Braverman

posted by: Mathias on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Not that I'm an academic, but I'll name two: the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers. There's other contenders (like deToqueville), but these get top billing because I own them.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Regarding Thucydides, if I could only recommend one book on IR it would be that one. It's all in there: democracy, fascism, empire, violent revolution, the role of religion, sea vs. land power, RMA, etc. For those you struggling with the book, get the Robert Strassler edition. The maps are crucial to understanding the war. Reading the last four books of Herodotus helps too!

As for me: Democracy in America or On War. That last one particularly embarasses me.

posted by: Dave C. on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi

posted by: gael on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Well, as a sci-fi fan, I've been meaning to get around to Ender's Game for years and years and never have.

What bugs me more, though, is that I like to consider myself a bit of a movie buff and I've never seen Citizen Kane.

posted by: Devin McCullen on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I started reading Alexander Wendt's Social Theory of International Politics, but couldn't understand it so I stopped midway through. I think majoring in philosophy is a prerequisite to understanding Wendt's writing. It's too bad because Social Theory is probably an important book for understanding the current IR theory debate.

posted by: William on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Ender's Game is just a great, great book. The followups were excellent as well. Recently, Card has released several parallel novels focusing on other characters in the series - very cool.

Just a great series and you should be caned for not reading it and calling yourself a sci-fi fan :P

posted by: dundare on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

OT: Dan's September NY Times op-ed comes in for some criticism from Ronil Hira at Corante's outsourcing blog:

posted by: Jon H on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Knuth, _The Art of Computer Programming, Vol 1-3_. I keep getting bogged down in the pseudo-random number section, and find the faux-assembler even less clear than the faux-Algol.

posted by: Dave on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Great posts --Thucydides I actually did read; Tocqueville too. Karl Polanyi is an enormously interesting book and a must for all Comparativists, esp those who work on Europe.

The Citizen Kane post was good too (I saw it) but here's one better: I have never seen a Star Wars movie and I too consider myself a film buff. An allergy, I think.

Has anyone ever tackled Proust? I majored in French lit once ---and even worked at the Hotel des Invalides where DD is!-- and actually cracked it. Trouble is, I couldn't get through all of A la recherche du temps perdu

posted by: Diego on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

"Catcher in the Rye."

God, that was embarrassing.

I think I'll go read it now.

posted by: Barry N. Johnson on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I read maybe 10 pages of Rawls' "A Theory of Justice" but I swear to God it seemed like enough.

posted by: Iconic Midwesterner on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I've never made it through Keynes's A Treatise on Money. I did read The General Theory..., though.

posted by: Donald A. Coffin on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Holy Bible

posted by: John on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

an old parlor game among academics

Otherwise known as "Humiliation," from David Lodge's _Trading Places_. (Also known as a special case of playing "I Never.")

Dan, remember what happened to the winner of the game in _Trading Places_...

(No, I'm not going to play in public. Blogging shouldn't be allowed to devour *all* our private amusements.)

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I also own unread copies of Thucydides, De Toqueville, Clauswitz, and the Federalist Papers. I'm so happy to know that I'm not the only one.

I'll add 'A Brief History of Time' by Hawking. I bought it 10 years ago when it was a bestseller. It took an hour to read the first 20 pages, then I laid it down, went to the fridge for a snack, and never read another page.

posted by: Ross on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations

But how many of the rest of you have read it (in one sitting)?

Let's pool the philosophical guilt. ;)

posted by: David on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

This is a great idea for a thread - we can make each other feel better... I will make a lot of people feel better!

Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith
Clash of Civilizations - Samuel Huntington
Brave New World - Aldus Huxley
Nothing Antonio Gramsci has ever written...

posted by: Jenn on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I guess for being a NYC i-banker I should read Liar's Poker. I can't seem to finish Madam Bovary and my sincere apologies to the U of C English dept but I did write a paper but never finish, or even get halfway through for that matter, Moby Dick.
I own Saving Capitalism and Easterly's book on the tropics but can't seem to find time to start either of them.
Yet somehow I find the time to read the NYTimes fashion and style section.

posted by: R Castignoli on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Wow, a NYC investment banker who hasn't read Liar's Poker? Fraud! Sham! Ah, it's OK. Liar's Poker is all about Sales & Trading anyways and speaks very little (and in a very demeaning way) to classical corporate finance "investment bankers." If you want to read a great book that is much more the M&A / Financing style, make sure you've got "Barbarians at the Gate" if you haven't already.

As for me, as an i-banker, nothing finance-oriented that I'm embarrassed to have not read (things like "Who Moved My Cheese" are not worth the time in my opinion). However, two books which I have assailed again and again and have yet to finish are "The Sound and the Fury" and "The Brothers Karamazov" both of which I thought would be interesting reads but have instead caused me to repeatedly fall asleep before I intended to.

Also, in response to two earlier posts, "Ender's Game" is an amazing book but I found both "Speaker for the Dead" and "Xenocide" to be at least several notches below that.

posted by: Jay Drezner on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

A few reactions to comments above:

1. In regard to the Federalist, just read #10. That ought to do you fine.

2. In regard to books like Clash of Civilizations, read the Foreign Affairs article. It's much shorter, and the gist of it is there.

3. When Rawls comes up, I just invoke the veil of ignorance.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

War and Peace

posted by: bg on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. It's sitting on a bookshelf behind me, taunting my ignorance. Should probably get round to it before Finals...

As for War and Peace, I made the decision not to go for the book, but the 6 part BBC adaption on Video. Worked quite well.

posted by: OJ on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Bible.

posted by: Eve on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Is George Lakoff big enough that I can be embarrassed about not having read him yet?

posted by: Jarrett on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Thucydides on IR: The Athenians to the, um, Myleans(?): "Our philosophy teaches us this: that the strong do what the can, and the weak suffer what they must."

Just sums up so much, so tidily.

posted by: trostky on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I love this topic:

If I were named "Eve," I wouldn't worry about reading the Bible beyond the first couple pages.

If I were named "Trostky," I'd be on the lookout for one of Stanil's agents looking to plant an iec pikc in my haed.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The list varies, depending on the circles I'm running in at the moment. I would say the book that I most wish I had is the Holy Bible. There are many others that are "essential" elements of the Western canon, but there are none that are so widely read and understood by millions of people less educated than me. So it is embarrassing not to have read it given all the advantages I've had in my education.

posted by: Jack on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I thought about adding Lakoff. Where Mathematics comes from I thought was great. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things - I keep coming back, but just no go.

Oh, and try Simon's "Protocol Analysis" sometime when George has got you down.

posted by: Jon on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The Bible, the Torah and the Koran. It becomes harder and harder to follow the discourse in America today without knowing to whom the reference is being made.

posted by: Robert M on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

John Rawls: A theory of Justice.
Michel Foucault: collected works.
Karl Marx: collected works.
Derrida: 'whatever'
Heidegger: Being and Time.

It's amazing, really, that I seem to have any grip on the world at all.

posted by: Drudge on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I'm doing a year of grad school in France and apparently the fact that I haven't read any Durkheim or Weber puts me on the same intellectual level as a houseplant.

A professor broke down the attitude pretty clearly when he said that in order to understand ANY enduring theoretical problem in political science, all you have to do is understand the basic differences between Durkheim and Weber.

posted by: Jamie on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The question poses a serious problem, to me.
Particularly, the limiter "in your field".

I'm in I.T..

As such, the most important books in the field, nobody will have heard of, and they tend to change every 15 minutes anyway.

And, well, (Big toe dragging in the sand) I *did* re-read the PostScript Language Reference Manual recently....

posted by: Bitehad on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I've never finished Godel, Escher, Bach. I've read through the first half or so twice but can't keep going. Some day...

posted by: crayz on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Man, the State, and War. God, what a loser I am. But I've heard so much about the three images by now, it seems like a waste of time to read the book. Also, Hedley Bull's The Anarchical Society.

On the other hand, I've read Being and Time in its entirety. That's got to be worth at least four or five regular books.

posted by: tractatus on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Bitehad - you ever read "Design Patterns"? I think everybody gets caught in the web of its periphery, but the whole GOF swallow? I never did finish all from the source. Ever read Alexander's "A Timeless Way of Building"? that one's worth every word.

posted by: Jon on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Wonderful question, and if you also asked which is the book one is most embarrassed to to have read, boom, you could read a person's character through the answers to those two questions. To the first question:

The Origin of Species - Darwin
Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith
The Principia - Newton
The Republic - Plato
Critique of Pure Reason - Kant

I've read hordes of books, though, which owe their existence to these, but I haven't yet been to the source. Shame.

posted by: amit varma on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

plato, the republic.

posted by: austin mls on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

On the classics, I have come to the point where I realize the trade-off in time in order to really read say, the Principia, is just too steep. I had to wade through some of Newton's Opticks recently for an editing project. While it was a good mental exercise to try to work out what he was doing from the 17th century english and the convoluted nature of his technique, it was not something I will do again anytime soon. Modern summaries, edited works, etc. more often then not do the trick. Of course, it is good every one in a while to go through a whole tome, but I compare it to running a marathon -- one or two a year are enough.

posted by: stari_momak on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

ok, so i've never actually picked up the Wealth of Nations (yet in college i had to read Robert Reich's Work of Nations--why, i ask you, why???) And as a native spanish speaker, i am also ashamed to admit that i've never read Don Quijote. ya, lo dije, carajo! finally, let me defend Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead" as just as good as the cult favorite "Ender's Game" (in fact, recall that Speaker was the real book Card had in mind when writing Ender...)

posted by: Carlos on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I hate to spoil anyone's fun, but this reminds me of a very funny post several years ago:

It's the comment by Dan Simon in Slate's "Fray" (at the bottom) about strategies in this game.

There's also an unspoken assumption behind what players say in this game: "I can't believe I've managed to read everything but ... " I don't know about you guys, but I read constantly and there are dozens, scores of "classics", in my own field of politics, and elsewhere, that I've never read and probably never will. Life's too short, and there's also sex and sleep to be had.

But like I said, I don't want to ruin anyone's fun by being all clever, so I'll just say I've never read 1984. I think everyone's supposed to have read this so we'll know how to overuse "Orwellian". But in my Dystopia week in high school lit class we did "Brave New World".

posted by: Contributor A on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Not read Weber?? At the U of C? Good Lord. They're never going to give you tenure. When I got my Master there, I think I read it three times. I just hope that Suzanne Rudolph isn't on your tenure review committee.

posted by: Laura on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I guess it's 'One who flew over cuckoo's nest'. I keep hearing a lot about it through my friends at the forum of Sooner or later I'll lay my hands on it.

posted by: hritwik on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Thoughts on some readings...

Ender's Game is only important in your field if you are a teacher/professor specializing in either modern fiction, science fiction, or religious fiction.

The Bible is important only to biblical scholars, clergy, and teachers/professions of religious fiction. Evidently some here aspire to such.

In the field of computer science, I have yet to read any of the important works on advanced computational theory except for Fuzzy Logic. There are no important books on computer security or systems administration that I have yet to read, though there are some minor ones.

posted by: flaime on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Contributor A,

Very funny post. The Slate post you refer to is entertaining.

But you provide a better laugh when you write something consistent with Dan Simon's criticisms. (essentially: There's so much I haven't read because I have a life. But then, I don't want to ruin your silly game with my cleverness, so here's an example of something I haven't read...) I'll assume you did this wittingly. Thanks.

posted by: Andrew Steele on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I never finished The Creature From Jeckyl Island. I got enough solid conspiracy-theory material from the 1st 100 pages to last years. Haven't needed to finish it. It's not wonderfully written, but sheds plenty of light.

(crayz - u gotta finish Godel Escher Bach!)

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

"War and Peace" and "The Wealth of Nations"

Not having read those books is an immeasurable embarrassment to me because I am a senior majoring in International Relations and an aspiring diplomat. But I am hoping to redeem myself in 2005.

posted by: Fab on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Oh, there are too many. Thucydides, Clausewitz, Federalist Papers, a few others have been sitting on the shelf. I've read parts of each, but not all. I've long felt I should read Bleak House, and even started it thrice, but have always given up. I managed to graduate without having read any Faulkner or Hemingway (novels, at least), Lord of the Flies, or Catcher in the Rye. I did finally get around to Catcher earlier this year, unfortunately. War and Peace, I'm hoping for a Pevear&V translation (they'd one Dostoyevsky and did Anna K (owned, haven't read)).

More IR works? Clash turned me away from Huntington's other works, Theory of IPol turned me off of Waltz, and too many others to mention, really. I did at least manage to read Jack Snyder's book on democratization not for class, though.

posted by: Tom on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

You could do a couple of variants on the theme:

1. Name a book you wish you had never read. (A couple of novels I'd read in Utopian Lit class whose titles I have mercifully forgotten)

2. Name a book you've read in part but do not have the masochistic endurance to ever, ever complete. (God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie)

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

"Has anyone ever tackled Proust?"

I have. Read the entire thing (not just Swann's Way) in 3 months during my graduation year, and as fortune would have it, am now on my second time through it, and currently re-reading "Within a Budding Grove."

posted by: Abiola Lapite on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

The problem is that Proust tackles back.

Some interesting tackles and unusual gambits were seen in this game, over here:

including longest time to have owned a book and not read it and one-upmanship on things not read, leading to people admitting to not having read the post, the previous comments, or indeed the comment they were in the midst of writing.

posted by: Doug on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

"longest time to have owned a book and not read it"

The Story of Civilization Vols 7-11 (almost done with Vol 6) - bought the set in the mid-80s.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

Forgot to name the author - Will Durant (most of y'all knew that).

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

I actully did finish God Emperor of Dune, but have been unable to complete "The Name of the Rose"...I also think it qualifies for longest owned without reading as I've had it since...'91/'92.

As for "in my field", I'm in IT as well and have not read "Design Patterns", but have read a lot of books ABOUT design patterns ;)

I've also never read Vols II & III of "Internetworking with TCP/IP" by Comer (but have, at least, read Vol I).

posted by: technofunk on 12.09.04 at 04:40 PM [permalink]

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