orgtheory.net

great minds of the last 20 years

As an undergraduate, I spent a fair amount of time reading great books, not just the old classics, but also the new classics. I thought that there was much to be learned from the “big names” of the day: Rawls Theory of Justice, or Dworkins’ Law’s Empire, or the latest eruption of post-modernism. Browsing Cody’s shelves was a profound form of self-education.

But I’ve realized that graduate school and being a professor has meant that I’ve spent more time writing my own stuff than reading the new classics. And nearly after 20 years I first stepped into Cody’s, I realized that I’ve lost track of the broader intellectual culture. Who are the new big names? I’ve heard Derek Parfit mentioned as a great philosopher who is worth reading by non-philosophers. I certainly enjoyed Tony Judt’s majesterial history of post war Europe. Who else is worth reading as the new big deal?

Written by fabiorojas

May 3, 2009 at 12:35 am

Posted in books, fabio

18 Responses

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  1. I think Richard Posner’s Law, Pragmatism, & Democracy may one day be recognized as his most lasting contribution to political theory. I think it’s the most original work on democracy since Rawls.

    Warren Buffett’s letters to his shareholder at Berkshire Hathaway read like Mark Twain but carry serious social, political, and economic commentary.

    David Hackett Fischer’s histories of the early United States read like classics.

    Strogatz’s Sync is as good at a popular account of lasers and superconductivity as Einstein’s popular account of the special theory of relativity.

    Among philosophers, I have found Scanlon the most interesting. But I take my philosophy in small doses.

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    Michael F. Martin

    May 3, 2009 at 1:14 am

  2. I think “The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerability of Democracies” by Vincent Ostrom will be a lasting contribution to the several social sciences and history.

    “Crisis and Leviathon” by Robert Higgs will soon be considered one of the best forays into the historical, ideological, and economic study of “big government” since World War II.

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    Brian Pitt

    May 3, 2009 at 2:51 pm

  3. Good suggestions! Thanks!

    Like

    fabiorojas

    May 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm

  4. The new big names are small names. You miss the whole point of the real changes occurring. We no longer need institutional centering.

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    Ryan Lanham

    May 4, 2009 at 1:37 am

  5. Ryan: Can you elaborate? What do you mean “institutional centering?” I think I had something more modest in mind – some scholars touch on important issues and are so excellent that even non-specialists should care. There are always people like that – or am I missing your point?

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    fabiorojas

    May 4, 2009 at 2:07 am

  6. Hmmm… I’m not sure people like Rawls, Dworkin, or Posner fit easily within any account of institutional influence.

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    Michael F. Martin

    May 4, 2009 at 2:36 am

  7. My point was that big names are no longer necessary. We don’t need to center discourse around a few institutions, newspapers or journals. Just as literature has largely decentered from a few publishers and a few authors in the Age of Giants, the rest of the world is now de-centering into a lot of voices with few that are privileged as “the big names.” The whole idea of “classics” is absurdly anachronistic. We live in an age of rapid fire, blurbs, ideas as collage. To produce a classic now would show one is completely out of step with the times…and not in a good way!

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    Ryan Lanham

    May 4, 2009 at 7:11 pm

  8. Ryan: Now I see your point. It deserves a post length (or even book length!) response, but I’ll just say that I disagree. My suggestion isn’t that we return to an age of giants, but that there is excellence that’s worth seeking out. I’d have to collect my thoughts on the issue, but great books and ideas never go out of style – even in an age of twitters and blogs!

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    fabiorojas

    May 4, 2009 at 7:48 pm

  9. Of course there is excellence to seek out. But why seek it from persons or institutions…the filters available now are much broader and more powerful than…an appointment to this institution, or an article in that magazine. The power lost to such hierarchies is exceedingly inefficient, not to mention highly prone to corruption of many sorts. Elites are simply inefficient.

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    Ryan Lanham

    May 4, 2009 at 8:24 pm

  10. James Coleman?

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    Josh

    May 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

  11. Coleman’s name most certainly does not need a question mark in conjunction with this discussion.

    Like

    tf

    May 5, 2009 at 10:45 pm

  12. To add something to the mix, perhaps as a counterbalance to Rawls — Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia definitely is a classic piece of social theory (whether you buy into the arguments or not).

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    tf

    May 6, 2009 at 12:52 am

  13. The question mark was just me trying to figure out why his name wasn’t the first one mentioned.

    And if you have Rawls then you have to have Nozick.

    Also, I was thinking about it and I’ll have to add Thomas Sowell to the list. Seriously.

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    Josh

    May 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm

  14. I guess I’m having a hard time figuring out how many of these people (um, Coleman) would fit into the category of “new big names”? Anyone who’s been dead for more than 10 years isn’t really new.

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    brayden

    May 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

  15. Yes no fair. All of my suggestions are still alive and well.

    Check out this website:

    http://well-formed.eigenfactor.org/

    I am still drooling over those curves!

    Like

    Michael F. Martin

    May 6, 2009 at 5:55 pm

  16. And not a sociologist? Less than ten years dead and not a sociologist who wrote big books that a young Fabio would enjoy stumbling into at a future Cod’s books.

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    Jordi

    May 6, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  17. Michael: Beautiful curves indeed!

    Like

    tf

    May 6, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  18. By the way I was there Monday and am happy to report that Cody’s evil cousin Moe’s is still going strong. But no Scanlon. Those Berkeley kids snatch it off the shelf too quick for the staff to keep up.

    Like

    Michael

    May 6, 2009 at 8:18 pm


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