5 Books that Shaped My Thinking on Innovation

by on April 16, 2020 · 0 comments

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, the Mercatus Center asked its scholars to share the books that have been most influential or formative in the development of their analytical approach and worldview. Head over to the Mercatus website to check out my complete write-up of my Top 5 picks for books that influenced my thinking on innovation policy progress studies. But here is a quick summary:

#1) Samuel C. Florman – “The Existential Pleasures of Engineering” (1976). His book surveys “antitechnologists” operating in several academic fields & then proceeds to utterly demolish their claims with remarkable rigor and wit.

#2) Aaron Wildavsky – “Searching for Safety” (1988). The most trenchant indictment of the “precautionary principle” ever penned. His book helped to reshape the way risk analysts would think about regulatory trade-offs going forward.

#3) Thomas Sowell – “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles” (1987). It’s like the Rosetta Stone of political theory; the key to deciphering why people think the way they do about human nature, economics, and politics.  

#4) Virginia Postrel – “The Future and Its Enemies” (1998). Postrel reconceptualized the debate over progress as not Left vs. Right but rather dynamism— “a world of constant creation, discovery, and competition”—versus the stasis mentality. More true now than ever before.

#5) Calestous Juma – “Innovation and Its Enemies” (2016). A magisterial history of earlier battles over progress. Juma reminds us of the continued importance of “oiling the wheels of novelty” to constantly replenish the well of important ideas and innovations.

The future needs friends because the enemies of innovative dynamism are voluminous and vociferous. It is a lesson we must never forget. Thanks to these five authors and their books, we never will.

Finally, the influence of these scholars is evident on every page of my last book (“Permissionless Innovation”) and my new one (“Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments”). I thank them all!

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