Monday, August 11, 2008

Some forgotten recent books for wonks

There is a nice article by James Harkin in The Times today, occasioned by the publicity that Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have been getting for their book Nudge recently.

He writes:

Good for Nudge. But there is a cautionary tale here, and one to which all aspirant salesmen of ideas should pay heed.

Wonkish books occasionally hit the big time but their shelf life is often fitfully brief. How much influence can the authors of Nudge expect to wield in five years' time? Go to any second-hand bookshop and bear humbled witness to the debris of big ideas past, books which merited only a flicker on the attention span of the intelligentsia on their way to the bargain bin.

Take these five examples.

And those examples are:
  • The De-moralization of Society by Gertrude Himmelfarb (1995)
  • Beyond Left and Right by Anthony Giddens (1994)
  • The State We're In by Will Hutton (1995)
  • Connexity by Geoff Mulgan (1997)
  • Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard (2005)

3 comments:

Mark Pack said...

Reinventing Government is the obvious counter-example (at least to me!). But it did have the advantage of being as much a bringing together of what was already happening as a manifesto for the future.

Letters From A Tory said...

I disagree. The potential implications of this academic literature for policymakers is huge, should they take up the core concepts.

Jonathan said...

Of course these books have huge potential implications. The question is whether they were realised.