The University of Chicago is home to avid readers from many walks of life. A brief stroll around campus and you will pass the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, which houses a world-renowned collection of scholarly work; 57th St. Books, which caters to the vast literary interests of the community; Powell’s Books,  Chicago’s largest independent dealer in quality used, bargain, antiquarian, and out of print books; as well as six on-campus libraries (not to mention student borrowing privileges at several local museums and archives). We asked Harris faculty and staff to give some of their top reading recommendations.

Scott Ashworth, Professor and Director of the Harris PhD Program

  • scott ashworth
    Scott Ashworth
    The Captured Economy by Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles. “[The authors] argue that an important reason for increased inequality is the suppression of market competition, and suggest a left-right crossover reform agenda in response.”
  • Private Government by Elizabeth Anderson. “Elizabeth Anderson calls for a new paradigm in labor relations, rooted in the claim that people should not be subjected to a private form of authoritarianism in the workplace.”
  • The Meaning of Science by Tim Lewens. “Tim Lewens provides a readable and compelling introduction to the philosophy of science. The chapter on values and science is particularly important for public policy students."
  • The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture by Evelyn Fox Keller. “Evelyn Fox Keller’s careful conceptual clarification of the issues at stake in nature-nurture debates is essential reading in this time of increased interest in genomics as a tool for social science and public policy.”
  • March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. “Congressman John Lewis teamed up with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell to produce a stunning memoir in comics.”

Chris Blattman, Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies

chris blattman
Chris Blattman

“On the one hand there are a few books by economists and political scientists that give terrific overviews of what we know about why some people and societies are rich or poor, free or unfree. These are great introductions to the kind of material you will tackle more in depth (and more technically) by your second year. The best of these include Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s Poor Economics, for a look at micro-level economics. Daron Acemoglu and Harris professor James Robinson’s Why Nations Fail is terrific for macroeconomics and the politics. And if you want a great history of world development, try The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes, or Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order.”

“On the other hand, there are a set of books that have really shaped the way I think of my role in the world, and how to be a better policymaker. They are written by people that study experts the same way an anthropologist studies a village, and they see the fatal flaws that drive so much bad policy. Seeing Like A State by James Scott and The Anti-Politics Machine by James Ferguson are two classics. They talk about why people like me, or the average MPP, so often get public policy wrong: we treat things like development as a technical problem to be solved, not a complex social and political problem. We try to shape the world, make it uniform, so that it is easy to manipulate. We become blind and inept social engineers, and people suffer as a result. If you want to see this in the context of conflicts and humanitarian aid, I also recommend Severine Autesserre’s Peaceland, the newest addition to this canon.”

Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Sydney Stein Professor and Deputy Dean for Faculty & Research

  • ethan bueno de mesquita
    Ethan Bueno de Mesquita
    Interstate: Highway Politics and Policy Since 1939 by Mark H. Rose and Raymond Mohl. “A great case study of the ways in which the confluence of genuine policy goals, racism, politics, and bureaucracy shaped and were shaped by one of the most important domestic policy initiatives of the 20th century in the United States.”
  • The Strategy of Conflict by Thomas Schelling. “A classic that shows how simple models that abstract from almost everything that seems important can yield profound and novel insights into some of the most difficult and vexing policy problems. There are those who say this book saved the world.”
  • Climate Matters: Ethics in a Warming World by John Broome. “A very readable book by a serious philosopher on a first-order applied policy problem. It highlights the ways in which good policy depends not only on technocratic or quantitative analysis, but also on our philosophical and ethical point of view.”
  • Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Gowers. “This is a beautifully written and deep book that is only about 125 pages long. It has absolutely nothing to do with policy. But you are coming to graduate school at the University of Chicago, and reading something for purely intellectual reasons will get you into the spirit. You don't have to like math to like this book.”
  • Straight Man by Richard Russo or Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. “These are both laugh-out-loud funny novels that take place inside a university. It'll give you a little insight into the strange and slightly ludicrous subculture that lies just under the surface of any academic enterprise.”

Damon Jones, Associate Professor

  • damon jones
    Damon Jones
    Ghosts in the Schoolyard, by Eve L. Ewing. Written by School of Social Service Administration Professor Eve L. Ewing, Ghosts is an exploration—both historic and personal—of the systematic racism and inequality that has plagued the Chicago Public School system.

Ariel Kalil, Professor and Director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy

  • Ariel Kalil
    Ariel Kalil
    Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Set in the poorest areas of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the book follows eight families struggling to pay rent during the start of the Great Recession in 2007–08.