Best non-fiction books of 2012


Tyler Cowen is a fabulous source of reading material.

Here are his best non-fiction books of 2012.

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

A passionate and insightful account by a leading historian of Haiti that traces the sources of the country’s devastating present back to its turbulent and traumatic history.

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.

Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States

…compares the history of two open societies–New Zealand and the United States–with much in common. Both have democratic polities, mixed-enterprise economies, individuated societies, pluralist cultures, and a deep concern for human rights and the rule of law. But all of these elements take different forms, because constellations of value are far apart. The dream of living free is America’s Polaris; fairness and natural justice are New Zealand’s Southern Cross.

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

The most powerful technology of the last century was not the atomic bomb, but software—and both were invented by the same folks. Even as they were inventing it, the original geniuses imagined almost everything software has become since. At long last, George Dyson delivers the untold story of software’s creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered. —Kevin Kelly, cofounder of WIRED magazine

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

A sweeping, atmospheric history of Bell Labs that highlights its unparalleled role as an incubator of innovation and birthplace of the century’s most influential technologies.

On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling.

Short meditation on both the merits of Doyle beyond Sherlock Holmes and why fiction, and our responses to it, are and should be deeply strange. I very much liked it. — Tyler Cowen

China Airborne

On the surface it is a book about aviation in China, but it is also one of the best books on China (ever), one of the best books on industrial organization in years, and an excellent treatment of economic growth. It is also readable and fun. —Tyler Cowen

Rome: An Empire’s Story

Could [this] be the best single-volume introduction to the history of ancient Rome? It is conceptual yet avoids the pitfalls of overgeneralizing, a difficult balance to strike. It also has a superb (useful rather than exhaustive) bibliography. A good measure of books such as this is whether they induce you to read or order other books on the same topic and this one did. – Tyler Cowen

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750

As well as providing a historical framework for understanding the behavior of modern China, it is full of interesting details and insights …

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

From Miracle to Maturity: The Growth of the Korean Economy

a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis of the growth of the Korean economy, starting with the aggregate sources of growth (growth of the labor force, the stock of capital, and productivity) and then delving deeper into the roles played by structural change, exports, foreign investment, and financial development.

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