Forced to Choose
Author of The Language Instinct (on our list) and more
recently the provocative bestseller How The Mind Works
I've been influenced professionally by three clusters of great books:
The first, which I read as a college student, introduced me to the
"cognitive revolution," which overthrew behaviorism and
set out a research agenda for the study of memory and language. They
include George Miller's The Psychology of Communication,
Eric Lenneberg's New Directions in the Study of Language
and Noam Chomsky's Language and Mind and Reflections on
Language. Almost as influential was a delightful textbook that
summarized the first burst of science inspired by the revolution:
Peter Lindsay and Donald Norman's Human Information Processing.
The second, which I read on sabbatical in 1987–88, introduced
me to evolutionary biology and its applications to human psychology.
Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker is brilliantly reasoned and
written, and first allowed me to think systematically about
evolutionary theory. (Previously I had gotten my evolution from
Stephen Jay Gould, but he was more intent on revising evolutionary
theory according to his own agenda than on explaining it, and I had
always been confused by his arguments but attributed the confusion
to my own lack of expertise. Dawkins's rigorously logical approach
clarified everything.) His book The Selfish Gene was
equally eye-opening for the asides he made about human psychology,
which were developed in much greater depth and rigor in two
brilliant (and beautifully written) books: Donald Symons's The
Evolution of Human Sexuality and Martin Daly and Margo
The third bunch, which I have read in the past five years, helped
remedy my woeful ignorance of economics, after an education and
professional ambience in which Marx was considered to be the only
academically correct economist. Thomas Sowell's Knowledge and
Decisions, Robert Frank's Choosing the Right Pond and,
in a lighter (but basically serious) way, Stephen Landsburg's
The Armchair Economist are lucid introductions to
classical economics and modern revisions of them. Frank's book
Passions Within Reason, an economist's look at human
emotions, completely changed my view of emotions and influenced my
discussion of them in How the Mind Works.
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