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Forced to Choose

et al., Roald Hoffmann


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 Wilson's Homicide.

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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