Which Classic Books Deserve a Retro Review in 2022?

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Every year, there’s a tsunami of new books about economics, politics, and public policy that are full of hot takes and policy recommendations. In any given year, a few of those books end up being widely reviewed and discussed. A hot new book can reset longstanding debates in academia and public policy and have a big short-term impact. But no matter how well researched, we cannot know its predictive value right away.

By definition, a new non-fiction book that makes public policy recommendations needs time to have its mode of analysis tested. But here we have a problem. There are very few people writing—and few outlets publishing—reviews of 10- or 20-year books. We have many policy books of that vintage and older that made a big initial splash and are still referenced today, but very few people have gone back to reread them and find out how valid their predictions were.

That seems … not great. We need more “retro reviews” that look back and examine whether all of the publishing hype around a splashy title was justified—especially in the middle of an expanding reproducibility crisis in the social sciences. My Competitive Enterprise Institute colleague Ryan Young and I have taken a first stab over the last year and a half with the Retro Reviews series here on the OpenMarket blog.

I’m looking forward to expanding the Retro Review concept 2022, to see if the highly cited policy books of the past really lived up to their hype. On the flipside, we might find that there were some neglected nonfiction gems that weren’t much heralded in their day but have proved their worth over the years.

Below are some popular titles from previous decades and generations that are hitting major anniversaries this year. All of these titles could use a fresh examination. Ryan and I will try to work through as many as we can. If you have thoughts on these or other titles that are hitting major milestones this year, please share on social media with the tag #RetroReview. 

2012 – 10 years

  • A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity by Luigi Zingales
  • Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 by Charles Murray
  • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges
  • Declaration [of the Occupy Movement] by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
  • Free Market Fairness by John Tomasi
  • Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Berlin Johnson
  • How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life by Robert and Edward Skidelsky
  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
  • Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones
  • The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right by Arthur Goldwag
  • The Occupy Handbook by Paul Krugman et al., Janet Byrne, ed.
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
  • The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
  • Robots Will Steal Your Job, but That’s OK: How to Survive the Economic Collapse and Be Happy by Federico Pistono
  • Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Chris Hayes
  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

1997 – 25 years

  • The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stéphane Courtois et al.
  • Enviro-Capitalists: Doing Good While Doing Well by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
  • Human Ecology, Human Economy: Ideas for an Ecologically Sustainable Future by Mark Diesendorf and Clive Hamilton
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen
  • Principles of Economics by Gregory Mankiw

1972 – 50 years

  • A Blueprint for Survival by Edward Goldsmith and Robert Allen
  • Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
  • Ecology: Can We Survive Under Capitalism? By Gus Hall
  • Ecotage! by Sam Love and David Obst
  • Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome
  • People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization by Michael Kammen
  • SmallꟷOn Safety: The Designed-In Dangers of the Volkswagen by Ralph Nader
  • The Party of Eros: Radical Social Thought and the Realm of Freedom by Richard King

1962 – 60 years

  • Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman
  • The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock

1947 – 75 years

  • Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
  • Eclipse of Reason by Max Horkheimer
  • Foundations of Economic Analysis by Paul A. Samuelson
  • Inside U.S.A. by John Gunther
  • The Mainspring of Human Progress by Henry Grady Weaver

1922 – 100 years

  • Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology by Max Weber
  • Eugenical Sterilization in the United States by Harry H. Laughlin
  • Public Opinion by Walter Lippman
  • Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis by Ludwig von Mises

1872 – 150 years

  • History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America by Henry Wilson
  • Republicanism vs. Grantism: The Presidency a Trust; Not a Plaything and Perquisite by Charles Sumner