3 Influential Books: IPR Fellow Matthew Green
We asked our IPR Fellows to write about three important books that helped to shape their scholarly career. This week, Dr. Matthew Green discusses the three books he chose, and why they have been significant to his life and work.
One of the first intellectual books that made a deep impression on me was Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals. I read it in my first year of college. Never before had I encountered a work that so willingly and fiercely attacked the conventional wisdom and values of society. It was a book that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Though I was not fully persuaded by Nietzsche’s argument, I was forced to grapple with it (and in many ways still do). It also showed me just how exciting and challenging philosophy and political theory could be.
Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann is a tamer, but no less incisive, version of what Nietzsche set out to do with Genealogy. Lippmann offers a frank, sometimes brutally honest depiction of American politics in the early 20th century. One of his themes is that people and institutions are inherently limited—in their knowledge, in their interest in public affairs, in their ability to convey information—and a democracy should accommodate that limitation rather than bemoan it. Lippmann also warns of the need for an open and critical mind—something all too lacking among politicians and partisan voters today.
These two books influenced me greatly, but the most important to my intellectual development—and the most fun to read—was Isaac Asimov’s science fiction trilogy Foundation. It describes a future in which scientists can predict the future (“psychohistory” is the name of the specific field). To avoid what appears to be an inevitable political calamity involving the existing galactic empire, one scientist uses his knowledge to create the basis for a new empire to replace the old one. It’s a compelling synthesis of science, math, and politics, but also a darn good story, and it made quite an impression on me. I was interested in math and science at the time (I was probably 12), but it spurred my interest in politics. I might never have studied political science had I not read the trilogy!
Photo credit: Brenda-Starr