10 Books That Will Change the Way You Think

Essential Readings Selected by Our Faculty

Pardee RAND Graduate School students aspire to lead change—whether by influencing decisionmakers, by participating in critical policy debates, or as public policy leaders in their own right. We recently asked our faculty, What books inspire you to train your sights on the most intractable problems of our time? To come up with innovative, persuasive, and enduring solutions? To ensure that no matter the topic, the problem is well formulated and the research approach is well designed and well executed?

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Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, 512 pages

One of today's greatest thought leaders, Daniel Kahneman, explores the way we think and choose, and why humans are prone to flawed thinking.

"Current and brilliant. I also urge people to watch his Nobel speech on the web."

Professor Paul Davis, policy analysis

"The content is essential for policy analysts. And the communication style is exemplary."

Professor Frank Camm, economics

Political Science


What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson

Basic Books, 1991, 464 pages

In this classic text, James Q. Wilson examines a range of U.S. bureaucracies—including the Army, FBI, CIA, FCC, and the Social Security Administration—and sheds light on what they do, why they operate the way they do, and how they might become more responsible and effective.

"For those who are concerned with efficiency in the public sector, this analysis is insightful, comprehensive, thoroughly engaging, and—more than two decades later—completely relevant."

— Professor Fabian Duarte, game theory


How to Solve It

A New Aspect of Mathematical Method

By George Pólya

Princeton University Press, 1945 (reprinted 2004), 288 pages

This book by one of the twentieth century's most prominent mathematicians approaches problem-solving in a way that sticks. What was originally a chapter in one of George Pólya's books became so popular that it was published separately and remains a standalone classic to this day.

"Pólya defines four principles in problem solving—(1) understand the problem; (2) devise a plan; (3) carry out the plan; and (4) review and extend the solution—a clear and compelling approach to all types of problems. These principles have stuck with me since I was a high school senior, and I highly recommend this to students at all levels."

Professor Natalie Crawford, mathematics


How to Lie with Statistics

By Darrell Huff

W.W. Norton, 1954 (reprinted 1993), 144 pages

In the introduction, author Darrell Huff writes, "This book is a sort of primer in ways to use statistics to deceive. It may seem altogether too much like a manual for swindlers. Perhaps I can justify it in the manner of the retired burglar whose published reminiscences amounted to a graduate course in how to pick a lock and muffle a footfall: The crooks already know these tricks; honest men must learn them in self-defense."

"A classic. More quantitative in nature, but it gives Time Magazine-type illustrations of why you should never trust the media when they are presenting data."

Professor Bart Bennett, operations research

Analytic Design

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

By Edward R. Tufte

Graphics Press, 1983 (Second Edition, 2001), 200 pages

Some images are better than others. Edward Tufte's classic will help you convey your message with words, numbers, and pictures, and with clarity, precision, and efficiency.

"To be an effective policy analyst you have to be able to communicate the results of your research clearly and effectively. This book illustrates how statistical graphics can be the simplest, yet most powerful way to describe, explore, and communicate complex data. Tufte lays out the criteria for effective graphical displays and provides many examples to illustrate the key concepts."

Professor Jeanne Ringel, health economics and mathematics for policy analysis


Everything is Obvious*
*Once You Know the Answer

How Common Sense Fails Us

By Duncan J. Watts

Random House, 2011, 352 pages

Duncan J. Watts demonstrates how commonsense reasoning and history mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do, and why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems often go awry.

"It's a great look at how historical events often have commonsense explanations that are useless for policy development."

Professor David Kennedy, anthropology

Politics/Current Events

It's Even Worse Than It Looks

How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Basic Books, 2012, 240 pages

Political dysfunction in the United States—putting political advantage ahead of good government—has reached a critical point, calling into question the country's ability to govern itself. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein caution that there is no magic panacea to fix a problem so complex, but they do discuss how greater public participation and some media reforms can help ease the gridlock.

"Mann and Ornstein provide a bipartisan approach to describing the problem of increasing extreme partisanship and its impact on public policy. They then offer up what they believe could be done and needs to be done to get the American political system back on track."

Dean Susan L. Marquis, policy analysis

Political Science

Democracy in America

Volume 1, 1835; Volume 2, 1840

By Alexis de Tocqueville

George Dearborn, 1838 (reprinted by Penguin Books, 2001), 400 pages

According to translator Harvey C. Mansfield, Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America is "at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America." This is essential reading for anyone interested in history, or emerging democracies.

"A wide worldview is essential for the policy analyst. This book remains an eye-opener."

Professor Lois Davis, public health

Essays/Cultural Studies

Representations of the Intellectual

The 1993 Reith Lectures

By Edward W. Said

Vintage Books, 1996, 144 pages

In these six essays, delivered as part of the BBC's esteemed lecture series, Edward Said explores what it means to be an intellectual in the age of information.

"If you read only one book on this list, make it this slim volume. Said argues than an intellectual should be independent and an 'amateur' operating outside institutional structures. If you read this and buy Said's arguments, you will never ever buy into prepackaged thoughts. And never assume that famous people have the only interesting things to say. Often, the reverse is true."

Professor Krishna Kumar, economic development


Smart Choices

A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions

By John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa

Harvard Business Review Press, 1999 (reprinted by Crown Business, 2002), 256 pages

Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa blend the art and science of decisionmaking into a straightforward approach to making difficult choices. This book will be of interest not only to students of policy analysis but also to anyone who makes business, personal, or family decisions—i.e., everyone.

"This book succeeds very well in its aim to provide a practical roadmap on how to think about and make hard decisions. It is an easy read with good examples of decisions many people face, but it slips in most of the concepts of decision theory. The authors are justly renowned for their expertise and their ability to communicate ideas clearly."

Professor Emmett Keeler, decision analysis