Short non-fiction books

Many books are longer than they should be. We’ve all read books that are based on a thesis (often a useful one!) that could have been adequately explained in 30 pages instead of 300. Apparently some authors get told to add words so that the spine of the book ends up bigger and stands out more in bookshops. Tyler Cowen provides some more analysis here.

But there are many great short books too! Here’s a list of some with page numbers*:

  • Allen, Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction (170)
  • Bayles, Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (122)
  • Caplan, Open Borders (248)
  • Carse, Finite and Infinite Games (162)
  • Collier, The Bottom Billion (244)
  • Cowen, Stubborn Attachments (161); The Great Stagnation (60)
  • De Solla Price, Science Since Babylon (240)
  • Gibbons, Partition: How and Why Ireland Was Divided (220; h/t Tyler Cowen)
  • Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (72)
  • Jünger, The Forest Passage (120)
  • Karatani, Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy (176)
  • Knight, Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction (158)
  • Krugman, The Age of Diminished Expectations (244); Pop Internationalism (240)
  • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (128)
  • Machiavelli, The Prince (144)
  • Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (184)
  • Smil, Oil (219); Energy (210)
  • Thiel, Zero to One (210)
  • Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization (239)
  • Weil, Gravity and Grace (183)
  • Wilde, The Critic as Artist (124)

There are some other interesting books that barely miss the cut. China Airborne (268) by James Fallows is good fun (if only he’d cut the less interesting section at the end about democratisation…). Others that came up: Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century CE to the Third (296); Vollrath, Fully Grown (296); Lee, AI Superpowers (272); Studwell, How Asia Works (288).

Some people tweeted me some good responses, which you can find in the replies here. And here are some more books, many of which were completely new to me.

*Criteria: has to be 250 pages or less. Page numbers are usually from the Amazon UK listing.

Thanks to Alvaro de Menard, Applied Divinity Studies, Trevor Chow, Jeff Huber and Tyler Cowen for suggestions. Obviously I haven’t read all of these books.

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