The Week asked Columbia University business professors Sheena Iyengar, the author of the The Art of Choosing (Twelve, $26), a new book examining the science of how human beings make choices, to name six titles that have influenced her work. It was ‘a complex choosing task,' she says.
Essays: First Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson (General Books, $7). Inspiring, invigorating, brimming with commitment. “Self-Reliance,” in particular, is notable for its powerful argument against conformity, against “a foolish consistency.” It’s hard to imagine what “American values” would look like without Emerson.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Scholastic, $4). The Hatter emphasizes the difference between “I like what I get” and “I get what I like.” The Cheshire Cat suggests that if you don’t know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you choose. This book is sometimes considered wonderful nonsense, but the characters say a lot of wise things about our desires, goals, and achievements.
The Mysteries of Agatha Christie (HarperCollins, $6 each). Considered as a whole, the stories and novels of Agatha Christie form a highly entertaining study of the relationship between motive (What drives our choices?) and action (What do we end up choosing?).
The Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner (Simon & Schuster, $18). A classic that manages to make economics accessible and interesting to the layperson. Heilbroner delves into the “lives, times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers”—as the book’s subtitle promises—to show how men like Adam Smith and Karl Marx were shaped by their choices, and how their theories continue to shape us today.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $16). Rushdie’s novel is a beautiful, astonishing meditation on freedom, destiny, and the role of the individual in creating history. What do we expect from freedom, and what do we get? Can one person’s choices affect the course of an entire nation? Rushdie makes these questions impossible to ignore.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Knopf, 16). With eloquence and humor, Gilbert explains in this 2006 book how our imagination fails us, leading us to act against our own happiness. Along with fascinating research and memorable anecdotes, he offers the practical advice that we all want and need.
—Sheena Iyengar, a Columbia University business professor, explores the biology and psychology of choice in The Art of Choosing