Saturday, May 19, 2012

A restructured library

One thing I've always found satisfying is a complete restructuring of my library. The move to the new house afforded me the opportunity to do that. Groups of books that started with only a handful that in the meantime grew to a shelf can be collected together, etc. How your books are organized is both influenced by and influences how your thoughts are organized.

My go-to bookshelf, to the left of my desk, has some important categories that used to be scattered across several shelves:

My history of economic thought shelf has now been divide between two shelves: a shelf shared by Cambridge (Marhsall, Pigou, Keynes, Robinson) and Austrian thought, and a shelf entirely dedicated to the history of American economic thought. My American economic thought was previously scattered but I think it's good to have it together. Also on this bookshelf is a shelf dedicated to my economics of science and engineering books. Above that is a shelf dedicated to labor economics. Above that is a shelf entirely dedicate to the interwar economy, with books on the Versailles conference on one side, running through 1920-21, the twenties, and the depression on the other side. Above that is the non-labor, non-historical economics.

The other bookshelf in the room is entirely dedicated to American history. The most important shelf on that bookshelf is dedicated to local (i.e. - Maryland and Virginia) history in the mid-twentieth century. About half of that is taken up with books on the Maryland Constitutional Convention of 1967-68, and the other half has a mix of Virginia and Maryland material and some Civil Rights movement material. Jefferson and Washington share a shelf. Colonial and revolutionary history have another shelf. American economic history has another shelf. There is about half a shelf dedicated to Marxism and socialist thought at the bottom.

The third bookshelf in my study has a shelf of philosophy at the top, a shelf of random social science (some political science here) under that, and the other four shelves on that bookshelf are taken up with twentieth century history up through current events (mostly international, with lots on energy). These four shelves do something I've been wanting to do for a long time: integrate my library with Kate's library, which has been separate for awhile. That means there's a ton of twentieth century Russian history. But the point is, it's ours now - not mine and hers. That's good I think.

She used to have a lot of Russian literature mixed in with her Russian history. That's purged. All fiction is in the bedroom. Almost no fiction is in the study (I make exceptions for Lovecraft, Melville, Fitzgerald, and a few others that seem to fit well with the American history shelves).

Travel books, cookbooks, and (temporarily) my half dozen accordion folders with printed articles are in the second bedroom.

And now, I'm going to make bacon and pancakes to fuel us for a day of painting.


  1. I've actually shared my organization process with you in the past. I essentially divide my shelves into 3 sections based upon my own rating of the material. Stuff that I approve of goes onto the top shelves, stuff I don't approve of goes on the bottom shelves. Everything in between goes in the middle shelves. Then, within those sections I divide everything by subject, and within each subject everything is put in alphabetical order by author. I have two large cases that are organized the same exact way, and where case 1 leaves of is where case 2 picks up.

    I also have what I call the pile, which is a pile of books that I reference often on the floor next to my desk (I used to have a smaller bookcase for this), but I don't really debate much anymore, so the pile is quite small these days. I also have the stack, which is all recent purchases stacked in order of reading (which changes all the time). I try not to buy new books until the stack is down to 5 books, and though I try not to, a lot of times I will buy a book and read it right away rather than putting it at the bottom of the stack.

    While history is probably my favorite subject, followed by political philosophy and then economics, I haven't read any books on these subjects in about 2 years (with few exceptions), instead I've been focusing on linguistics, psychology, anthropology and archeology. I've long ago accepted the fact that my undying curiosity precludes me from ever mastering a subject.

  2. Daniel, Congrats again. It’s great to see a young economist who’s into history of economic thought. It’s a lost discipline. One thing I liked about Stigler was how into it he was. My funnest time in doing the Encyclopedia was doing the bios of dead economists.


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