The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood, by Edward Jay Epstein. Why is opening weekend so important? "The benefits of prolonging a film’s run in the theaters are now negated by the loss that would be sustained by delaying its video opening past the point at which it can benefit from the movie’s advertising campaign." This is the best available work on the economics of cinema. How many books cite both Arnold Schwarzneger and Mises’s discussion of non-pecuniary goods?
King Lear: This is about my fifth reading. I had never fully realized that Lear had incestuous relationships with at least one of his daughters (for instance check out 1:2, 150-152, 1:4, 176-182, plus the entire Oedipus analogy). Furthermore he was ready to sell out his country to the French. Edmund, Goneril and Regan were not so bad after all.
Handbook of Economic Sociology, second edition, edited by Neil Smelser and Richard Swedberg. Yelp if you wish, but I see sociology as the most underrated social science. It is (some) sociologists who are the problem. Most of the advances in economics over the last fifteen years have actually come in sociology done by economists. Just look at Steve Levitt or behavioral economics. Since economists have not discovered any new "core mechanisms" since herd behavior (circa 1989 or so), I expect quantitative sociology to whup our collective behinds over the next twenty years. The only question is who will be doing it, us or them.
Art: A Field Guide, by Robert Cumming. This has been my favorite bedtime reading book of the last twenty years. The book gives two or three succinct paragraphs on why each of about 1500 famous artists is good, bad, or somewhere in between. No cultural relativism here, and obviously the guy should start a blog. Few good pictures are included, so you do need to know the works of the artists.
Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, by Philip Short. One of the best studies of the anatomy of evil, the psychology of colonialism, and twentieth century Cambodian history.
What I wish I was reading: Going Sane, by Adam Phillips. I read all his books the day they fall into my hands. Phillips, a psychoanalyst for children, is the master of witty and paradoxical observations about human nature. I am told that this new book offers a partial "recipe for contentment," but so far it is available only in the U.K. and perhaps Commonwealth countries.