Which are the greatest dissertations?

Robert Saunders writes to me:

Thanks for posting the Joseph Stiglitz dissertation. It’s always great to see the dissertations of Nobel winners.

For a future post, I thought a good topic might be “best dissertations ever” across fields. Obviously, you’ll know most about economics (assume Nash and Arrow are contenders here?), but I wonder about physics, biology, chemistry, history, etc. Not sure what an English dissertation looks like except in writing (a novel? collection of short stories?), but them, too.  Would make for an interesting comments section.

And thanks for the never ending stream of great posts across the years,

In economics Michael Spence on job market signaling comes to mind, as does Frank Knight’s Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit.  (Paul Samuelson’s renowned dissertation was mostly a wrong turn for mathematical economics, even though it got the ball rolling.)  In English there is Harold Bloom’s doctoral dissertation on Shelley and surely much more.  Elsewhere, Marie Curie did something on “radio-active substances” and Jane Goodall covered the chimpanzee.  There is Claude Shannon on information, Max Weber on the Protestant Ethic, and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.  How about Gauss and Turing?  Might de Broglie come in first overall?

I’ll say no to Marx’s “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.”  But how about some of those Russian mathematicians in the mid to late 20th century?  They came up with their key contributions quite early in life and I suspect some of those were in their doctoral dissertations.


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