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PS Commentators’ Best Reads in 2021

With a heavier-than-usual emphasis on history and pioneering works of fiction, this year's list of recommended titles speaks to a mood of soul searching. Often, the only way to make sense of an uncertain present is to look for explanations elsewhere, either in the distant past or a plausible future.

To close out another year that seemed to be dominated by global crises and inadequate responses to them, Project Syndicate commentators have shared some of the books that resonated most with them over the past 12 months. While COVID-19, China, and climate change stand out as major themes, their selections cover a range of contemporary letters wide enough to satisfy nearly any preference.

Daron Acemoglu

Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

This is an important book for our times. Harvard philosopher Michael J. Sandel highlights the corrosive effects of our excessive emphasis on “meritocracy,” which has come to justify a very hierarchical society. It is making those at the top work harder and harder just to stay there, and it is devaluing and demoralizing everyone else whom society has come to view as insufficiently meritorious. Most importantly, Sandel challenges the prevailing view in economics (and in much of philosophy) that justice is about distributive fairness. He thinks we should pay more attention to “contributive justice,” where the key requirement is that all individuals are meaningfully contributing – and seen to be contributing – to society.

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