Sounds like a Comprehensive Exam Question

A recent NY Times article pointed out a literature issue in the field of biology, and I began to wonder if political scientists have the same problem. The problem: even though Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species laid the foundation for
Modern Biology, it is surprisingly uncommon for biologists to actually read the book (although they still cite it). Olivia Judson from the NY Times admits that the book is a little outdated (it was written 150 years ago); however, she argues that biologists can still learn some lessons from it, so they should still read it.

Hence, I was thinking about what books/ articles have laid the foundation for the field of political science, and whether we still cite and read them. As I was thinking about this, the light became dim as if I was sitting in a room with florescent lights, my head began to hurt, and it sounded as though a fire alarm went off. The train of thought obviously triggered a dark memory of comprehensive exam week.

I came up with a list, which is obviously not exhaustive, of books that laid the foundation for modern political science, and were written during or before the 1960s. I have read most of these books/ articles, even though some were painful (really, I did read most of them). I think that most of these should still be read because what we know about politics today is built upon the findings and arguments in these books and articles.

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War; Machiavelli, The Prince; Hobbes, The Leviathan; The Federalist Papers;  Hotelling, Stability in Competition; Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation; Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations;  Waltz, Man, State, and War; The American Voter; V.O. Key, Political Parties and Interest Groups; Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy; Riker and Ordeshook, Calculus of Voting; Olson, The Logic of Collective Action; Coase, The Problem of Social Cost


About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

3 Replies to “Sounds like a Comprehensive Exam Question”

  1. Segal and Spaeth, The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited; Mayhew, COngress: The Electoral Connection; E.E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People. Just adding to the list…

  2. As I read this post, my heart rate shot up, I started sweating, and I teared up a little–comps flashbacks are scary!
    Now that I’ve calmed down and remembered that comps were over long ago, I’ll add to the list:
    Waltz, Theory of International Relations (it’s cited a lot, but I think it is probably still read a lot as well); Buchanan and Tullock, The Calculus of Consent; Tilly, Why Men Rebel; Tibout, A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures; etc.
    I’ll look through my prospectus and see if anything else jumps out as a “necessary cite” that people may have stopped reading because of its ubiquitous presence in the literature.

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