98 books like Improbable Scholars

By David L. Kirp,

Here are 98 books that Improbable Scholars fans have personally recommended if you like Improbable Scholars. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Aubrey Fox Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father advised me that to be a good writer, I should first learn a trade and particular subject matter from the inside out. As a working criminal justice practitioner for the last two decades, I’ve been lucky to work with some of the smartest people and best run organizations in the country. I’ve always been a big reader and someone who likes to link the sometimes brutally practical, day-to-day work of running an organization (I lead New York City’s main pretrial services agency) to larger philosophical issues. My life’s goal is to show how big ideas play themselves out in the day-to-day practice of public policy. 

Aubrey's book list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t

Aubrey Fox Why did Aubrey love this book?

I am a huge fan of mystery novels written by Michael Connelly featuring the detective Harry Bosch, so I was delighted to read Jill Leovy’s account of real-life homicide detectives in Los Angeles working under very difficult circumstances to provide a measure of justice to otherwise ignored crime victims and their families.

The book does a wonderful job of documenting the craft of good police work and shows how poorly functioning formal legal systems – a legacy of Jim Crow – negatively impacts Black communities.

As the fictional detective Harry Bosch likes to say, “everyone counts or no one counts.”

Leovy’s book shows what it takes for that vision of everyone counting to become a reality. 

By Jill Leovy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ghettoside as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, USA TODAY, AND CHICAGO TRIBUNE • A masterly work of literary journalism about a senseless murder, a relentless detective, and the great plague of homicide in America

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Economist • The Globe and Mail • BookPage • Kirkus Reviews

On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a…


Book cover of A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

John Iceland Author Of Why We Disagree about Inequality: Social Justice vs. Social Order

From my list on explaining political polarization.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Penn State professor of sociology and demography who is interested in social inequality, demography, and public opinion. My family moved frequently when I was growing up—I lived in Colombia, Greece, and Mexico. I attended Brown University and worked at the U.S. Census Bureau as an analyst and Branch Chief for several years before returning to academia. My interest in inequality dates back to living in different countries with different cultures, politics, and standards of living. While I have long been interested in the demographics of poverty and inequality, in more recent years I’ve become interested in political polarization and why people disagree about a variety of social issues.

John's book list on explaining political polarization

John Iceland Why did John love this book?

Liberals and conservatives strongly disagree on the appropriate scope of government. No book has helped me understand why more than Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions.

He describes how the ideological difference results from disagreements about the malleability of human nature. The unconstrained vision, typically associated with liberals, sees human nature as altruistic and perfectible. The government should be used expansively to promote social justice and equality to realize this vision. 

In contrast, the constrained vision, typically associated with conservatives, sees human nature as limited, selfish, and imperfectible. The government should play a limited role in society, as elites cannot hope to restructure society without unintended destructive consequences.

By Thomas Sowell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Conflict of Visions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic work, Thomas Sowell analyzes the two competing visions that shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power: the constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. He describes how these two radically opposed views have manifested themselves in the political controversies of the past two centuries, including such contemporary issues as welfare reform, social justice, and crime. Updated to include sweeping political changes since its first publication in 1987, this revised edition of A Conflict of Visions offers a…


Book cover of Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities

Aubrey Fox Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father advised me that to be a good writer, I should first learn a trade and particular subject matter from the inside out. As a working criminal justice practitioner for the last two decades, I’ve been lucky to work with some of the smartest people and best run organizations in the country. I’ve always been a big reader and someone who likes to link the sometimes brutally practical, day-to-day work of running an organization (I lead New York City’s main pretrial services agency) to larger philosophical issues. My life’s goal is to show how big ideas play themselves out in the day-to-day practice of public policy. 

Aubrey's book list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t

Aubrey Fox Why did Aubrey love this book?

This is one of the most handsomely illustrated books I’ve ever purchased – and one of the most eye-opening.

Bertaud sums up a lifetime of work in over 40 cities, showing that the preoccupation of many urban planners and architects with aesthetically pleasing design ignores the reality that cities work best when they give residents the ability to make their own decisions about where they want to live and help them access good economic opportunities.

Bertaud also chronicles how well-meaning but paternalistic land use rules (minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, excessive historic preservation regimes) have harmed cities by making them inaccessible to diverse newcomers. 

By Alain Bertaud,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Order without Design as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An argument that operational urban planning can be improved by the application of the tools of urban economics to the design of regulations and infrastructure.

Urban planning is a craft learned through practice. Planners make rapid decisions that have an immediate impact on the ground—the width of streets, the minimum size of land parcels, the heights of buildings. The language they use to describe their objectives is qualitative—“sustainable,” “livable,” “resilient”—often with no link to measurable outcomes. Urban economics, on the other hand, is a quantitative science, based on theories, models, and empirical evidence largely developed in academic settings. In this…


Book cover of Policymaking for Social Security

Aubrey Fox Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t.

Why am I passionate about this?

My father advised me that to be a good writer, I should first learn a trade and particular subject matter from the inside out. As a working criminal justice practitioner for the last two decades, I’ve been lucky to work with some of the smartest people and best run organizations in the country. I’ve always been a big reader and someone who likes to link the sometimes brutally practical, day-to-day work of running an organization (I lead New York City’s main pretrial services agency) to larger philosophical issues. My life’s goal is to show how big ideas play themselves out in the day-to-day practice of public policy. 

Aubrey's book list on how government works in practice – and when it doesn’t

Aubrey Fox Why did Aubrey love this book?

In writing our book, my co-author Greg Berman and I relied heavily on Derthick’s classic 1979 account of the development of Social Security in its first 15 years.

Derthick shows that its intentionally incremental development became the key to its later success as the largest and most successful anti-poverty program ever developed.

Derthick shows how two unheralded government bureaucrats nurtured and protected the program in its early years, including against a very popular and more immediately radical alternative.

The book does a good job of showing that choices made by the architects of government programs in their early days help set their long-term trajectories – an understudied topic.

By Martha A. Derthick,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Policymaking for Social Security as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Comprehensively analyzes the American social security program, considering its history, politics, policies, and troubled future and advocating a realistic and less reverent approach to its modification.


Book cover of Fearless Fourteen

Susan Rowland Author Of The Sacred Well Murders

From my list on female-centered humorous plots.

Why am I passionate about this?

Enchanted by mysteries of the cozy, comic, or traditional sort, I was delighted to realize that they replay the holy grail myth. Here the Waste Land is the community paralyzed by the crime that cannot be undone, murder, the sleuth is the Grail Knight, and the Grail Cup is the restorative magic of the solution. Cozy or comic or traditional sleuths find the murderer by asking the right questions, so re-storying or restoring the fertility of the realm. Comedy is used for rebirth in the face of tragedy. I began to write cozies-with-an-edge, emphasizing women heroes who need each other as they face issues of today’s wasteland in climate change. 

Susan's book list on female-centered humorous plots

Susan Rowland Why did Susan love this book?

For sheer delight, I give you mysteries featuring not-very-competent bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, because they use comedy to portray as well as endure a world of endemic violence. Serious stuff like organized crime is made visible and bearable to the reader by foregrounding Stephanie’s chaos-strewn friendships with walking disasters like ex ‘ho Lula. The great comic creation, Grandma Mazur (aged 70, looks 90) also drags our beloved sleuth into peril that is hilarious as well as life-threatening. This time Grandma becomes a holy terror in online gaming, a change from geriatric sex-crazed boyfriends, falling into coffin caskets, or shooting the dinner chicken. Evanovich collides the crime caper with darker textures of urban suffering. Read for comedy as a survival skill with plenty of sex, death, and doughnuts. 

By Janet Evanovich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fearless Fourteen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sometimes fame can be fatal...

Personal vendettas. Hidden treasure. A monkey named Carl. Stephanie Plum is as fearless as ever in the fourteenth hilarious novel in Janet Evanovich's bestselling Stephanie Plum series. Fearless Fourteen is not to be missed by fans of Harlan Coben and JD Robb.

Raves for Evanovich's bestselling series: 'A laugh a minute against a background of dastardly crime with a ditzy heroine and two - yes TWO - of the hottest heroes ever created' (Woman's Weekly); 'A laugh-out-loud page-turner' (Heat).

Stephanie's desperate enough for a bit of extra cash that she's agreed to help run security…


Book cover of The Reminders

Jennifer Salvato Doktorski Author Of The Summer After You and Me

From my list on set in New Jersey by NJ authors.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a proud Jersey girl who grew up walking to the ice cream shop where Tony Soprano took his last breath and spending summers “Down the Shore,” near the MTV house, where Snookie and Co. tried to claim the Jersey Shore as their own. When I was younger, outsiders almost had me convinced those overdone jokes about New Jersey were on to something. After traveling the world and living in other places, I realized how much my home state had to offer. My four young adult novels feature proud Jersey girl protagonists and two of my books are set at the real Jersey shore—The Summer After You and Me and August and Everything After.

Jennifer's book list on set in New Jersey by NJ authors

Jennifer Salvato Doktorski Why did Jennifer love this book?

I was honored to read an early draft of this novel by fellow human and Jerseyite, Val Emmich, and was immediately taken with the voice of Joan, a 10-year-old girl with a special condition that gives her the ability to remember everything, but is afraid of being forgotten. To remedy that, she wants to win a prestigious songwriting contest by writing a song that makes people both want to dance and cry (two of the strongest feelings in her opinion). So she strikes a deal with Gavin, an adult songwriter who she believes can help her make that happen. Jersey City is the primary setting for this novel, a city that along with its many other charms, offers spectacular views of the New York City skyline. 

By Val Emmich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reminders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A wonderful and unusual story told in a beautifully understated way. Quietly magnificent' Ruth Hogan, author of The Keeper of Lost Things

Ten-year-old Joan was born with a rare gift: she can remember every single day of her life in perfect detail. She can tell you how many times her mother has uttered the phrase 'it never fails' in the last six months (twenty-seven), or what she was wearing when her grandfather took her fishing on a particular Sunday in June years ago (fox socks).

But Joan doesn't want to be the girl who remembers everything - she wants to…


Book cover of She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story

Kelly Bennett Author Of The House That Ruth Built

From my list on baseball players of color for little sluggers.

Why am I passionate about this?

No one really knows who invented baseball. Games involving balls hit with sticks, runners, and bases are as old as time. By the middle of the 1800s, everybody in America was playing baseball. And I mean everybody—girls, boys, women, and men from all walks of life and heritage.  While researching baseball history for The House That Ruth Built, I read stacks of baseball books about baseball legends—for the most part, White players like Babe Ruth or Black players like Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier. I was surprised and delighted when I came across books about baseball players who represented the rest of everybody—hence this list.

Kelly's book list on baseball players of color for little sluggers

Kelly Bennett Why did Kelly love this book?

Baseball is for girls too!

A simple but lyrical picture book biography of Effa Manley, an African American baseball-loving girl who became the owner of a pro baseball team—and the only woman inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, to date! Don Tate’s detailed, vibrant illustrations will cause readers to pause before every page turn.

By Audrey Vernick, Don Tate (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked She Loved Baseball as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

"A wonderful picture book biography. Little girls will be inspired."* This nonfiction picture book is an excellent choice to share during homeschooling, in particular for children ages 4 to 6. It’s a fun way to learn to read and as a supplement for activity books for children.

Effa always loved baseball. As a young woman, she would go to Yankee Stadium just to see Babe Ruth’s mighty swing. But she never dreamed she would someday own a baseball team. Or be the first—and only—woman ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

From her childhood in Philadelphia to her groundbreaking…


Book cover of 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow

Ronni Diamondstein Author Of Jackie and the Books She Loved

From my list on inspire young people to be readers and writers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a reader and a writer for as long as I can remember, so books about reading, writing, and storytelling have always interested me. As a school library media specialist for over 30 years, I have read thousands of picture books and placed wonderful books in the hands of thousands of young people. Several of these books were mentor texts when I wrote my picture book biography. I want young people to be inspired to read and write, and I hope these books will do that for the adults who select them and the children who read them.

Ronni's book list on inspire young people to be readers and writers

Ronni Diamondstein Why did Ronni love this book?

I found this book to be the perfect illustration of how writers get their ideas and inspiration. This “oh-so-simple picture book” emulates the simplicity of William Carlos Williams’s beloved poem, The Red Wheelbarrow.

I found it to be a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book. The gentle illustrations complement the lyrical text, and the prose is as lovely to read aloud as William Carlos Williams’s poem. It’s such great inspiration for writers of all ages.

By Lisa Rogers, Chuck Groenink (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 16 Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This simple nonfiction picture book about the beloved American poet William Carlos Williams is also about how being mindful can result in the creation of a great poem like "The Red Wheelbarrow"--which is only sixteen words long.

"Look out the window. What do you see? If you are Dr. William Carlos Williams, you see a wheelbarrow. A drizzle of rain. Chickens scratching in the damp earth." The wheelbarrow belongs to Thaddeus Marshall, a street vendor, who every day goes to work selling vegetables on the streets of Rutherford, New Jersey. That simple action inspires poet and doctor Williams to pick…


Book cover of Dog Tags

Judith Mathison Author Of Murder at the No-Kill Animal Shelter

From my list on crime solvers and their dogs.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've always been comforted by the animals in my life, especially my two current feline rescues. When I retired as an attorney, I began working on a murder mystery series, Dead Lawyers, as therapy for my time in the legal biz. The main character, not a pet person, ends up with two cats, and I enjoyed writing humorous scenes on how his life turned topsy-turvy. I needed to explain the backstory, and wrote Murder at the No-Kill Animal Shelter, a prequel novella to the series. I can’t think of anything better than combining animals and mysteries. I’m gladly an award-winning member of Cat Writers Association, along with Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Judith's book list on crime solvers and their dogs

Judith Mathison Why did Judith love this book?

Billy, an injured Iraq war vet, returns home and finds no real place for him at his former job. Milo, a German shepherd trained by the same police department, has aged out at seven years and is also unwanted. Since Milo and Billy previously worked together, they team up, and with Rosenfelt’s tongue-in-cheek humor, commit robberies to survive. Why not use the dog’s training to grab items from criminal hands and remove them? But on the fourth outing, things don’t go as planned.

Milo takes off and buries an envelope he took from the perp, Billy is framed for murder, and attorney Andy Carpenter, who loves dogs, agrees to represent the dog, jailed for his own safety. Carpenter’s snarky sense of humor leaps off every page as he twists and turns the justice system for yet another dog-related cause. Rosenfelt has rescued thousands of dogs through his Tara Foundation and…

By David Rosenfelt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dog Tags as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A German Shepherd police dog becomes implicated in a murder and if his owner - an Iraq war vet and former cop-turned-thief - is convicted, the dog could be put down. Few rival Andy Carpenter's affection for dogs, and he decides to represent the poor canine. As Andy struggles to convince a judge that this dog should be set free, he discovers that the dog and his owner have become involved unwittingly in a case of much greater proportions than the one they've been charged with. Andy will have to call upon the unique abilities of this ex-police dog to…


Book cover of Drag Queens and Beauty Queens: Contesting Femininity in the World's Playground

Margot Mifflin Author Of Looking for Miss America: A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood

From my list on how the Miss America pageant was born.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write about pop culture and women’s history, often as it relates to the body and beauty. I’m intrigued by the ways women claim unconventional means of expression for their own beautification (such as tattooing) and how they harness beauty in the service of social and economic mobility (as in pageant culture). These books offer insight into the varied ways pageantry, from campus pageants to the Miss America stage, inform American identity and ratify the historian Rosalyn Baxandall’s belief that “every day in a woman’s life is a walking Miss America contest.”

Margot's book list on how the Miss America pageant was born

Margot Mifflin Why did Margot love this book?

Drag pageantry owes a lot to Miss America, especially an Atlantic City pageant called Miss’d America. Greene documents the symbiotic relationship between the Atlantic City gayborhood that spawned this contest and the Miss America Pageant, where many gay locals worked as stylists, dancers, and on production crews behind the scenes. Launched in 1993, Miss’d America unified this community in response to the AIDS crisis and offered an alternative pageant for people who’d missed the real deal. Greene couches Miss’d America in the context of Atlantic City’s fascinating drag history going back to the turn of the century (because what better runway than the Atlantic City Boardwalk?), describing, for example, men who swanned along wearing “trick pants, pale purple hose, tan shoes with two-inch soles and lavender neckties” in 1925. 

By Laurie Greene,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drag Queens and Beauty Queens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Miss America pageant has been held in Atlantic City for the past hundred years, helping to promote the city as a tourist destination. But just a few streets away, the city hosts a smaller event that, in its own way, is equally vital to the local community: the Miss’d America drag pageant.

 

Drag Queens and Beauty Queens presents a vivid ethnography of the Miss’d America pageant and the gay neighborhood from which it emerged in the early 1990s as a moment of campy celebration in the midst of the AIDS crisis. It examines how the pageant strengthened community bonds…


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