The best books about methodology

15 authors have picked their favorite books about methodology and why they recommend each book.

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Against Method

By Paul Feyerabend,

Book cover of Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge

Read it to jolt you out of thinking that there is a Scientific Method like the one you heard about in high school chemistry. Feyerabend was trained as a physicist, and knew how scientists actually argue, as he shows here in a startling analysis of Galileo’s Dialogue.


Who am I?

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, adjunct in classics and philosophy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard in the 1960s as an economist, she has written twenty-four books and some four hundred academic and popular articles on economic history, rhetoric, philosophy, statistical theory, economic theory, feminism, queer studies, liberalism, ethics, and law.


I wrote...

The Rhetoric of Economics

By Deirdre N. McCloskey,

Book cover of The Rhetoric of Economics

What is my book about?

Economists are poets / But don’t know it.  Economic modeling uses metaphors, not as mere ornaments or elucidations but as the very meat of the science (just as in physics or history). In her famous book, McCloskey illustrates the point with trenchant wit.  Her point is to not attack economics, but to show how it actually works its persuasions—for which she chooses great economists whose scientific work she admires. 

Invisible Women

By Caroline Criado Perez,

Book cover of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

If you’ve ever felt the world isn’t designed for you, fellow women, this book explains why. It isn’t. It’s designed for the default human, who’s male. We’re more likely to be injured in a car accident, because we insist on putting the seat forward. Bus planners create routes for people going into the city and out, not for women dropping off the children on their way to care for their elderly mother before their cleaning job in the suburbs. Medicines, would you believe, are only tested on male mice, because of pesky hormones. An initiative to get more women professors at Universities ended up with more men... A riveting read which will have you saying, disbelievingly, ‘And another thing...’ at the nearest male for weeks.


Who am I?

I’m Marsali Taylor, a retired teacher of English, French and Drama. I’ve always been interested in women’s history—not queens and countesses, but what life was like for ordinary people like me. A chance to research women’s suffrage in the Scottish National Library got me started reading these women’s stories in their own words—and what stories they were, from the first women graduates to the war workers. Women’s Suffrage in Shetland took two years of fascinating research, and I hope it’s the foundation for more work by other researchers, both here in Shetland and in other communities whose women fought for the vote.


I wrote...

Women's Suffrage in Shetland

By Marsali Taylor,

Book cover of Women's Suffrage in Shetland

What is my book about?

This account of women’s fight for the vote was meant to be a pamphlet... until I discovered just how much was involved, and how much the Shetland women’s suffrage society was part of the worldwide fight. Women wanted the vote to force male MPs to legislate against abusive husbands, uncaring magistrates and negligent employers. They wanted to keep their own earnings and property; they wanted to be guardians of their children. They wanted education at school level and further... and when war came they proved that they could work in front-line hospitals and drive ambulances under fire. Discover the story of the struggle as it affected “ordinary” women, seen through the lens of one remote community. 

What Is Global History?

By Sebastian Conrad,

Book cover of What Is Global History?

So, what, exactly is this ‘world’ or ‘global history’? Authors slap the two words on their books, universities offer new courses in it, and government officials across the planet now speak of ‘global this’ and ‘global that’. One could be forgiven for throwing up one’s hands in exasperation for failing to understand what exactly these two words mean. That is until Sebastian Conrad published this gem of a book aptly entitled: What is Global History? Yes, it’s a bit academic, but it’s also clearly written, logically organized, and succeeds brilliantly in explaining what global history is and is not without losing the reader in theoretical jargon. If you want to try something beyond the ‘nation’ and ‘empire’, Conrad’s global history is a great place to start.


Who am I?

Christopher Goscha first fell in love with world history while reading Fernand Braudel's La Méditerranée in graduate school in France and doing research for his PhD in Southeast Asia. He is currently a professor of international relations at the Université du Québec à Montréal where he teaches world history and publishes on the wars for Vietnam in a global context. He does this most recently in his forthcoming book entitled The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First Vietnam War.

I wrote...

The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

By Christopher Goscha,

Book cover of The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

What is my book about?

On May 7, 1954, when the bullets stopped and the air stilled in Dien Bien Phu, there was no doubt that Vietnam could fight a mighty colonial power and win. After nearly a decade of struggle, a nation forged in the crucible of war had achieved a victory undreamed of by any other national liberation movement. The Road to Dien Bien Phu tells the story of how Ho Chi Minh turned a ragtag guerilla army into a modern fighting force capable of bringing down the formidable French army.

Panoramic in scope, The Road to Dien Bien Phu transforms our understanding of this conflict and the one the United States would later enter, and sheds new light on communist warfare and statecraft in East Asia today.

The Knowledge Machine

By Michael Strevens,

Book cover of The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Science has revolutionized the way we live and the way we understand reality, but what accounts for its success? What method sets science apart from other forms of inquiry and ensures that it yields ever-more accurate theories of the world? Strevens argues that the scientific method is not a special kind of logic, like deriving hypotheses from first principles or narrowing hypotheses through falsification, but a simple commitment to arguing with evidence. Strevens shows, with historical case studies, how this commitment is seemingly irrational, as it provides no constraints on what counts as evidence or how evidence should be interpreted, but also incredibly powerful, fostering ingenuity and discovery.


Who am I?

I’m a professor of psychology at Occidental College, where I direct the Thinking Lab. I hold degrees in psychology from Princeton and Harvard and have published several dozen scholarly articles on conceptual development and conceptual change. I’m interested in how people acquire new concepts and form new beliefs, especially within the domains of science and religion. My research investigates intuitions that guide our everyday understanding of the natural world and strategies for improving that understanding.


I wrote...

Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong

By Andrew Shtulman,

Book cover of Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong

What is my book about?

Why do we catch colds? What causes seasons to change? And if you fire a bullet from a gun and drop one from your hand, which bullet hits the ground first? In a pinch we almost always get these questions wrong. Worse, we regularly misconstrue fundamental qualities of the world around us. In Scienceblind, I show that the root of our misconceptions lies in the theories about the world we develop as children. They’re not only wrong; they close our minds to ideas inconsistent with them, making us unable to learn science later in life. So how do we get the world right? We must dismantle our intuitive theories and rebuild our knowledge from its foundations. The reward won't just be a truer picture of the world, but clearer solutions to many controversies—around vaccines, climate change, or evolution—that plague our politics today.

Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises

By Ludwig von Mises,

Book cover of Epistemological Problems of Economics. Ludwig Von Mises

This book written in 1922 by the Austrian economist at the University of Vienna is one of the few truly foundational works in political economy. Mises takes apart the theory of the Marxist moneyless planned economy which Lenin and then Stalin tried to apply to the Soviet Union. Mises lucidly explains why not only that it could never work but would lead to catastrophic and unending shortages, dictatorship, repression, and arbitrary rule enforced by a militarized one-party state. Although Mises had no knowledge of China, it is the best book to read in order to understand what happened in China in the 20th century.

Who am I?

Jasper Becker is a foreign correspondent who spent decades reporting on China and the Far East. His the author of numerous books including Hungry Ghosts – Mao’s Secret Famine, Rogue Regime – Kim Jong Il and the looming threat of North Korea, City of Heavenly Tranquillity, and most recently Made in China – Wuhan, COVID and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy.


I wrote...

Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

By Jasper Becker,

Book cover of Made in China: Wuhan, Covid and the Quest for Biotech Supremacy

What is my book about?

What might COVID-19 mean for, and reveal about, China's place in the world? The coronavirus pandemic started in Wuhan, home to the leading lab studying the SARS virus and bats. Was that pure coincidence? This book explores what we know, and still don't know, about the origins of COVID-19, and how it was handled in China.

We may never get all the answers, but much is already clear: China's record as the origin of earlier pandemics, and its struggle to bring contagious diseases under control; its history as both a victim of biological warfare and a developer of deadly bioweapons. When Covid broke out, Wuhan was building science parks to realise Beijing's ambitions in biotech research. Whoever achieves global leadership of the gene-editing industry stands to harvest great power and wealth.

Mapping the Spectrum

By Klaus Hentschel,

Book cover of Mapping the Spectrum: Techniques of Visual Representation in Research and Teaching

The proverbial scientist at work conjures the image of a solitary investigator bent over a workbench cluttered with arcane instruments nestled among reams of scribbled notes just waiting to be transformed into creative answers to pressing questions about the natural world. The image's simplicity belies the complexity of the process it purports to represent. Adding descriptions of the what, how, and why of scientific inquiry, observation, and analysis still misses a crucial element that makes the improvement, dissemination, and acceptance of new knowledge possible, namely the active behind-the-scenes collaboration between scientists and the illustrators, photographers, printers, and other artisans who use visual representation to shape and successfully communicate that knowledge. 

Mapping the Spectrum is not just an exhaustive and illuminating history of spectrum analysis.  In it, author Klaus Hentschel brilliantly exposes the essential role of visual culture in bringing this all-important tool of modern science to useful life.  He has…


Who am I?

Barbara J. Becker received her PhD in the history of science from Johns Hopkins University. Until her retirement, she taught at the University of California at Irvine and now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is a leading authority on astronomer William Huggins. Her research interests include the role of the amateur in the development of nineteenth-century professional astronomy, the redefining of disciplinary boundaries in the face of new knowledge and new practice, and the role of controversy in shaping the substance and structure of scientific knowledge. She is the author of numerous journal articles and editor of Selected Correspondence of William Huggins (2 volumes).


I wrote...

Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

By Barbara J. Becker,

Book cover of Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy

What is my book about?

Unravelling Starlight is the first scholarly biography of William Huggins (1824-1910), a retired London silk merchant and self-taught amateur astronomer who was celebrated in his own lifetime as the "father" of astrophysics. 

Based on new evidence on Huggins's life and career gleaned from his unpublished notebooks and correspondence, Unravelling Starlight provides a fresh look at his pioneering contributions to the development of astrophysics and sheds important new light on his collaborative work with his wife, the former Margaret Lindsay Murray (1848-1915).  In 2015, it was awarded the prestigious Donald E. Osterbrock Prize by the History of Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society.

The Demon-Haunted World

By Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan,

Book cover of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

It’s not often a world-famous scientist does a great job explaining the scientific method to the general population. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan teach how to think critically about extraordinary claims. In other words, what’s valid and what’s not. What’s sound logic versus flawed thinking. As Carl famously stated, “…Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”


Who am I?

As a licensed mental health professional, I once had a client claiming to be demonically possessed, and requested that I get an exorcist to drive the evil spirits out of her body. Instead, I utilized a therapeutic approach to challenge “irrational” beliefs. The problem was gone. I realized that people were prone to strange beliefs and started to read and listen to “experts” who were skeptical in nature. To my surprise, I saw Carl Sagan distinguishing astrology (pseudoscience) from astronomy (science). His talk was clear, convincing, and logical. I was hooked.


I edited...

Pseudoscience and Deception: The Smoke and Mirrors of Paranormal Claims

By Bryan Farha,

Book cover of Pseudoscience and Deception: The Smoke and Mirrors of Paranormal Claims

What is my book about?

Pseudoscience and Deception is a compilation of some of the most eye-opening skeptical articles pertaining to extraordinary claims and pseudoscience. The articles explore paranormal, extraordinary, or fringe-science claims and reveal logical explanations or outline the deceptive tactics involved in convincing the vulnerable. Topics include claims of astrology, psychic ability, alternative medicine, after-death communication, psychotherapy, and pseudoscience. The contributors to this book are among the most accomplished critical thinkers, scientists, and educators in the world and tackle their respective topics from a rational, logical, and skeptical perspective. Most students are seldom excited to study “critical thinking”—with the exception of allegedly paranormal phenomena as the subject matter. Educators must seize this golden opportunity to witness and experience students’ genuine engagement in studying critical thinking. 

The Philosopher's Toolkit

By Peter S. Fosl, Julian Baggini,

Book cover of The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

As with any other academic discipline, philosophy has its own language. This is not jargon (or it shouldn’t be!). It is a technical terminology. To look at something very closely, as any academic discipline does, is to record distinctions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Immediately two names are needed where only one was needed before. This book will talk you through the most important of these distinctions. The book also looks at the methodology of philosophy, the most important of which, of course, is logic. 


Who am I?

I taught philosophy (in particular critical reasoning!) for the colleges of Oxford University between 1987 and 2021. But, aged 15, I was thrown out of school (for truancy and disruption). Between the ages of 18 and 23 I travelled the world, hitch-hiking through Asia, living in Australasia, then travelling back through Africa. By the time I got home, starved of intellectual stimulation, I started an Open University Course and discovered logic. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. But also the most enjoyable. I loved getting to grips with difficult distinctions and concepts and having to use them precisely. Getting the answers right felt like an achievement. Getting them wrong, a challenge. I’ve loved logic ever since!


I wrote...

Critical Reasoning: A Romp through the Foothills of Logic for the Complete Beginner

By Marianne Talbot,

Book cover of Critical Reasoning: A Romp through the Foothills of Logic for the Complete Beginner

What is my book about?

Have you ever wished you could argue more convincingly? Or have you wished you could detect more easily the problems in the arguments of others? Then this is the book for you. It’ll teach you how to recognize arguments, how to analyse and classify arguments, and how to evaluate arguments – how to say which arguments are good and which are bad. You will also, after a close reading of the book, be confident in saying why these arguments are good and bad. Those who’d like to will also be able to dip their toes into formalizing arguments. 

The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology

By Chris Chambers,

Book cover of The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice

Still the best book to diagnose the problems and explain why we need Open Science. Chris Chambers tells of his disillusionment with so many aspects of what researchers were doing, in psychology, but also in medicine and many other fields. That rang true to me—I travelled that same road. He goes on from explaining the problems to describing solutions. Many of these, including openness, better statistics, replication, and increased scrutiny, are now being advocated or required by funders and journal editors, and adopted by researchers. That’s Open Science, hooray!


Who am I?

I gradually shifted my statistics teaching from significance testing—traditional, but bamboozling—to estimation (confidence intervals). I became passionate about advocating this shift. I called estimation ‘the new statistics’ because, although not new, relying on it would, for many researchers, be very new. It’s more informative, makes sense, and is a pleasure to teach and use. I ‘retired’ to write Understanding the New Statistics (2012). That was influential, so I started writing an intro version. Open Science arrived and I realised estimation is exactly what Open Science needs. Robert Calin-Jageman joined me, we developed my draft to include Open Science, and published Introduction to the New Statistics (2017). Enjoy!


I wrote...

Introduction to the New Statistics: Estimation, Open Science, and Beyond

By Geoff Cumming, Robert Calin-Jageman,

Book cover of Introduction to the New Statistics: Estimation, Open Science, and Beyond

What is my book about?

This is the first introductory statistics text to use an estimation approach and explain Open Science from the very start. Estimation helps readers understand effect sizes, confidence intervals, and meta-analysis (‘the new statistics’). It simply makes sense and is a pleasure to teach and use. Open Science practices are new and exciting: They encourage replication and enhance the trustworthiness of research. The book also explains traditional significance testing so students can understand old published research. There are numerous real research examples. The approach is highly visual, to make ideas accessible and memorable. The free ESCI (Exploratory Software for Confidence Intervals) software makes concepts visually vivid and provides calculation and graphing facilities. A second edition, with additional R-based software, is coming in 2023.

Science Fictions

By Stuart Ritchie,

Book cover of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth

I love how Ritchie starts with a rather wry account, addressed directly to you as a would-be researcher, of the challenges and weirdness you’ll encounter as you launch into your own research. His own research helped sparked recognition of the ‘replication crisis,’ so he’s well placed to tell us about misguided practices and the sometimes wicked deeds of researchers. More happily, he describes how we can return to the sound foundations of good scientific practice. A current term for that is ‘Open Science.’


Who am I?

I gradually shifted my statistics teaching from significance testing—traditional, but bamboozling—to estimation (confidence intervals). I became passionate about advocating this shift. I called estimation ‘the new statistics’ because, although not new, relying on it would, for many researchers, be very new. It’s more informative, makes sense, and is a pleasure to teach and use. I ‘retired’ to write Understanding the New Statistics (2012). That was influential, so I started writing an intro version. Open Science arrived and I realised estimation is exactly what Open Science needs. Robert Calin-Jageman joined me, we developed my draft to include Open Science, and published Introduction to the New Statistics (2017). Enjoy!


I wrote...

Introduction to the New Statistics: Estimation, Open Science, and Beyond

By Geoff Cumming, Robert Calin-Jageman,

Book cover of Introduction to the New Statistics: Estimation, Open Science, and Beyond

What is my book about?

This is the first introductory statistics text to use an estimation approach and explain Open Science from the very start. Estimation helps readers understand effect sizes, confidence intervals, and meta-analysis (‘the new statistics’). It simply makes sense and is a pleasure to teach and use. Open Science practices are new and exciting: They encourage replication and enhance the trustworthiness of research. The book also explains traditional significance testing so students can understand old published research. There are numerous real research examples. The approach is highly visual, to make ideas accessible and memorable. The free ESCI (Exploratory Software for Confidence Intervals) software makes concepts visually vivid and provides calculation and graphing facilities. A second edition, with additional R-based software, is coming in 2023.

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