Mind Blowing

The Best Big Ideas Of 2014

The Daily Beast scours the shelves to find the year’s best ideas between hardcovers, from the danger of inequality to the fear of inoculation.

12.11.14 10:45 AM ET

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Thomas Piketty (Harvard University Press)

Few, if any, books this year so inspired people to scramble for copies just so they could claim to have read it. That said, Piketty’s arguments decrying increasing inequality gave considerable intellectual heft to those who have long warned of its dangers.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books)

In his latest book, the practicing surgeon argues that in the end, it is the quality of life that matters. His surveys of the nursing home system, hospice care, and palliative care in the U.S. ask whether or not aging with dignity and respect are as important as our success in prolonging life.

The sometimes alienating author of The End of Faith and a leader of the New Atheist movement tackles issues faced by those struggling to understand themselves—and to find some plausible alternative to a purely materialistic world—without resorting to the faiths espoused by specific religions.

No legislation will solve the real disease plaguing Washington, says Howard, who argues that there are too few people looking to lead and too many people hiding behind bureaucracy.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Elizabeth Kolbert (Henry Holt)

In the past half billion years, there have been just five mass extinctions, when the globe’s diversity suddenly dropped. We are currently in the sixth, which is predicted to be the worst, and, to make matters worse, we are the cause.

Political Order and Political Decay
Francis Fukuyama (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

How are strong democratic states created? The former “End of History” author’s second volume on the history of liberal democracy is a whirlwind tour of nation building, from the French Revolution to the present day.

On Immunity: An Inoculation
Eula Biss (Graywolf Press) 

A powerful look at the myths and fears surrounding vaccination, and the reasons so many insist on their dangers.

Criminal justice reform has had a banner year in 2014, and Bernstein’s devastating examination of the criminal juvenile system and the institutional violence enacted on children make an effective argument for serious changes.

The Empathy Exams: Essays
Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press) 

What does it mean to feel somebody else’s pain? In a series of wide-ranging and beautifully written essays, Jamison surveys how this emotion affects everything from travel to work.

Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism
Cass Sunstein (Yale University Press)

Once named “the most dangerous man in America” by Glenn Beck, Sunstein defends the government’s right to meddle in our lives, no matter how much we want to be obese chain-smokers with no healthcare or savings.