I have a few hundred books in my office. In light of something that recently came across my social media feed, here’s how I organize them.
Alphabetically by author. It makes them easy to find. McCloskey’s Enterprise and Trade in Victorian Britain? Over there. North’s Structure and Change in Economic History? Right there. Liberty Fund’s Collected works of Armen Alchian? Near the front.
I make exceptions for subjects. I keep my books about Adam Smith with my books by Adam Smith. If I’m looking for Christopher Berry’s The Idea of a Commercial Society in the Scottish Enlightenment, it’s with my Smith books. I’ve done some research on lynching and other kinds of racist violence, so all my books on lynching are in the same place. Microeconomics textbooks (here’s Deirdre McCloskey’s The Applied Theory of Price for $0 and David Friedman’s Price Theory for $0)? The inexplicably not-republished University Economics by Alchian and Allen? They’re all in the spot.
Within authors, I arrange chronologically. I get a bit of an eye twitch, for example, if McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Era” series (The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, and Bourgeois Equality) are out of order.
Why own a lot of books? Beyond their usefulness, there’s a degree to which they’re furniture. I do better work—or at least, I feel like I do better work—when I’m surrounded by tangible representations of great ideas.
Do you like books but hate paying for them? Check out #FreeBookFriday on Twitter and follow me.