A reading list for the next four years

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 9 November 2012

One of the things that I did in November 2008 was to begin writing a novel.  If I had to describe it in one sentence:  Frances Mayes meets Ayn Rand.

It’s the story of a young man in the early 1970s who wants nothing more than to make great wine.  So, not unlike the prospectors who travelled west a century before him, he went to California to find bottled gold.  He succeeds.  But that is when his troubles start.  Success breeds envy and contempt from others and he finds himself engaged in political battles to try and maintain what he has built.  That is when his political outlook begins to change.  Oh, and I should mention that the protagonist is gay.

I’m only about half done.  Life has a way of getting in the way.  Plus, I’ve never written one of these novel thingies, so it’s entirely new to me. 

One of the things I’ve done to help me research (beside the couple trips to California to meet with some legendary winemakers from that era) is to read more political philosophy.  It helps me to understand my message better so that I can then distill it into ideas that I can put into the novel. 

I say all this to say that Alert Reader Snorri Godhi commented on a recent post that she thought that in light of this week’s events that it might be a good idea for people to re-read a little Hayek.  Snorri’s comment has inspired me to start this post.

What books can help people, first, to understand our current political/social/economic environment, and then, second, to help them to refute contrary arguments and win over undecideds?

Below is my first stab at a reading list that I pulled from my Kindle.  What would you suggest to add/delete?

Bastiat, Frederic.  Economic Sophisms

Bastiat, Frederic.  Essays on Political Economy 

Bastiat, Frederic.  The Law

Friedman, Milton.  Capitalism and Freedom

Goldberg, Jonah.  Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left

Hamilton, Alexander, et al.  The Federalist Papers

Hayek, F.A.  The Road to Serfdom

Hobbes, Thomas.  Leviathon

Mackay, Charles.  Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (first three chapters)

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty

von Mises, Ludwig.  The Theory of Money and Credit

Okrent, Daniel.  Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition 

O’Rourke, P.J.  On the Wealth of Nations

O’Rourke, P.J.  Parliament of Whores

Payne, Thomas.  Common Sense

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man

de Tocquevill, Alexis.  Democracy in America

Wolfe, Thomas.  The Bonfire of the Vanities

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10 Responses to “A reading list for the next four years”

  1. Snorri Godhi Says:

    It’s always nice to see a suggestion acknowledged, but I should clarify that Snorri Godhi is a nom de plume taken from the Sagas of Icelanders. I clarify it for 2 reasons: first, the original Snorri would take offense at being mistaken for a woman, and you don’t want a Viking to take offense (though in this context, clearly no offense was meant).

    Second, and more seriously, the Sagas of Icelanders are great literature and a great way to learn to appreciate liberty. The Roundheads in the xvii century were partly inspired by reading the Roman historians: the sagas can do the same for our generation.

    I suggest starting with the 10-page story Ale-Hood, and then 3 or 4 of the following:
    Thorstein Staff-struck
    the Saga of the Confederates
    the saga of Weapon’s Fjord
    the saga of Hen-Thorir (with an episode reminding me of the euro crisis)
    the saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godhi.

    After that, you can move on to Eyrbjggja Saga (basically the biography of Snorri Godhi, who also appears in some of the other sagas)
    and the masterpiece of the genre, Njal’s Saga.

    You might also want to read David Friedman’s essay on anarcho-capitalism in Viking Iceland.

  2. Snorri Godhi Says:

    What else should be on everybody’s reading list? I think that the further back you go, the better. So, in inverse chronological order:
    George Watson: The Lost Literature of Socialism
    James Burnham: The Machiavellians
    George Orwell: Animal Farm
    Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
    Spencer: The New Toryism (essay)
    Tocqueville: The Ancient Regime and the Revolution
    Locke: Second Treatise on Government
    Machiavelli: The Prince (many people recommend the Discourses, but it’s 3 times as long)
    Aristotle: Politics
    Sun Tzu: Art of War

    Watson and Burnham are the places to start, in my opinion.
    Watson will teach you to read what the older texts say, rather than reading into them what you think they are supposed to say.
    Burnham is a brilliant introduction to Machiavelli and some recent neo-Machiavellian thinkers, and might have inspired the class analysis in Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class.
    I don’t agree with everything that Burnham says, however: he sees the masses (anybody outside the ruling class) as almost powerless, because unorganized: anybody organizing them is by definition a member of the ruling class, so their only power is to choose a faction (or party) within the ruling class. Burnham did not consider the possibility of going Galt.

    In the spirit of Sun Tzu’s advice: know your enemy, know yourself, and in a hundred battles you will not be defeated, you might also want to read the following:
    Mussolini: Doctrine of Fascism
    Marx: Communist Manifesto
    Rousseau: Social Contract

  3. Snorri Godhi Says:

    Sorry to hog this comment thread, but I’d like to add a few comments on Bob’s original list, what I know of it.

    Liberal Fascism: it’s a messy book, poorly structured, with sloppy terminology at times, partly due to mistaken ideas about pre-fascist European politics. Still, I would not know which other book to recommend that introduces fascism, nazism, progressivism from Wilson to FDR, and “liberalism” from JFK to now; and shows the similarities between them. J.J. Ray’s online essays cover some of the same ground, however.

    The Road to Serfdom: not for the faint-hearted. You might want to start with the cartoon version:
    I also recommend Book 8 of Plato’s Politeia (aka “The Republic”). Try to see the similarities between the cartoons and Plato’s analysis of the descent of democracy into tyranny, before tackling Hayek’s original.

    Extraordinary Popular Delusions: absolutely! and much more fun than Hayek.

    On Liberty: the distinction that JS Mill makes between economic and “individual” liberty, at the beginning of chapter 5, alienated me: it seems like he is implying that making money s vulgar. Besides, his reasoning is spurious: the moral right that he gives to the State to interfere with economic freedom, could also be given to freedom of speech or sexual freedom, on the same grounds (i.e. they are all “social acts”).

  4. William` Says:


    “The vision of the anointed” by Thomas Sowell

    Don’t bother with Hayek, whose book is better summarized than read. Certainly don’t waste you time with Mises unless you are an economic historian.

  5. Glen Says:

    You should add a few more recent books to your reading list:

    Charles R. Kesler, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism

    Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

    Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

  6. Bill Quick Says:

    All of the suggestions seem good ones, but none answer the question: “Why is statism/leftism so attractive to so many people?”

    For the definitive answer to that, you need to go to the dockworker/philosopher and his magisterial “The True Believer.”

    That book changed my life more than any other.

  7. Bill Quick Says:

    Oops. Dockworker/philosopher Eric Hoffer.

  8. CKW Says:

    And the republican/conservative insular bubble continues….

  9. Peter Whale Says:

    Julius Cesar by Shakespeare. Says it all .


    Everything by Ayn Rand. Fiction & non-fiction. Couldn’t be more timely.