Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Reading List for the Educated Voter

A Reading List for the Educated Voter
(And those who wish to be)
Hon. Robert A. Hall, MEd, CAE
Reprint permission with credit is granted by the author.

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One by Thomas Sowell
Economics may be called the “dismal science,” but a lack of understanding of basic economic principles by most voters and far too many politicians is the root of much of our current trouble. Politicians often get elected by giving voters things they want in the short term, which ruin the economy in the long term, and the voters fail to make the connection. If you don’t understand economics, you are not an informed voter.

No one explains economics more clearly than Dr. Sowell, whose economics books are in many languages and many classrooms. His research and examples are strong, and his writing both entertaining and easy to understand for the lay reader. His best-seller Basic Economics might be even better, but it’s four times as long. If you want more, read that as well.

Not as readable, but for a good review of economic thinking from Marx to Milton Friedman, New Ideas From Dead Economists by Harvard Professor Todd G. Buchholz packs a lot of information into a short book.

Sowell is well-represented on this list, because I find him both brilliant and excellent at conveying ideas. He was born to a dirt-poor black family in North Carolina, which didn’t have hot water or electricity, supported himself from age 17 on, and worked his way (before affirmative action) through Harvard, Columbia and to a PhD from the University of Chicago. He has taught at several major universities and has dozens of books in print. His autobiography, A Personal Odyssey is inspiring. His columns are achieved on his website: http://www.tsowell.com/.

Race and Culture: A World View by Thomas Sowell
The challenges of race and culture that confront us are not unique to America. Again, Sowell’s excellent research and pertinent examples put these problems into perspective. You will come away with a better understanding and new view of these issues.

His excellent collection of essays, Black Rednecks and White Liberals is also a wonderful book, touching on many of these topics. The “Real History of Slavery” essay is alone worth the price of this book.

I might as well get my last recommendation for Sowell out of the way. This book is different from many of his others in that he is not putting forth his ideas, viewpoint and opinions here, but presenting a balanced discussion of the foundations of thought for modern liberalism and modern conservatism. It requires a bit more intellectual focus than the books above, but will not be hated by folks of either viewpoint. If you want to understand why those stupid liberals/conservatives think like they do, this is where to find out.

Steyn is a very entertaining and funny writer, though this is a most serious subject. It deals with demographics and the dangerous fact that for most of the western world, including Japan and Canada, the native birth rate has fallen well below the replacement rate of 2.1 lives births per woman. Unless this can be reversed, which seems unlikely, the cultures of Europe and the west are likely to collapse within 30 years. It also means the western social welfare state cannot be sustained, and that Europe will increasingly be Islamicized and in fiscal turmoil. America’s birthrate is right at 2.1, thanks mostly to Hispanics and some sub-cultures like the Mormons. Since economic progress and liberty has depended on western civilization, the implications for future generations are scary.

This is the pro-Islam view by an Iranian religious scholar. In my view, several of the important questions were glossed over, and being Iranian, he leans a tad toward the Shia side of the Sunni-Shia struggle in Islam, but it’s a good, non-inflammatory understanding of how moderate Muslims view their religion. Since the challenge of militant political Islam isn’t going away, you had better understand this religion. (BTW, Islam means “submission” not “peace” as is often claimed.)

This is the other side, as Spencer is an out-spoken critic of political Islam and the belief that it is basically a “religion of peace.” If you read this and No god but God, you’ll be pretty well grounded in the arguments. Spencer also wrote The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran, The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion and other books that are well researched, which would get his head cut off in any of a number of countries.

The Sword of the Prophet by Serge Trifkovic and A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden are also worth reading. It also helps if you know that Islam attacked Europe well before the much-maligned Crusades. See Tours, Battle of, 732.

Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East by John Keay
A broad look at an area we will be engaged with for a long time. This is an excellent one-volume history of the Middle East, from 1890 through the Suez crisis in 1956, with an epilog to bring us up to date. The catalog of crime and invasion, contention, execution and insurrection, siege and betrayal of Hashemite vs. Wahhabi, Sunni vs. Shia vs. Kurd vs. Turk, Allies vs. Ottomans, Britain vs. France, Zionists vs. Muslims, and other groups great and small would give a tourist pause, never mind a diplomat or soldier.

A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East 1914 – 1922 by David Fromkin is also worth reading, but narrower.

Infidel by Ayann Hirsa Ali.
What is it like to be a woman under Islam? Ali’s autobiography describes her rise from a nomadic Muslim family in Somalia, her and her sister’s genital mutilation at ages 5 & 4, her escape to Holland from a forced marriage, her election as a member of the Dutch parliament, her campaign against the domestic violence and circumcision of little girls on kitchen tables that is widespread among Muslim immigrants in Holland, the murder of Theo van Gogh (grand nephew of the painter) after they made a film together criticizing Muslim violence against women, and her move to the United States after having to go into hiding to save her life. If there was ever a feminist book by a feminist who sought change at the risk of her life, this is it.

Liberty and Civilization: The Western Heritage edited by the philosopher Roger Scruton.
The book is described as examining, “the intellectual and spiritual traditions of our belief in individual liberty, from its Judeo Christian origins on through Enlightenment philosophy.” I found several of the essays, such as one on the little-known aspects of the history of the women’s rights movement, worth the price of the book. (Not that I liked every essay in it.) Valuable to understanding the foundations of our Republic.

Levin has a reputation as a bomb thrower on his radio program. I don’t listen to talk radio, so I couldn’t say. But this short, concise book is a clear and ringing defense of freedom and individualism. I highly recommend it.

Hogan is a “hard science” science fiction writer, who got interested in controversies in science and researched them for this book. It’s out of print, so a bit hard to get. I’m not a scientist, and I suspect that a many, perhaps most of the alternative theories he explores are wrong. But I was fascinated by the politics, the manipulation, the vicious attacks, and the strenuous efforts to prevent other views from being heard that permeate science, where things apparently get as nasty as any political campaign. You won’t think of science and the lofty proclamations of scientists the same way after you have read this book.

The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek
We are back to economics and philosophy with this classic. I’ll let you skip it if you wish, as it is a hard read, needing a lot of focus, not at all like Sowell. Hayek was writing in Britain in the 1940s, having been driven from his native Austria by the Nazis. He warned the west that tyranny can happen anywhere. Hayek saw little to choose between the National Socialism of Hitler and the International Socialism of Stalin. This is the economic and philosophical case for freedom and for individual as opposed to state economic decision making. For Hayek, the Road to Serfdom is the growth of government.

A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq by Mark Moyar
An excellent history of the type of wars we are likely to be involved in for a long time. A Harvard and Cambridge-trained historian, Dr. Moyar reviews what worked and what didn’t, who were good leaders and who failed the test of insurgency warfare. This will help you judge how we are doing in places like Afghanistan, and what the chances of success are. A review of this book I wrote was published in Leatherneck Magazine.

American History (Updated 3-1-11--I read the book!)
A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. At 830 pages, this book requires a time investment, but is well worth it, if you haven’t reviewed US History since college. Or never. It’s a good book to buy for you high school and college students—if you can get them to read it! I have a Masters in History and read history for pleasure, so I picked up many small details I consider to be errors in fact, which hopefully will be corrected in future editions. But they didn’t impact the broad conclusions. The authors are academic historians, and do not gloss over the bad patches, such as slavery and the treatment of the indigenous population (what we used to call “Indians” before PC took hold.) On the other hand, the book was free of the Marxist cant and genuflections to leftist chimeras so prevalent on campus today. They do an excellent job of achieving balance, for example, criticizing FDR for depression-extending economic policies while praising his wartime leadership and diplomacy. Certainly the last chapter on the Bush presidency and the War on Terror will be disputed by the left, but it brings balance to the narrative they push in a sycophantic media. The book is well written and clear, not difficult to understand, which is a benefit. You can read the mixed reviews on Amazon for more details—you’ll be able to discern the world views of the writers!
The United States Constitution
Really. If you haven’t read it, or not lately, do so.  Let me know if you find the phrase “Separation of Church and State.” Also, note that promoting the general welfare is not a power granted to the government. It is the reason the enumerated powers, and no others, were granted to the federal government. I recently picked up, The American Constitution, For and Against: The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers and it’s in the reading mountain. (Oh, BTW, the phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” isn’t in the constitution either, despite that constitutional scholar Barack Obama saying it was in his State of the Union address. Doesn’t the teleprompter have a proofreader?)

That should get you started. Watch my blog, http://www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com/ for future book recommendations as well as links to the important political stories of the day.

Robert A. Hall is a Marine Vietnam veteran who served five terms in the Massachusetts State Senate immediately after graduating from the University of Massachusetts with a BA in Government. While in the senate, he earned a master degree in history by taking evening courses. He has read (and recommends) all the books on this list, except the one noted.

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