Friday, August 16, 2013

Updated: A Reading List for the Educated Voter (And those who wish to be)

Updated: A Reading List for the Educated Voter (And those who wish to be)
Hon. Robert A. Hall

I’ve updated this list. I believe you can find and read about all these books on

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 is even better, but it’s twice as long. If you want more, read that as well.

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:

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.

Race & Economics by Walter E. Williams, PhD
Williams is an economist at George Mason University. This book is short, easy to read, and well researched and documented. Williams, who is black, points out how government policy and regulations (often at the behest of unions) often disadvantaged blacks far more than racial discrimination by private individuals. This should be read by every policy maker. But those who think good intentions trump bad outcomes will ignore it.

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.

After America: Get Ready for Armageddon by Mark Steyn
A follow up to America Alone. Similar to my book, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, but longer, with more details, and written with Steyn’s quirky humor.

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.

Mohammad & Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy by Emmet Scott.
This controversial update of Henri Pirenne’s theory that it was the rise of Islam that destroyed classical civilization in Europe is in my view the most important and on the mark. Scott lays out a solid case that it was the closure of Mediterranean trade route by Muslim raiders, and the destruction of the lowland, coastal agricultural system that supported advanced economies, as the peoples in the south of Europe had to retreat to defended hill top towns to escapes the attentions of Islamic slave raiders that provided the death knell for classical civilization. Some telling quotes from the book, which bring to mind our present world: “Aside from the aristocrats themselves, there were armies of bureaucrats and courtiers surrounding the (Roman) Emperor, huge numbers of soldiers, and a vast number of unemployed plebeians, who had to be supported by a social security system, which the Roman’s named the “dole.” … With the decline of the city as a political power, the great majority of this population would naturally have disappeared. (PP. 80-81). (Be carefully what you wish for, OWS!) “Under the protective shield of Rome, the farmers, artisans, and intellectuals…had grown to despise the calling of the soldier, and to see the defense of the country as someone else’s business. … The civilian populations of Anatolia, of Syria, of Egypt, and of North Africa were vast, but they were completely unused to war. After the defeats of the Imperial forces (by the Muslims), there existed no tradition of military training or activity which could have facilitated independent local action against the invaders.” (P. 172. “Islam is virtually unique among world religions in that its primary scriptures advocate the use of military force and its early expansion—indeed its expansion during the first six or seven centuries of its existence—invariably involved military conquest and the use of force.” (P.185) “…there was continual and almost uninterrupted war between Muslims and (European) Christians since the first attack on Sicily in 652 and Constantinople in 674. In the great majority of these wars, the Muslims were the aggressors. … it is estimated that between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries alone (Muslim pirates) captured and enslaved in excess of a million Europeans.” (P. 187) This book will broaden your understanding of the ancient world, the foundations of our civilization, and the on-going clash with Islam. I rate it a “must read.”

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.

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?)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. By Jonathan Haidt
Haidt is a self-described left-wing academic and atheist, though of Jewish heritage. He is a Kerry and Obama supporter, a bias he is very open about and references throughout this work. But he is also an intellectually honest man and—so rare on today’s campuses—open to diversity of thought, the only kind of diversity that really matters. A “Moral Psychologist,” Haidt makes a very solid academic research effort to understand the moral foundations of both conservative and liberal political thought, as well as why religion is important in human societies. The book held my interest throughout, and will be of great value to thinkers on both the right and the left of our political divide, who will gain understanding of why they hold the views they do, and why others hold different views. Shouters and haters, not so much. Read through the reviews on Amazon. This book is well worth your time.

Did you or someone in your family lose your job in the 2008 economic collapse? Was your retirement gutted? Is your mortgage underwater or your house foreclosed? This book by NYT reporters names the names. If you want to blame Jim Johnson, Frank Raines and Fannie Mae, here’s the evidence in spades. If you want to blame subprime mortgage lenders like Angelo Mozilo and Countrywide, who played fast and loose with the economy while giving sweetheart loans to politicians, here’s the evidence, in spades. If you want to blame Wall Street corruption and greed, here’s the evidence, in spades. If you want to blame politicians of both parties who aided the pirates, here’s the evidence. If you want to blame weak and captive regulators, here’s the evidence. If you want to blame the Fed, here’s the evidence. If you want to blame local mortgage brokers and dishonest buyers colluding to create millions of toxic liar-loan mortgages that were sold to mostly-unsuspecting investors, here’s the evidence. If you want to blame Standard and Poor, Moody’s and Fitch for giving solid investment ratings to toxic bundled sub-prime mortgage securities to keep their fees flowing, here’s the evidence.

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 By
Excerpt: Despite the subtitle, this is a book about class, not race. The author is looking at a lot of data that suggested the upper class that runs the country, which he calls the Narrow Elite and the Broad Elite, is increasingly wealthy, increasingly takes in both liberals and conservatives with high IQs and is increasingly isolated from the experience of the rest of America. He focuses on whites because that Narrow Elite is overwhelmingly white. He also focuses on the white lower class, so the comparison will not be between a white upper class and a minority lower class. He looks at a lot of data suggesting the white lower class is being destroyed by several trends: decreasing industriousness and ability to hold jobs among males, decreasing participation in civic organizations or churches, decreasing marriage rates, decreasing rates of trust and neighborliness, and sharply escalating non-marital birth rates, all trends that suggest the destruction of both happiness for these folks and what he calls the "American Project." Interestingly, after detailing the rolling disaster that is over-taking the white lower class, he presents data that suggest the minority lower class is not much different, contrary to what many might expect. This reinforces my long-held belief that race doesn't matter, culture matters a great deal. I do not think this is a "liberal" or a "Conservative" book. He says he is neither, but is a libertarian, rare among social scientists. He carefully points out in what I think is a balanced way how liberals or conservatives might draw differing interpretations from the data than he does. Most frightening for me is that the short book I published, The Coming Collapse of the American Republic, does not include America coming apart along class lines--his title thesis--among the top four problems facing our country. Add this log to the staggering camel's back.

Dismantling America by Thomas Sowell
Though I have read many of these essays and columns before, you will find more common sense about what is wrong with our politics and culture in this book than in all of Washington, DC.

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. By Robert D. Kaplan
A wonderfully-written book that will make you look at a lot of issues in a new light. It is about the intersection of geography with history, geopolitics, national interests and power. Though I have a master’s degree in history and am well read in the field, I also learned a great deal about non-European history. Particularly China, India and the Middle East, though of course in one book it could only take a broad brush approach to these things. Unfortunately, Kaplan gave me several new worries about the future, and I was already pretty pessimistic. This is a high level review of geo-strategy, and should be read by policy makers at all levels. It requires some focus; certainly not light entertainment. The most interesting section was the last. Kaplan argues that Mexico, with a long border with the US, is far more important to us than Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East. Given that Mexico and Central America have a rapidly developing population—now at 50% of the United States—and a native US birthrate below the replacement level, he argues that we cannot afford to have Mexico become a failed narco-state on our border. Everyone involved in the current immigration debate would do well to read this and look at the big picture view he presents.

Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It. By Arthur C. Brooks
Brooks is an economist and academic, and this book is data driven by population surveys, both in the US and around the world. He draws conclusions from the data, which you may not like. People wedded to a viewpoint that cannot be moved by data, left or right, are likely to hate it. There are many surprises here. Brooks looks at the data on what makes people happy or unhappy: religion, political views, marriage, jobs, incomes, charitable involvement, and so on, across demographic groups. This should be read especially by policy makers who might do well to understand what is likely to preserve and increase national happiness.

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
This long, but well-written book has a wealth of historical detail from the first thirty years of the last century, for the US in general and Massachusetts in particular. Imagine a President who cut the budget, reduced the size of the Federal Government, cut the national debt from a major war by one-third, reduced the size of the military, cleaned up scandals from his predecessor, was of unquestioned integrity, who stood on principle even when it hurt him politically, who decided not to seek reelection when he was a sure winner because he believed in limited service, who foresaw the crash of 1929 and thought that Hoover’s policies (expanded and made worse by Roosevelt) would make it far more severe and long lasting, and who met with his budget director frequently to see if they could cut a few thousand dollars more in waste.

New Ideas From Dead Economists by Todd Buchholz
Buchholz won the Allyn Young Teaching Prize at Harvard and holds advanced degrees in economics and law from Cambridge and Harvard. New Ideas is a review of the ideas of the luminaries of economic thought, from Adam Smith to Ricardo to Marx to Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman. Buchholz presents their theories in a clear and easy to understand style, with humorous illustrations, and in a non-judgmental way that lets the reader make up his own mind. He also presents what their critics said, and discusses how the theories have worked out in the real world.

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
Ferguson is a Scots historian now at Harvard. This is a terrifically researched exploration of why a few petty squabbling states in Europe, against all odds, came to dominate the world. The author has a great ability to pull the illuminating fact or pertinent quote from the morass of history. He also explores why South America, which was by far the richer set of colonies, is now far poorer than North America. (Hint: widespread property ownership and property rights.) Fergusson says Western Civilization had six “killer apps” that led them to dominate the world: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. He makes a solid case that these six factors not only led to western dominance, but the high standard of living in western society, pursued today by the rest of the world. Some of the bits were worth the price of the book. Martin Luther’s defense of publishing the Koran in order that Christians could see “how entirely cursed, abominable and desperate a book it is.” John Locke’s attempt to ban lawyers in Carolina. The author proclaiming the US Constitution “the most impressive piece of political institution building in all of history.” His note that Tocqueville identified the essential difference between the American and French revolutions, a preference for liberty in ours and equality in theirs (a warning to us today). His insight that the threat to the west comes not from radical Islam, “but from our own lack of understanding of, and faith in, our own cultural heritage.” He points out that Asians now work far more hours than Americans, and we more than Europeans. That the Chinese Communists party had a report “specifying three requirements for sustainable economic growth: property rights as a foundation, the law as a safeguard and morality as a support” is telling. And Ferguson’s comment that, “mass immigration is not necessarily the solvent of a civilization, if the migrants embrace, and are encouraged to embrace, the values of the civilization to which they are moving” should inform our immigration debate. And this: “”It is important to remember that most cases of civilizational collapse are associated with fiscal crisis as well as wars. All of the examples discussed above were preceded by sharp imbalances between revenues and expenditures, as well as by difficulties with financing public debt.” Are you listening, Washington? (No, alas.) Ferguson asks if we can maintain western civilization and western dominance. That’s an open question. I read the hard copy, but my wife listened to it on disk in the car. Ferguson reads the book himself, but adds in wonderful accents on the quotes. Do yourself a favor and read this book.

The War of the World by Niall Ferguson
Ferguson is a fine writer with the ability to capture the essential quote or detail to illuminate his point. He was going to write a WWII book, but decided that had been done. Instead, he looked at the violence of the 20th century, not only wars, but genocide, pogroms and man-made famines like Stalin's that killed millions to bring ethnic areas like the Ukraine to heel, viewing it as one long, world-wide war. It is hard to say I liked this book, because it is hard to like such an extensive catalog of man's inhumanity, but I appreciated the way he drew the themes together, discussing the causes of the violence in the bloodiest century in history. It remains to be seen if our current century will be better, but certainly a thorough understanding on what happened in the last one is necessary if there is to be a change. This book is a great place to start.

White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Race Riots to America. By Colin Flaherty
Eric Holder, America’s first black attorney general, famously said the United States was “a nation of cowards” on matters of race, because most people won’t talk openly about racial matters. To refute Holder, comes now the brave Colin Flaherty, with this book about black on white violence in America. Do not expect his reward to be a medal for bravery from the DOJ for discussing these matters. So far, his reward has been to be vilified as a racist, the usual fate of anyone who candidly discusses race without agreeing 100% with the progressive meme on race. I fear he is likely to suffer worse, from IRS audits to violence. White Girl Bleed a Lot is pretty much a collection of links to news stories and YouTube videos of a national epidemic of black on white, racially-motivated violence. (If you can read this on Kindle, the links will be live. The print edition directs you to a website when you can view his original sources.) You can argue if the numbers involved always justify Flaherty’s use of “Race Riot. But one thing is clear, there have been dozens and dozens of such incidents, any one of which, had it been a white mob beating a black person, would have gotten the full “Trayvon Martin-George Zimmermen-America is racist” treatment. This is why almost every American knows Martin’s and Zimmerman’s names, but few know the name of Christopher Cervini, an unarmed white teen shot dead by a black man, Roderick Scott in NY (with no “stand your ground” law) who walked on self-defense. I have long argued that race doesn’t matter, but culture matters a lot. But the inner city black culture is certifiably violent and out of control. The brilliant black economist, Dr. Thomas Sowell, argues in his book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals that the violent black inner city culture was imported by migrating blacks from lower class white culture in the South, and is not inherently black. I do not fear middle class black folks who are part of the same culture I am. The many incidents Flaherty documents are mostly from lower class inner-city blacks of that culture. I would not go to those Chicago neighborhoods in daylight, and have been avoiding even downtown as this flash mob black violence has gotten worse here. And lower class blacks are as racist, probably more so, than lower class whites. Whites who hold a racial animus have grown careful about dropping the “N’” word, while blacks glory in anti-white racism publically, in rap music and speeches, with no rebuke. Unfortunately, black racism has been fed for years by black and Democrat “leaders” who encourage a sense of victimization, grievance and entitlement in that culture in order to garner votes, power and money. That this has destroyed the black family, black aspirations and black youth matters not at all to them, as long as they get theirs. And despite all these black on white incidents, we cannot forget that black on black violence far exceeds the number of violent incidents Flaherty documents in this book. I’ve read that in the 1930s decade, 119 blacks were lynched in the South. But in Chicago, 120 people were murdered in the first three months of 2012. Most of them were black people murdered by black thugs. Flaherty details how the media, quick to invent a new racial category of “white Hispanic” for George Zimmerman, has refused to identify the race of black mobs, and tried to suppress the facts. But suppression only hides the problem of black violence, which further hurts the majority of decent black folks who suffer at the hands of these thugs as well. And when the truth filters out, it feeds white bitterness and racism. Conversely, the media is quick to play up the racial angle every time a corrupt black politician is caught and plays the race card. Having a president who weighs in that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon doesn’t help. So would many of the black thugs who mob whites and murder other blacks. So what? Having an Attorney General who refers to blacks as “my people” doesn’t help. All decent, hard-working Americans with American values are my people, Mr. Holder, regardless of their race. All thugs are not, regardless of their color.

Understanding the Vietnam War
A while back, a friend, too young for that conflict, asked me for a reading list on Vietnam. Here it is.

Whitewash, Blackwash Myths of the Viet Nam War by B. Laurie and R. J. Del Vecchio

Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar (A second volumn is reportedly in the works.)

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam by Lewis Sorley

Strength & Honor by Terry L. Garlock

Noble Warrior: The Life and Times of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC. Autobiography

Never Without Heroes by Lawrence C. Vetter

Body Count by William Huggett (Excellent Novel, but out of print)

Fields of Fire by James Webb (Excellent Novel)


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment