Sunday, August 24, 2014

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)
Robert A. Hall

Basic Economics by Dr. Thomas Sowell
I learned more from this book than any other book I have ever read--and I had economics in high school and it was covered in my college political science classes. Sowell is not only brilliant, but writes well for the average reader. 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. 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:

Applied Economics by Dr. Thomas Sowell
Also excellent, though not as comprehensive as Basic Economics. Sowell is an internationally-known economist, with updates from recent events in politics and the economy. It’s written for the general public, so is easy to read and understand, but is very helpful on understanding why things have happened as they have—or will happen. I think you’ll find the 50 pages on the economics of healthcare worth the price. The sections on the housing crisis, the economics of slavery and the economics of discrimination were also quite interesting. Sowell preaches “Stag Two” thinking, pushing readers to think beyond the immediate to the longer term effects of political and economic decisions

Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? By Dr. Walter E. Williams
Williams is an economist at George Mason University. Dr. Williams, like Dr. Thomas Sowell, grew up poor and black (Williams in the Philadelphia projects) to become a nationally-known economist. This book is short, easy to read, and well researched and documented. Williams, who is black, points out how government policy and regulations often disadvantaged blacks far more than racial discrimination by private individuals. His data-driven conclusions on the subject detail how government interventions, sold as benign, have too often disadvantaged blacks and other minorities, while protecting white racists in unions and in the trades and professions. It also offers alternate possibilities for what is seen as racism which are thought provoking. This should be read by every policy maker. But those who think good intentions trump bad outcomes will ignore it.

New Ideas From Dead Economists by Dr. Todd Buchholz
Dr. 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.

Culture and Politics
Race and Culture: A World View. By Dr. 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.

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.

Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple 
I can't believe this terrific book, published in 2001, and written mostly as a series of essays between back to 1995, has just come to my attention. But everything I read suggests that not only is this still the situation throughout Britain, the US and Western Civilization, but has grown worse, not better since he wrote. It was written by Dr. Anthony Daniels under the penname Theodore Dalrymple, probably to protect his hospital, patients and career. From 1990 to 2005, he worked as a doctor and psychiatrist in a prison and a public hospital in a slum in Birmingham, England. This book is a catalog of horrors, but is very entertaining thanks to Daniels' incisive wit and penetrating insights into the causes of their wide-spread misery. I do not know how you can read this and not conclude that either Daniel's is lying about what he witnessed, or that Britain and the west is doomed to collapse, chaos and barbarism. I believe we are losing civilization. He makes the point that in the US, racists often attribute the pathologies of the black underclass--non-marital births, drugs, violence, domestic violence, serial relationships, crime and a cultural disdain for education that destroys the hopes of those who might escape from the situation through self improvement--to race. but in Britain, the underclass with the same pathologies are overwhelmingly white, native-born British people, most of whom cannot tell you when the Second World War took place, or multiply 7X8. (US racists need not be smug anyway--both the Hispanic and white underclass here are catching up, and have enough pathology to ruin the country if every black person suddenly adopted middle class values and work ethics.) In fact. immigrant kids from India in Daniel's city usually do better in school and life. But there is a growing underclass among immigrants, abetted by authorities who are afraid to intervene for fear of being charged with racism, or, if they are minorities themselves, of being Uncle Tom's aiding the white oppressor. He details the sickening story of a little girl tortured to death whose case was pushed off by social workers and doctors who viewed her situation as part of her equally-valid culture. In another case, he recommended a suicidal young immigrant be put in a psychiatric hospital. His family would have none of it, and accused Daniels of racism, threatening to hold a disruptive demonstration in his hospital. Two weeks later the boy hanged himself. This book is not to be missed.

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

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.

Liberty and Civilization: The Western Heritage.
This short collection—I read it in under two days—has several excellent essays each worth the price of the book. 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.

Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin
It’s short, clear and very readable. It has excellent, short explanations of the causes of the Great Depression, the current economic meltdown and much else, such as federalism, the Free Market, and the origins and economic challenges of the Welfare State. Put it on the top of your “must read” pile.

America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great. By Ben Carson M.D. 
I've ordered copies of this book to give as gifts; it has over 2,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. Dr. Carson, a brilliant neurosurgeon, has long been prominent in the medical world. Recently he burst into the political world when he was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. He refused to let Obama's handlers read (and presumably censor) his speech in advance. His criticism of Obamacare made him an instant darling of conservatives, and calls for "Carson for President" began to be heard. But Carson is, or was as of the writing of this book, a long-time independent, and he condemns the behavior of both parties. He is clearly a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government and self-reliance. But his views on many social issues such as immigration, healthcare, racism and the safety net might take some of the shine off his luster for social conservatives.

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.

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
I suppose the best compliment is that throughout this insightful and well-written book, I kept wishing the author was present so I could discuss, and often argue points with him. (And I suppose he was glad to be far away.) To be fair, many of the points I wanted to argue he addressed and resolved further on. 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.

White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Race Riots to America By Colin Flaherty
Kindle Edition:
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. (Perhaps “Eric Withholder” would be a better name, as he continues to stonewall Congress over releasing documents about his department’s “Fast and Furious” program which killed hundreds of Mexicans and two US Agents.) 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.

Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America by Mark Levin
With Liberty and Tyranny, Mark Levin established himself as a major current political thinker, able to convey complicated concepts in clear, concise language. Therefore, I was looking forward to finding the time to read Ameritopia. It did not disappoint, and should be required reading for anyone to serve in public office, not in place of, but in addition to Liberty and Tyranny. Levin reviews utopian political thought, from Plato to Marx, and contrasts it with the political thought of Locke, Montesquieu and de Tocqueville, which are so foundational to our limited government Republic. Levin demonstrates with frightening precision how far the Republic has strayed from the principals that guaranteed our freedom and prosperity. I wish I had this book when I was wading through these writers while majoring in political science at the University of Massachusetts, though many of my professors were ivory tower utopian statists. Some of the quotes are gems. From Montesquieu: "When legislative power is united with executive power in a single person or a simple body of magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power." One immediately thinks of Czars, Executive Orders, ignoring Congress on the War Powers Act, and the attack on the Supreme Court. Levin points out that, "America has become a society in which the people are wise enough to select their own leaders, but too incompetent to choose the right lightbulb." Indeed.

Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It. By Arthur C. Brooks
Excerpt: I heard the author speak at a conference a few years ago, was very impressed, and bought the book. But I proceeded to let it get buried in the reading pile under history, economic and political books. Thankfully, I finally read it—it’s a terrific book. 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. My own take, which I put on my Old Jarhead Blog, has always been, “With all due respect to Tom Jefferson, ‘pursuing happiness’ doesn’t work. But if you commit yourself to things you care about more than yourself, such as family, job, non-profit cause, church or temple, community, or service to your country, happiness will find you.” Nothing here changed my mind on that point, though the data surprised me in some areas as they did Brooks. Arthur C. Brooks is Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

Dismantling America by Dr. 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 Challenge of Militant Islam

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.

Mohammad & Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy by Emmet Scott.
Having read and recommended Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome, I was most interested to read this book, which takes aim on Ward-Perkins. While I recommend both, 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. I confess that there were tedious bits for the non-academic at the start, but stay with them, as they are a necessary foundation to the riveting final four chapters, the conclusion and the epilogue, which are must-reads for those who want to understand today’s world and the millennium-old clash between western civilization and Islam. Basically, 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 Ayaan Hirsi Ali 
Ali suffered genital mutilation as a child, was sent to an arranged marriage, escaped to Holland, became a citizen and a member of parliament. She risked her life to make a movie exposing Muslim mistreatment of women; the producer, Theo van Gogh was murdered on the street by a Muslim for the movie. Of course, this made her anathema to the left, who think that not paying for birth control for yuppie college students is a "War on Women," but excuse murder, oppression, stoning and other barbarous treatment of women by Muslims because "all cultures are equally valid." Ali is a real feminist. This is inspiring.

Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East. By John Keay.
I’ve recommended this before, but given what is going on there, if you and Obama and Clinton haven’t read it, now might be a good time. 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.

Islamic Imperialism
Excerpt: I wish I could buy a copy for every member of Congress, the President and the Secretary of State--and get them to read it. Required reading for an understanding of this aspect of the challenges facing us. Islamic Imperialism is well written and well researched. It starts with the advent of Islamic conquests of other peoples and brings it forward to the struggles in our current day. It also reveals how many "Islamic" leaders used Islam as a handy rallying point and cover for their personal ambitions. We must find an answer to the Islamist threat if we are to survive. Israel and Europe may be lost, and America is in the balance.


A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq by Dr. 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 by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
I found this book when looking for a one-volume US history to recommend as part of my “Reading List for the Educated Voter.” (Linked below) At 830 pages, this book takes 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 Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate. By Robert D. Kaplan
This is 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.

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. When I was in the Massachusetts Senate, the painting of Coolidge, a former Senate President, hung in the chamber. Until the leadership remodeled the place and, probably uncomfortable under his stern gaze, moved him to the Senate reading room. 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. Then imagine a president now both smart enough and open minded enough to read this book and benefit from it. It will be argued those were simpler times, but the challenges were as daunting, as this book makes clear. The men and women were different, with a different view of the role of government versus individual freedom and responsibility. It can be argued that Coolidge, not Reagan, was the last conservative Republican president. (Grover Cleveland was the last conservative Democrat president.) I highly recommend this fine historical biography.

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
A wonderful book you should add to your reading pile. 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
I discovered Ferguson, a Scots historian now at Harvard, when a friend introduced me to his last book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, which I previously recommended. That led me to search out other works by him, and I expect to read more after this one. 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.


Kicking the Sacred Cow by James P. Hogan
Is about controversies and suppression of evidence in science, which I have just re-read and think is a “must read.” I doubt all the heretics and suppressed claims are true, but find it very interesting that in supposedly “fact based” science, too often scientists who don’t agree with the current orthodoxy are vilified, attacked and suppressed. Climategate wasn’t the only “gate” in science.

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 volume 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. 

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