NERD ALERT – 2012 Summer Reading List

As the summer has arrived and I finally have working internet in my new place, I figured it was a good time to put together my summer reading list. These are the books I hope to finish this summer. While extensive, I should be able to tackle it.

Already Started

Atlas Shrugged



“Must” Finish

Cover of "Free to Choose: A Personal Stat...

Extra Reads- these are all economics books that only nerds like me would read over a summer.

English: Cover of the 2010 pocket edition of H...

15 total should not be too much, but a few of them are quite daunting (Human Action). Hope some other choose one or two of these books to get a discussion going.


Review of The Austrian School of Economics: A History of Its Ideas, Ambassadors, and Institutions

I recently finished

Cover of the 2011 edition of The Austrian Scho...

of the 2011 edition of The Austrian School of Economics by Eugen-Maria
Schulak and Herbert Unterköfler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reading another history of the Austrian school. History of economic thought is slowly turning into my favorite area of economics- monetary policy is still #1. For me, history of economic thought combines two fascinating disciplines (I’ll let you guess which two).

The Austrian School of Economics: A History of Its Ideas, Ambassadors, and Institutions by Eugen Maria Schulak and Herbert Unterkofler is an enjoyable read that is never enthralling. It captures the essence of the Austrian school, but gets bogged down in details. I did not want it for research purposes, so I do not need a short explanation of all of Menger‘s important students, beyond Bohm-Bawerk. Also, since it is translated from German, all titles to books, articles, and organizations are in German and then translated. It is small, but bothered me.

Carl Menger Deutsch: Carl Menger

Carl Menger Deutsch: Carl Menger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the positive side, it covers the basic outline of the school which every economist should know. Who were the major players? Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Hayek, Mises, Schumpter, and a few more. What are the major ideas? Subjective marginal utility, praxeology, and business cycle theory are all cover. It is clear and concise here.

If your looking for an intro to ideas Austrian economics and its history, I’d recommend The Great Austrian Economists by Randall G. Holcombe.

Review of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life

This book may seem overdone or cheesey, but I can’t speak highly enough about it. I first listened to the audiobook for a class project. Peter Robinson‘s (also a favorite of mine from Uncommon Knowledge) conversational style and insight into so many topics required that I read the whole book. After driving to a library 40 minutes away I had the book. Finished in no time, the book is everything a young man like myself could want in a book. The history of the Reagan years is brief but insightful. It reflects on Reagan’s life. A man at the end of his life, Reagan has so much to teach young men. It reflects on Peter Robinson’s life, then in his 40’s and just starting a family. He talks about the issues he had as a 20 something finding his way in the world while being in the Reagan White House. For an almost college grad, his concerns are my concerns and he taught me a lot. I loved the book so much I already bought a new version of the book. This is almost unheard of for me since I am cheap and prefer used. However, I know I will keep looking back to this book for guidance, history and entertainment for years to come. Truly a near perfect book for this point in my life

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Review of Witness by Whittaker Chambers

Is a book that is over 50 years old worth reviewing? Yes. Because it is timeless and if this review provokes one person to read it, I will have done something good.

Whittaker Chambers was called to be a witness, both for something and against something. Early in his life, he was called to be a witness against the modern world and for communism. Here is a man who was desperate to fix the problems of the modern age. For a while in Chambers’ life, Marxism/Leninism/Communism was his answer and he devoted his life to the communist party. Luckily, there was a major change in the middle of his life. After years of working in the open party and then the underground espionage part of the party, Chambers left and found Christ. At that point, he became a witness against communism and for God.

In Witness, a beautifully written autobiographical narrative, Chambers recounts his life up until shortly after the Hiss case, that was to bring him fame. Here is a man whose life was completely devoted to a cause and in middle age abandoned it. It takes humility and strength to do that Readers follow the danger and struggle necessary for Chambers to depart from the party. Luckily for the reader, Chambers is a top-notch writer who worked for years as a senior editor editor at Time, and then a contributor writer  and shortly editor for National Review (I’d take either spot).

This is not just a book about the perils of communism. It’s about the tragedy of life and the beauty of God. It delves into the wonder of nature and the power one can develop from a good woman. At times the details of the Hiss case are too exhaustive. But this is a huge part of the era which is rarely discussed in classrooms. I’ve never felt so much emotion in a writing and this is non-fiction. Quite a stretch from the typical economics books I read, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in 20th century American history, the perils of communism, and faith. 5 of 5 stars.

Note- a correction has been made regarding Chambers’ roles at Time and NR.

Review of The Secret Knowledge

Sporadic, anti-intellectual and reads like the writings of someone I know from the center of America, which is all to say that I loved it. The great playwright David Mamet, whose work on acting and writing is also enjoyable, unleashes attack after attack on the Liberal intelligentsia, entertainment industry and establishment. He’s been in the world of the left for years and is a wonderful example of what happens when people start to read the great writers; they challenge what they thought the knew.

Drawing on all the authors I love (Sowell, Friedman, Hayek) Mamet points out the Left’s flaws. What makes this book unique and worthwhile is the examination of entertainment and writing. This is where his expertise comes into play and makes him more than just another person ranting about the left (such as me). Answering questions about why all of Hollywood is liberal, Mamet demonstrates the idiocy of it all. Also, Mamet’s understanding of history and literature is entertaining and insightful.
At times it reads like a conversation with a good friend since it jumps from topic to topic. This can be hard, but overall works. Here is a guy who doesn’t pull any punches and is willing to challenge the sacred cows. He’s an interesting character and I enjoyed learning more about his life. 4 of 5 stars.

Review of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression

The Politically Incorrect series provides a powerful revisionist account of past events. I use revisionist in a neutral sense. It can be used to confirm biases or to challenge the conventional wisdom. With respect to economic history, revisionism is important. The resources and data available to modern economists provides a unique perspective to the events. This combined with additional years to analyze the situation help sober the image.

In Robert Murphy’s book, an explanation for the Great Depression is put forth that challenges what I was taught in school and makes a much more powerful case than the talking-points history of the left (capitalism failed, FDR saved us, the war ended the Great Depression). Extremely logically and well researched, this book shows how Hoover was just a FDR-lite and it was not the free market that caused the Great Depression. I can hear the gasps now from people on the left, but it’s true. Focusing around Austrian business-cycle theory, Murphy explains why the expansion of money (an error of government) in 1920’s led to the crash and poor decisions prolonged the Depression. Even conservatives, especially followers of Milton Friedman, have some tough questions posed about the causes of the Depression. Earlier recessions (specifically the early 1920’s) are constantly contrasted to show the folly of liberal/Keynesian policy.

If you want to challenge what you’ve learned over the years (and everyone should), this book provides a great lesson in economics, history and politics. 4 of 5 stars.

Review of What’s So Great About Christianity

My third book from Dinesh D’Souza is probably his most controversial and powerful. Drawing on the best theologians and philosophers (both religious and secular), Dinesh tries to accomplish a few things. I’d say he does them all well. In the first section Dinesh explains how religion is thriving in the world, especially Christianity. Only in the West is it falling in impact. Next, he examines the connection between Christianity and Western philosophy. This is where the book is best. The West is Christian and its important to remember that. Even secularists like Murray Rothbard know this. Thirdly, Dinesh takes up the long examined fight between science and religion. He shows how this is false since Christianity led and still leads science. Overall, Dinesh’s logic is stunning and reassuring to Christians.

Any time I asked a question about something Dinesh said or raised a counter point, he was quick to respond with a good answer. My only complaint is that sometime the arguments are philosophical jargon. It is difficult to understand for people who talk like the plebs (me). However, this is necessary since many of the “attacks” on Christianity are phrased in such nonsense. A great book for a person like me, looking into faith and the importance in the West. 4 of 5 stars.

Review of Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties

This book is something else. It is not for the faint of heart but is definitely worth the effort (in my case about 7 months). Obviously, Paul Johnson is conservative, but it is hard to be upset about a historian doing what all historians do-he judges stuff as good or bad. He is able to take situations and go beyond the pure facts and into the implications or results. This is what a good historian does in my eyes.
The book switches flawlessly between subjects. It is a masterpiece. I’ll be reading along and without even noticing the topic switches. Its fluid and well done. Without such transitions, a book covering such a length of time and geography would be impossible. Paul Johnson does the impossible.
There are a few issues. Number one is I don’t know French and some passages from French politicians are not translated into English. That is annoying. Also, I noticed in the topics about Germany, there are a lot of names that aren’t introduced so the reader is required to have a solid background. For most parts I was okay, for a few chapters (about Germany and much of the third world) I was lost at times.
Overall, well worth the time and effort. You feel good when its done. 4 of 5 stars.

Review of How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes

Peter Schiff, recently famous for crashing the Occupy protests while carrying a sign saying “I am the 1%”, and his brother put out this book in honor of their father who is in jail for protesting the U.S. tax system. The Schiff brothers take a unique approach to explaining basic economics. Developing on the Robinson Crusoe model (how does the economy work for one person on an island?), this small book cruises through from 3 people on an island to a modern economy in a no time. The action of the story is broken up by sections called “Take Aways” and such.

The books greatest asset is its greatest weakness. The lightheartedness of the story makes it easy to read for anyone. According the Schiff brothers, economics is a simple task that economists have made complicated. I tend to agree. However, this leaves the book vulnerable to claims of naivety and simple mindedness. It’s hard to argue with those accusations when there are pictures on every page.

All-in-all, a simple read with good economic insights. However, I was hoping for a more developed approach to Austrian economics when I picked this up…. Should have read some reviews. 3 of 5 stars.

Review of Thomas Jefferson: Author of America

After Christopher Hitchens’ death, I promised myself I would read something by him. I’d heard how eloquent he was and I’ve always been fascinated with his outlook on life. Even though I disagree with much of his politics (he’s a communist and atheist), I figured a portrait on a Jefferson would be a safe read. This tiny book is well worth the time. Hitchens, always unique, sometimes loquacious (I’m picking up his big words), provides unique insights into the life and thought of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was quite independent as a Founding Father and Hitchens is quick to point this out. His love of France and their Revolution is probably surpassed in America only by Thomas Paine’s. Going beyond pure facts, Hitchens explains his intellectual development over time, through two revolutions and three presidencies.  He also portrays a President who was more complex than the modern libertarian admirers would like to admit. The whole chapter on the triumphs of his presidency (and they were impressive feats) was an explanation of things Jeffersonian purest would fear. Nevertheless, Hitchens is quick to use the benefit of 200 years of history to his advantage and support these moves, e.g. Louisiana Purchase.

The main problem I have, which I should have expected from Hitchens, is his constant insistence on describing how Jefferson was basically an atheist. I get it Christopher, you hated God. I don’t need to hear it on over and over again vicariously through Jefferson. The interjections splattered throughout the book add little to the flow of the book or understand of the man.

But since I wanted to learn more about Jefferson and read one of the great writers of the last 50 years, the book was a success for me. 3 of 5 stars.