Christmas Reading – by Thomas Sowell


One way to reduce the wear and tear of Christmas shopping at the mall is to give books as presents. Books can be bought on the Internet, and they can be matched to the person who receives them without having to know that person’s measurements.

Dick Morris’ new book — “Catastrophe”— is an education in itself, on politics, on economics and on foreign policy. It is a strong antidote to the pious rhetoric and spin that come out of Washington and the media. Partly this is because Dick Morris was once a Beltway insider— an adviser to President Bill Clinton— who knows first-hand the ugly realities behind the pretty words that politicians use and that much of the media repeat.

Morris’ argument in “Catastrophe”— whose title tells us where he sees us headed— is backed up by numerous hard facts and supported by an understanding of history and economics. Most of all, it is supported by an understanding of politics as it is, rather than the way it is depicted by politicians and the media.

Dick Morris can also cut through a blizzard of political spin with a few plain words. In describing Barack Obama’s economic policies, Morris says simply: “Curing the recession was not his end; it was his means to the end. The end was bigger government.” Obama’s actions often make no sense if you believe Obama’s words, but they do make sense if you follow Dick Morris’ analysis.

A revised edition of Angelo Codevilla’s classic book, “The Character of Nations,” has been published this year, and it too is an education in itself. “The Character of Nations” is less focussed on immediate domestic political issues— though it does analyze the contrasting responses of the intelligentsia to Sarah Palin and Barack Obama— but it is focussed more on the underlying cultural developments that affect how nations work— or don’t work.

The very title of “The Character of Nations” is a challenge to the prevailing ideology that denies or downplays underlying differences among individuals, groups and nations. There are many examples of these differences. For example, Professor Codevilla says: “While it is unimaginable to do business in China without paying bribes, to offer one in Japan is the greatest faux pas.”

He sees the things that are valued differently in different cultures as the key to everything from economic progress to personal freedom.

But these values are not set in stone— which means that countries which currently benefit from a given set of values can lose those benefits when those values get lost.

Codevilla says: “The reason why inhabitants of the First World should keep the Third world in mind is that habits prevalent in the countries that became known as the Third World are a set of human possibilities that any people anywhere can adopt at any time. As Argentina showed in the twentieth Century, falling from the First World to the Third can be easy and quick.”

Another revised and very valuable book is “Choosing the Right College,” published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. This latest edition is once again by far the best college guide in America. Like many of us, it has put on weight over the years and is now 1,084 pages long, but its weight is all muscle.

First of all, “Choosing the Right College” asks the right question: What is the right college for you, not what is the “best” college by some formula for ranking colleges and universities. In addition to a very thorough examination of the academic realities at these institutions, it goes into the social atmosphere, which can make or break the whole college experience in terms of what is right for a particular student.

College is, after all, not just a school but a home, for four long years— usually for people who are living away from home for the first time in their lives. Being in the wrong place, in terms of neighbors and atmosphere, can ruin the academic advantages of even the best institution. This book helps match particular students with particular places, which is what is crucial.

My own books published this year include “The Housing Boom and Bust,” which made the New York Times best-seller list.

Another book of mine this year was the revised and enlarged edition of “Applied Economics,” which has a long chapter on the economics of medical care, including the experience of other countries that have gone down the road to government control of medicine. Their experience should be a warning to us all.

  • BS77

    Read Lone Survivor by SEAL Marcus Luttrell…….this book is terrific. Sign the petition to free the SEALs from legal action.

  • Proxywar

    I keep meaning to buy your books Mr.Sowell but I'm so involved with studing the nature of Islam I get side tracked.

  • USMCSniper

    Read “Philosophy Who Needs It” by Ayn Rand:

    The issue for all of us including you is whether to form your beliefs and values by the method of rational, conscious thought or simply to allow them to arise within your unconscious as the result of arbitrary life experience (meaning: by default like Forest Gump's feather in the wind). This is the reason that philosophy is a practical necessity for every human being and why the answer implicit within the question “who needs it?” is EVERYONE.

    An important aspect of life is “relating to other people”, but this is in no way fundamental. Social relations fall within the context of politics, the branch of philosophy dealing with interactions between people. Politics is derivative of ethics which is derivative of the fundamental branches of philosophy: epistemology and metaphysics. Underlying fulfilling and happy life of satisfying relationships is the ability to use one's mind properly. All actions an individual takes result from his beliefs and values just as in logic, conclusions follow from premises. Dismissing these fundamental facts as impractical philosophical speculation is both myopic and concrete-bound. An understanding of these issues is the beauty of this book and the rest of Rand's work. Take heed, however. If you have already made up your mind to reject a derivative part of her philosophy, such as laissez faire capitalism or the ethics of one's own life as the standard of value, and are unwilling to question your pre-established beliefs, then you will derive no benefit from this reading.

  • crazymountain

    Great article. Now I know what my next two book purchases will be, Applied Economics and The Character of Nations (it would have been 3 but, at 57, I am not looking for a college!) as I have the others on his list. (Housing Boom and Bust and Catastrophe). I do believe that the good Doctor is America's most brilliant mind. If he writes or recommends a book, it, for me, becomes a must read. I just wish that the present administration and its followers would read Dr. Sowell's books. Maybe we wouldn't be in such trouble if they did.

  • babsst

    I bought and read The Character of Nations after Dr. Sowell commented on it in his column. It was excellent. I have a very poor retention span so I have to read something more than one time and I do a lot of underlining too. I wish someone could give me some ideas on increasing my retention or is it too late for me? I'm 61. If so, then I'll just keep reading something over and over until it sticks….but anyway great book and I also read his A Personal Odyssey which was excellent too. And crazymountain you are so right, not just this administration but all Americans. I have never been in more fear for our country. Hopefully, it's not too late for us.