Home


About


More Articles


Meetings


Links


Join the
Forum


Archive of Free Life


Book
Shop


Old Hickory's Best 50 Books Of All Time

I have limited the selection to the books I have read. I keep to the norm of not recommending to others books I have yet to read. Clearly, books I have not read by now suggests a judgement of some sort. We all have access to nearly every book by inter-library loan. There are books by Isaac Newton that have had great influence but are not easy to come by. Those by Galileo Galilei are not very common yet look like delightful dialogues. It follows that some of the books I have neglected are owing to their recondite nature rather than any adverse judgement on my part.
Old Hickory (2003)

 

1. The Ultimate Resource (1981;II 1997) Julian Lincoln Simon.

The best book so far published. Clearly the work of an enthusiast, it provides the best introduction to economics. The general reader will find it full of paradoxes whilst the trained economist might just feel they are truisms. This book is even more uplifting than the author's book on 'pop' psychology which deliberately aimed at producing a: Good Mood. It refutes completely the idea of Carlyle's that economics is the 'dismal science'. The world is way better than most people think it is.

Buy it at -
www.amazon.co.uk  


2. From Marx To Mises (1992) D.R. Steele.

This is now the best presentation of the economic calculation argument [ECA] that forms its subject matter. It also explains what Marxism's aim was- and why this is quite futile. Thus, the reader is given both an exciting story of Marxism's goal and the argument that shows it to be hopelessly in vain.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk 

3. Escape From Leviathan (2000) J.C. Lester.

Either the Libertarian Alliance is a group of geniuses or this reviewer is hopelessly biased, but here we have a second book in the top three books of all time from an LA author. This is simply the best general account of libertarianism. It utilises a Popperian outlook to present the conjecture that liberty and welfare can be maximised with anarchy. It makes the case that the less government we have, the greater our chances of getting nearer to this acme will be, and it effectively refutes many authors who write to the contrary.

Buy it at - www.whsmith.co.uk

4. The Republic (c421BC) Plato.

Plato just means tubby. We do not clearly know the exact date of this great book, made up of ten books in itself. Whitehead once said that the whole of philosophy since has been footnotes to Plato. What we find in The Republic are many ideas, later dressed up in complex guise, naked as at birth. Though stark, many of the ideas remain challenging and the dialogue form is very accessible to the newcomer.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


5. Complete Works of Shakespeare.

A marvellous collection of plays and poetry. It is well worth getting used to the archaic language in order to feast on the ideas that the bard has to offer.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk

6. Conjectures and Refutations (1963) K.R. Popper.

This is perhaps the best place to enter into Popper's outlook. It is a collection of essays that illustrate Popper's ideas on many topics from epistemology to Marxism, though he is not so effective on Marxism as D.R. Steele. However, the essay on dialectics is a romp and it should get a few Marxists to think about their major defence mechanism. The book is full of challenging ideas.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


7. Leviathan (1651) Thomas Hobbes.

Hobbes cuts everything down to simple terms. He is a nominalist and many might say that he over-uses Occam's razor. Many hold this book to be a masterpiece nevertheless. The second half on religion is often cut out in abridgements but it is as exciting on religion as on politics and haply even more so.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

8. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788) Edward Gibbon.

The best history book hitherto. The author was greatly influenced by David Hume, who got Gibbon to write in English rather than in French. But he completely surpasses his master here and it is a great joy to read. It comes in many editions and many abridgements but the whole book should be read, and the reader can always begin again rather than being lost at the end of it for something to do, as the author was.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  



9. An Enquiry Concerning the Principle of Morals (1751) David Hume.

Hume was right to think that this was the best of his books. It displays clearly the social function of private property and shows up the criticisms of this, the basis of mass urban society, to be most superficial.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


10. Human Action (1949) Ludwig Von Mises.

Plenty of faults here and the a priori claims seem to be as unreal as Spinoza's deductive system, but that hardly ruins this wonderful romp. Mises did most to push the economic calculation argument against Marxism. There is a good account of that in here and many other exciting ideas too. A great read.

Buy it at - www.lassiefairebooks.com


11. The World as Will and Representation (1818) Arthur Schopenhauer.

Known as the most pessimistic book of all time, but exceedingly funny to read and very well written. Ironically, it is a book that has always cheered me up and I recommend it in the hope that it will have the same effect. It is most certainly a superb book but one that seems to have unsound conclusions. Read Julian Simon as an antidote if you find it convincing.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk

12. Mathematical Thought from Ancient To Modern Times (1972) Morris Kline.

The best, though the slowest way, to learn mathematics is through the history of the subject. Kline is the best teacher by this method and this is his best book, but it is quite long. He published many other very good books, all very much shorter.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


13. The Health Hazards of NOT going Nuclear (1976) Petr Beckmann.

A superb exposure of Green technophobia and fear of progress. It shows up the Green outlook as mere superstition. But J.L. Simon shows that the lesson applies wider than just nuclear power.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

14. The Great Illusion (1910) Norman Angell.

This is the definitive account of the liberal solution to war first hinted at by Erasmus after the battle of Flodden in 1513 where he lost some of his friends. The meme reached its modern form in Adam Smith's 1776 book from where it was propagated to a wider public by Cobden and Bright from the late 1830s on. Angell is more sustained than they were in their pamphlets but he did tend to look for political solutions in formal organisations like the League of Nations and the United Nations rather than seeing that the solution lay in free trade as such.. This aspect became more pronounced in Angell's later books than in this one, which is his first and best.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

15. The Peloponnesian War (c431BC) Thucydides.

A great book on then contemporary history and perhaps the first history book that was free of the hobgoblins of the primitive mind. Historians did not follow its realism from then on, as we see in Tacitus and other later historians - the surreal ideas passing for normal that we can see in the supposed father of history, Herodotus. The better claim to be the actual father of history is Thucydides.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


16. Political Parties (1911) Robert Michels.

The watchword of the book is 'he who says organisation says oligarchy'. Michels sees not only that the ideal of democracy, where all can have a say, is not practical owing to logistics but also that there is usually a great deal of conservatism in every generation. This conservatism is such that people usually like to be loyal to a leader once he has been elected. An executive committee will tend to ignore the conference resolutions that then become as effective as the normal New Year resolution, and the conference accepts this result with a similar nonchalance. Democracy is a nominal cover for a real oligarchy.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


17. Equality, The Third World and Economic Delusion (1981) Peter T. Bauer.

This book shows up politics and political aid as dysfunctional, especially in Africa. Far from helping people out, political aid often buys bullets helping the recipient government to get many of its members murdered. Bauer also attacks common myths on class and the population problem, but it is foreign aid, as it now stands, and the inept western guilt that are most clearly shown up as folly in this book.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

18. The Wealth of Nations (1776) Adam Smith.

Still well worth reading. Many have marvelled at how very up to date the book seems as it still addresses many problems that we still have today. What Smith calls mercantilism is by no means completely a thing of the past. There is still way too much political economy, and a long way to go before we get full free trade. It also puts the liberal solution to war that remains as valid as ever. The analysis of the economics of slavery that Smith offers was endorsed by Marx, though many Marxists now reject it viz. that slavery could not compete with free labour. This has been questioned by Fogel and others but not clearly refuted. Economics has moved on, but will never completely leave Smith behind.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


19. The Common Sense of Political Economy (1910) P.H. Wicksteed.

This is a slow leisurely read but an excellent introduction to the modern marginal theory that emerged in the 1870s. The author is an enthusiast and offers a thorough exposition of it in non-mathematical terms. It is this theory that is the major advance since Adam Smith. Reading this book is very worthwhile as it gives a more realistic and more solid introduction than can be had from modern textbooks that tend to be all syntax and no semantics.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


20. The Jesus Legend (1996) G.A. Wells.

G.A. Wells has revived and corrected the secular reading given to the gospels by David Strauss in Germany in the 1830s. Wells explains that Christianity began in ideas, as objective memes, long before the supposed time of Jesus 2000 years ago [actually Paul's day!] and it went on developing in different versions up to the councils of Nicaea in the fourth century, and even beyond. The first memes emerged in Isaiah, some eight hundred years earlier than Paul's day, but the Jews still hold that the first coming is due, whilst the Christian heresy is that the first coming has already happened and that the Second Coming was due. Wells tends to show that it has not already happened, that Jesus was a mere myth. There is exactly no reason to suppose that the word had ever became flesh throughout that time, or at any time. The people who developed the early ideas lived through a 300-year-old oral tradition but never lived to see the epistle stage that Paul innovated let alone to know the end product, that believers take to be the gospel truth. The Christians of the epistle stage usually did even live to see the work of the gospels that the next generation developed; and quite a bit of the Christian creed we know today was developed later still, by the theologians. Despite all of this, Wells did say, in later books than this, that there might have been a person behind Jesus after all; but in this book he has not yet arrived at that conclusion. This, his fifth of six directly on the topic, is about the best.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk


21. The Origin of the Species (1859) Charles Darwin

A great fusion of economics and biology, the economics taken from Malthus, with the result being first rate science and first rate literature too. It has often been called one long argument and it certainly sets out to make a case. Karl Popper blundered, rather oddly for him, saying that Darwinism could not be tested and he even hinted that it was not really science.

In fact, evolution faced two very stringent tests that many supposed refuted it. Lord Kelvin, one of the leading physicists in the world, claimed in 1866 that though the Earth was way older that the 7,000 years or so that the Bible allowed, it was at most a hundred million years and maybe only twenty million. There was nowhere near enough the time since the planet Earth began to allow natural selection to have the time it would need to be the main explanation of the present diversity of life. The Curies removed this conflict between physics and biology when they discovered radium in France in 1903. That indicated that there was plenty of time for national selection and today it is held that the world is four and a half milliard years old. The second dire test was genetics. This took even longer to resolve but the new synthesis emerged with Sir Julian Huxley's book Evolution (1948).

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


22. The Descent of Man (1871) Charles Darwin.

This book applies the theory of national selection to man. The author pointed out that man had common ancestors with the monkeys rather than actually having monkeys as ancestors as the vulgar critics caricatured it. Darwin postulates that humans emerged in Africa where many primates live naturally today. The second half of the book deals with sexual selection as a factor in evolution.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk


23. Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) Charles Darwin

This is a third great book from Darwin. This one was more to do with psychology than with biology as such. He took up and discussed some of the ideas of his flamboyant grandfather Erasmus Darwin on the behaviour of dogs and other animals.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

24. The Selfish Gene (1976) Richard Dawkins.

This book is an excellent account of modern evolutionary theory. It holds that the gene rather than the individual is the unit of evolution. Dawkins advances the meme that Samuel Butler, one of Darwin's critics coined viz. that the body is just the egg's way of making another egg. He popularises William Hamilton's work on explaining what looks like altruistic behaviour.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


25. The Evolution of Cooperation (1984) Robert Axelrod.

Another book that popularises William Hamilton's work and also the game theory that originated in Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour (1944 John von Neumann & Oscar Morgenstern) that I have not completely read and do not know well enough to recommend. It claims a great deal for 'tit for tat' games but the real stunning game is the positive sum game where both sides gain. That is the big idea of Adam Smith and the gains from free trade.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


26. A Critique of Pure Reason (1781) Immanuel Kant

This is a great book despite the fact that the author deliberately courts obscurantism. He did write a letter that I read in a history of mathematics where he confessed to a friend that he did not like the idea of the beer swilling students getting to master his work over a single weekend so he would make them work for their knowledge. He felt that the best students would hardly be lost by this ploy and that the worst ones were worth losing. He makes many false claims like the one that he is the first to bring together the empirical and rationalist traditions.

The Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785) should perhaps be read with this book to put a full perspective on Kant's outlook. It is a very small book and hardly more than a pamphlet so we can tag it on here as a supplement. In it Kant goes back to Plato on ethics and thus has a categorical imperative from mere Form. This has puzzled many, as they cannot see how a mere category could motivate anyone but, as Plato said, we cannot willingly err.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


27. A Pure Theory of Democracy (1918) W.H. Mallock

It has the same thesis as the Michels book, that the author acknowledges. But it covers different materials by looking at ideologues and social experiments rather than at political parties. It covers many attempts to set up democratic communes in the new world. Robert Owen's New Harmony was just one of many. It is very well written, as are all of Mallock's books. They are all well worth reading.


28. Pluto's Republic (1985) Peter Medawar.

Medawar was haply the best populariser of science hitherto. This is a great collection of his essays. Like J.L. Simon he saw that progress was being made for all the folly that was going on in society. A Popperian, he saw that science was not just a collection of facts but rather a gain by a superior organisation of knowledge gained from a process of debate rather similar to natural selection. It was a myth that knowledge is now way too vast for one man to master when it was easier in, say, the tenth century. We may not be able to master all knowledge even today but it is getting easier rather than harder. If we look at how hard it was a hundred years ago we can see that it is way easier today owing to progress made in textbooks and other teaching pathways as well as the use of Occam's Razor and other improvements in the organisation of knowledge.



29. Democracy in America (1835) Alexis de Tocqueville.

The author was an enthusiastic traveller who wanted to find out about the United States of his day. But he was also out to look at democracy and here he held that the USA was ahead of Europe and that what was developing there democratically was almost bound to spread to France as it already was spreading to England. The author was far from sure whether this was altogether a good thing. He had his doubts about democracy and he persuaded J.S. Mill that it was something to beware of.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


30. Magic Universe (2003) Nigel Calder.

A romp though modern science by one of its best populariser. The author is sceptical about the Greens. He also is keen to question whether the brain is bound to get less effective as we get older and he reviews the questioning of the non-generation of brain cells that has grown since the 1980s.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


31. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Edmund Burke.

This book stimulated fifty-four well-known replies in book form, two by Mary Wollstonecraft viz. The Rights of Man (1791) and The Rights of Woman (1792). Joseph Priestley also weighed in, but the most successful reply was that of Tom Paine. Many of the authors were won over to Burke after a while. The book by Burke, for all its many faults, is way better than all the replies. It was not the first romantic tract but it was perhaps even more powerful than the writings of Rousseau who was the effective pioneer of the romantic reaction to the enlightenment paradigm. It forecast blood from the French "Revolution" and tended to change that romance word from the pristine meaning of 1688 that Burke held it had nothing to do with. Great violence did come to pass and many heads rolled owing to the guillotine, but ironically this mainly happened after the romantics took over and the liberals were the first to be put to death.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


32. Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) James Boswell.

This book is widely known as the best biography hitherto and rightly so. It is like a book of quotations in that it can be read at any page with full enjoyment without the need for knowing what comes before or after. But it is put forward as a chronological account so it can be read also like a normal book. Johnson was clearly a wonderful character, complete Church of England Tory of course, and known throughout the land as a bigot; but few who meet him thought that that was really so. Quite a few, like Joseph Priestley, reconsidered that charge just on reading his great Dictionary. He was quick to dismiss ideas but he would always reconsider them later. Most people completely misunderstand what Dr Johnson said on patriotism. He said it was "the last refuge of the scoundrel". Many think he is thereby dismissing the virtue as a vice but he is complaining about the likes of John Wilkes using it as an excuse to criticise the nation! When he finally met his hated Wilkes they got on exceedingly well and became great friends.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


33. History of England (1848-1861) Thomas Babington Macaulay.

The book was never completed. The first volume came out in 1848 and it soon surpassed all his other books in popularity. But the title is rather misleading as it is really only about 1688 and the years immediately after. The first 60 or so pages cover the history up till then when the real event that Macaulay wants to tell us about gets underway. We then have some 2300 pages on this event but it is not quite finished! Macaulay sadly died in 1859. However, this is a great book about the major event in the birth of liberalism.


34. Canterbury Tales (1387) Geoffery Chaucer.

A marvellous collection of tales that show very clearly that Christianity hardly crowded out rival ideas in the fourteenth century. Indeed, those pilgrims are utterly profane. When the late John Ferguson, sometime Dean of the Open University and later of the Selly Oak Colleges, used to repeat that England never was truly a Christian country, I used always to think of Chaucer when I found myself agreeing with him.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  


35. Political Writings (1867), 2 vols, Richard Cobden.

This collection of pamphlets show that Cobden could write as well as he spoke. He produced excellent literature as well as first rate liberal propaganda here and his near-pacifist pamphlets rank amongst the best anti-war writings hitherto. They are pathetic in the pristine sense of that word. He treated Adam Smith's 1776 book as an enthusiastic vicar might the Bible but he was the equal to Smith in prose. Cobden saw that the USA was the richest land in terms of their standard of living in the 1830s but felt that it would not be generally acknowledged till the 1850s. In fact, it was in the 1950s that this general acknowledgement came to pass.


36. Personal Knowledge (1958) Michael Polanyi.

Polanyi is often wrong but never dull. He is the force behind T.S. Kuhn as clearly as Martin Heidegger was the force behind Jean Paul Sartre, and this time Kuhn did not have another language to translate the work into as Sartre had with Heidegger. But there is way more in Polanyi than there is in Kuhn whilst there is only a bit more in Heidegger than there is in Sartre. Polanyi is the opposite extreme to Popper. Polanyi and Kuhn held that there was coups in science rather like the Marxists held there were romantic revolutions in society. Popper held that there was continuous evolution rather than periodic revolutions. Polanyi held that the norm was conformity whilst Popper held that it was criticism - or that it needed to be if science was not to stagnate. Polanyi thought that Popper's outlook was perverse; none could be so critical towards themselves. A reading of the Stoics would have shown Polanyi that what we see as perverse may well be ephemeral.

Polanyi held that science was a passionate affair. His idea of tacit knowledge is way more realistic than anything in Freud, whose unconscious mind was as oxymoronic as Sartre said. Polanyi saw more clearly than did Mises that the USSR was a sham as he said in his USSR Economics (1936). Some of his insights into that folly are repeated in chapter seven of this book. But there are bogus ideas here also. Chapter ten gives an account of Polanyi's pet idea of faith, a myth if ever there was one.

37. The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934) Karl Popper

Medawar said this was good bedtime reading. The book is indeed well worth reading, but few will read it in bed. This is Popper's major work which he revises in places in his 1963 book of essays cited above. It is the opposite extreme to Polanyi and it covers less ground as it sticks to the last of scientific method, which it ironically tends to deny. Clearly, holds Popper, there is no induction so that is not the method of science. Instead we have conjectures and attempted refutations. It was futile asking what was the basis of those conjectures. Any conjecture is worth considering but all consideration needs to be critical. This was the reverse of the rival outlooks that held we ought to be fussy as to what we accept, but once we do accept a meme then we can say that it is justified and thus there is no need for further criticism. Popper held that all we consider needs to be re-tested but there is the logistics of the matter that we can only test one aspect at a time. The place where theories go beyond criticism is the rejection box. There can be no rest for a current scientific theory.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

38. On Liberty (1859) J.S. Mill.

Plenty of faults in this book from a liberal point of view but also lots of great liberal ideas.

Mill saw that whilst we might not get a proof we could often do enough to move a man's mind. Mill rightly says that in any generation, the main political conflict will be between those who want more liberty and those that prefer less.

The main doctrine of the book is that we ought not to have notions of victim-less crimes but tolerate any action from others as long as it does no harm to anyone else. A later version of this meme can be found in Jan Lester's book, despite all the differences between the two books.

Mill is rather paternalistic towards the empire. He is for eventually getting rid of the empire but was keen not to do this too abruptly, and in view of the mass slaughter of 1948 in India, he might well be said to have a point. Reform is perhaps best done at a steady rate to allow people to adjust.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

39. Alan Turing: the Enigma (1983) Andrew Hodges.

The best biography since that of Boswell but utterly different to it. What Hodges captures is a great atmosphere of the 1930s when Turing was growing up and the whole work is exceedingly vivid. It inspired similar works like the biography of Wittgenstein by Ray Monk and the later one on Russell by Monk and they are also very good.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

40. The History of Western Philosophy (1945) Bertrand Russell.

Many in philosophy feel this book is way too lightweight and they dislike the fun it makes of philosophers like Kant. However, what philosophy student wants a book like this to save him from reading the pristine texts? I have always thought this the ideal book that the philosophy student wants as a light introduction to the fellows that matter, peppered with a few jokes about them. The other extreme is Copleston's A History of Philosophy (1946-66) in eight volumes which is worth reading but not really better than Russell's single volume.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

41. History of the Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (1786) Joseph Priestley.

Priestley throws so many dogmas of Christianity out that the reader wonders where he is going to stop. Like all Unitarians, Priestley appears to the reader as almost atheistic. It was reading the many volumes of Priestley in 1984 that made me realise more clearly than ever before how right G.A. Wells was. Priestley performs largely the same work as Wells, but he does not go back before the gospels, or barely even to the gospels that he accepts as the 'gospel' truth. Thus he is very good at sorting out all the additions, or 'corruptions', of Christianity since about 100 AD but he is not so critical of texts before that date. He writes very clearly and was a one man Open University in the eighteenth century on all subjects from grammar to good manners throughout the ages. He favoured liberalism with a very minimum state, was a Unitarian in Christianity and the father of experimental chemistry.

42. Principles of Psychology (1890) William James.

A superb book that took Darwin into full account and is as relevant as all the latest books from the likes of Steven Pinker. James sees the mind as part of the body and its means of survival. He erred in thinking that we can choose our beliefs, but he is right to say that our belief is an adjustment to cope adequately with the environment. The book is very well written. Some wit said that Henry James was a novelist that wrote as though it was science and that William James was a scientist that wrote as though it was fiction and his book is certainly a good read.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

43. The Open Society and its Enemies (1945) Karl Popper.

In some ways this is the best of Popper's books and in other ways his worst. The acme of Popper not wanting to know is his attack on Hegel in the second half of the book. Popper does not even pretend to be fair to the romantic philosopher and he openly says that Hegel is simply not worthy of serious consideration. He repeats Schopenhauer's attack on Hegel but Schopenhauer was also a romantic and he and Hegel had many memes in common that were usually better expressed by Schopenhauer. Popper never seems to have understood Marx and he neglects the economic calculation argument [eca] against socialism, despite being the close friend and colleague of Hayek at the London School of Economics where Hayek put out quite a few books featuring this fatal argument against Marxism. Had Popper taken more notice of Hayek he might have been as strong against Marxism as many of his followers think he was in this book. But the book is very stimulating, in fact the most stimulating book that Popper wrote.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

44. The Road to Serfdom (1944) F. A. Hayek.

A great book on the history of socialism making many very clear points about socialism, fascism and nationalism that still flout the conventional wisdom. Hayek makes it clear that in fascism and socialism, we are just seeing the same rose with a different name. Germany took the lead in rejecting liberalism. Socialism revived old right wing ideas and presented them as being way more advanced than liberalism and so to the left of it. What was the paternalist right in the eighteenth century French Assembly was, in the last few decades of the nineteenth century, the new far left; way more progressive than the free traders. Or so it was said.

People became overkeen on democracy and saw it as an end rather than a means. Freedom will be felt as the proper end when we have lost it, as we are almost bound to do in seeking to have total democratic control. Democracy needs to respect the rule of law. It needs to respect freedom. Political ideas of freedom clashed with economic freedom but the latter is nearer to true liberty. The former brings the real risk of totalitarian control. Truth will be at risk also if the modern totalitarian movement continues. The book remains very much up to date today.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

45. German Social Democracy (1898) Bertrand Russell.

Russell became way less critical of Marxism later, but in this book the Marxist faces rather a stiff challenge. Russell often gave later accounts of the labour theory of value but all of them seem less critical than the account he gave in his first book. He did not consider himself to be a socialist of any kind when he wrote the book but rather to be an orthodox liberal. He saw Marxism as a religion. He expected Marxists to make many foolish experiments if they were ever to get into power with their unrealistic ideals intact. In 1917 in Russia that did happen. Famine resulted.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

46. Diaries (1825) Samuel Pepys.

They did not get published till 1825 as they were written in Pepys' shorthand and were not finally sorted out till then. They are a fascinating private account of the life of an interesting character that clearly loved life and lived it to the full. He lived through the great plague and the great fire of London in the restoration years of Charles II. It can be read at any page and is like Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson in that respect. Though Pepys is interesting he is no match for Dr Johnson. However, this is great literature.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

47. Principles of Economics (1890) Alfred Marshall.

The book is well worth reading though it has many faults. The main one is the attempt to blunt "the marginal revolution" by a compromising synthesis that Wicksteed would have hated. It is often credited with being the first to attack the idea that the services were unproductive but that can be found in more than one work of Nassau Senior some fifty years earlier. Marshall's book is a well-written and well worth reading, but decidedly inferior to Wicksteed's. The big achievement of the book is to get rid of the label of "political economy" and to establish "economics" in its place, though those now called the Physiocrats did call themselves simply economists. The new label stuck after Marshall, despite the attempt of Keynes and his epigones to reverse it.

When I first read this book in 1975, I thought it said nothing. I put it back in the library as a rather empty book but a few days later I felt its influence in a powerful "seminar effect" experience as the ideas from it simply popped up freely in conversation. I at once decided to get it out the library again, and this time I read it all the way through. Before long I was keen to obtain a copy.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

48. The Origins of the Second World War (1961) A.J.P. Taylor.

The author must have thought that he would have a relatively easy time of it in dealing with the second world war as if it was an historical event when he put pen to paper. But few other historians were ready to shed the wartime propaganda -- or should I say "anti-propaganda" -- as the wartime polemics were hardly out to convert the enemy so much as to lower his morale. The book began a controversy in which it remained about the only sober account. The myth of Hitler as the devil incarnate was too satisfactory to too many people for them to easily give it up in the wake of the war. Hitler filled a need for a known evil that we could all agree on and this was a boon to many.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

49. Alienation and the Soviet Economy (1971) Paul Craig Roberts.

A wonderful book that makes it quite clear that despite the moves Lenin made in What Is To Be Done (1903) when he effectively dumped the materialist conception of history, in Imperialism (1914) when he put nations ahead of class analysis and in State and Revolution (1917) where he embraced socialism as something way less than full communism, that the Bolsheviks were nevertheless utterly influenced by Marxism. The attempt at free access led to famine. A retreat to the New Economic Policy was, more or less forced by 1921, but by that time many had lost their lives in the futile experiment and the resulting famine. This was blamed on the invasion by the West and called "war communism" by the Bolsheviks, but the attempt at communism did way more damage than the war. The book rightly sees that Polanyi got the USSR right whereas conventional economics fostered the myth of a "Command Economy".

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

50. The Causes of War (1973) Geoffery Blainey.

An excellent book, but hardly without its faults. The author does not seem to have read Cobden and attributes to him the idea that as people get to know each other better by free trade then they will not want to make war. He feels that the 1914 war refutes that idea. He writes a whole chapter on the Manchester meme that free trade crowds out war, but nowhere does he cite fully why this was thought by the liberals to be the case. He cites many liberal authors like Cairnes as holding that war is down to ignorance and others like Buckle that greater interconnections and interdependence will tend to crowd out war. That is indeed part of the liberal solution, but he misses the main idea that in trade there is no incentive to war but in politics we have always a form of cold war that runs the risk of breaking out into actual war. He much later cites Angell as holding that a prolonged war was the great illusion. That shows that he has not read Angell either, as Angell's thesis is the same as Cobden's viz. that war can only ensure a lower overall standard of living. Both authors write way too clearly for Blainey to have misread them as he does. He has clearly not read them at all.

Buy it at - www.amazon.co.uk  

 

Libertarian Alliance  2003


The Alternative Booksho
p
Which specialises in, but does not limit itself to, books on Liberty and Freedom ... Book reviews, links, bestsellers, rareties, second-hand, best price on books, find rare books. 
 


  Laissez Faire Books
 The World's Largest
Selection of Books on Liberty