Recommended Reading 01

2009/03/04

My brother pointed out the other day that I’m a fairly well-read individual. Though I don’t like tooting my own horn, I have to grudgingly agree with said assessment; I am entirely unapologetic when it comes to owning and acquiring books – even when I’m poor, unemployed, etc (granted, I don’t buy as much under the latter situations, but I still do). Hey, I’ve got no social life (at least, I’m unaware of it, if it does exist), and well, I need something to do, right?

So, here are some suggested titles. Given that read a great deal, and have some fairly diverse interests, this list will only cover a limited selection of topics and titles. Since my post earlier today related to political issues, I’ll start there. Other lists will follow…eventually. Titles will be followed by a (relatively) short description of why I think its important, and such thoughts.

  • The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, & John Jay. There is no finer means of interpreting the Federal Constitution than this (IMHO). As anyone who’s read the Constitution can tell you, it does not explain itself, it merely states its provisions, and leaves it at that. The Federalist fills that void, and has the added benefit of having been written by three of the members of the convention that wrote the Constitution. It also provides commentary, historical perspectives, and comparison to the Articles of Confederation that preceeded the Constitution. Most editions also include a full text of the Constitution, and sometimes, the Articles of Confederation (which is useful for comparison, since some of the provisions of the Constitution were constructed in direct response to deficiencies in the AoC).
  • The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli. Contrary to popular conception, Machiavelli generally did not advocate the draconian measures he describes and analyzes in this work. He does admit that there are often situations where such deplorable measures are necessary, but he is also quick to point out that said measures should be employed sparingly, if at all possible. One of his reasons for suggesting so is that his assessment of human nature is rather less generous than idealists would like, but depressing as that may be, it is realistic, and Machiavelli was nothing if not practical when he was writing this treatise.
  • The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes spends almost half of this treatise analyzing human nature and its strengths and weaknesses, and the rest describing various forms of government. If you ever thought that anarchy would be preferable to government, read his thoughts on man in his natural state. Chilling stuff.
  • The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau outlines here the reciprocal nature of representative government, and the duties that exist between the body politic (I think Rousseau coined this phrase) and the government. He also analyzes various forms of government, and the role that each side plays in said governmental systems.
  • Vom Krieg (On War), Karl von Clausewitz. Not technically politics as we generally understand it today, but Clausewitz points out that war is, in fact, a political act, “a mere continuation of policy by other means.” Fundamentally, war is an act carried out between nations where one nation attempts to coerce another nation to conform to the former’s will. Note, though, that I have not finished reading this book yet, so I may have further thoughts regarding it in the future.
  • Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels. Because it is important to know and understand one’s enemies (Clausewitz makes a strong case for this in Vom Krieg). Okay, to be fair, Marxisim is only the enemy in my little world; if you prefer this sort of thing to guaranteed civil liberties such as we currently enjoy, then please disregard my adversarial statements.
  • Utopia, Thomas More. This is worth reading simply because of what it is. I’ll have to re-read it to comment specifically about its pertinence to current political trends, however, as I last read this several years ago and don’t remember it as well as I should.
  • 1984, George Orwell. If you’re worried that our government is going the totalitarian route, read this to find out how wrong (mostly) you are. It is also helpful as a means of understanding and identifying the warning signs in case our government really is going this route. An often-overlooked aspect of this book is its appendix, “The Principles of Newspeak.” I highly recommend reading this along with the next item on the list; I’ll explain in a moment.
  • Politics and the English Language, George Orwell. Not actually a book, but an essay. This essay, along with the appendix to 1984, shows how pliable language really is, and how easily it can be manipulated to forward political goals (obfuscation in the case of PatEL, and eradication of critical thought in the case of Newspeak). These two essays are especially amusing (and depressing) when used to analyze modern political speeches, even those by the more well-meaning of our elected officials. Orwell is probably rolling in his grave even now.
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein. This is nominally an SF novel, but Heinlein made no secret of his political leanings in his writings; Heinlein was a libertarian (small ‘l’), but whether or not you agree with his politics, he makes some valid points WRT government in general. Food for thought, anyways, and if nothing else, its a great read wholly apart from its politics, and it involves planetary bombardment for added goodness. Heinlein is also one of those rare breeds of SF writers whose science (even when superseded by more recent discoveries) actually makes sense.

Books that I have not yet read, but intend to…eventually (in case you want to follow along) – note that these are not necessarily listed in the order that I will (eventually) read them:

  • Two Treatises of Government, John Locke. Locke’s writings are part of the inspiration behind our system of government as outlined in the Constitution, so it makes sense to read these.
  • The Rights of Man & The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine. I remember reading Part I of The American Crisis many moons ago (“These are the times that try men’s souls…”), and Paine’s writings were also very influential on early American political discourse.
  • A Discourse on Inequality, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Apparently, this is an analysis of the inequalities of wealth, power, and stature in modern society…how could I refuse?
  • On Liberty, John Stuart Mill. This should be self-explanatory. Especially when you realize that I’m an existentialist, on top of being a libertarian.
  • On Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville. I’ve heard that this is an excellent analysis of our system of government (even though its from a French source), and also includes an analysis of the “tyranny of the majority.” Its translated from French, so I’ll probably have to suffer through this one (and no, this isn’t a jab at the French; translations from foreign languages tend to be hit-or-miss, with some being very easy to read, and others being downright painful).

And that should do it for this round. More will (inevitably) follow, though I’ll move on to other topics for a little while. Like religion. Everybody loves discussing religion, right? Heh.

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